Go Solar! Especially us Californians....

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JimBill

Rank V
Member

Enthusiast I

1,251
Tres Pinos, CA
First Name
James
Last Name
Madison
Member #

18747

Back in the day, I played with 12 volt solar. I first put together an emergency kit and basic base camp kit to run lights, shortwave radio, and charge my phone. When you look at the flip phone you can tell this was 10+ years ago, USB was not prevelant, and parts were mainly sourced from Australia outback off grid and sailboat suppliers. I was camping a lot then for hunting and fishing outings, and decided to make a larger base camp kit with an inverter, which also became my emergency kit. I did the whole ball of wax, including a spreadsheet to reconcile battery sizing, loads, and photocell wattage. I ended up sizing the batteries for a base camp with a small fridge, lights, and ability to charge a few devices. Basic capability is 54 amp hours, 12Vdc, 6Vdc, 100 Watt AC inverter, capable of 145 watts solar input.

One night years later when the power went, out I grabbed the power station, plugged in my laptop, flatscreen, cable modem, and desk light and had a nice evening playing online and listening to the TV while all the neighbors brought out their candles. Well with current events in California, I highly recommend such a system that can be detached from your vehicle and also run your refrigerator. I did end up getting a NORCOLD 64 qt fridge used for the day power goes out for longer than a day. When I made my power stations, there were few commercial alternatives that were not crazy expensive. These days, Wagan and others make very capable units for a fair price. Due to the recent events in Cali, I dusted it off and have the batteries charging at the ready.

Emergency Kit 8ah, 12v and 6v (for shortwave), built in old battery charger case. Note phone and non-led light! It was a while ago!!!

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Base camp kit, 3 18ah batteries, 12vdc, 6vdc, and 100 watt VAC inverter (built in hardware store tool box)

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What I never finished is a second charge source. I have the charge controller and windmill controller, but never bought the windmill. These days, I think I will get one of those water turbine units you can place in a creek for the second power source.

If you buy one or build one, I believe it is a good investment to have the power station mobile so you can use it in your vehicle, base camp, or home.
 

nakman

Rank 0

Contributor I

60
Broomfield
First Name
Tim
Last Name
Nakari
Ham Callsign
K0NAK
Love it! I built something similar earlier this summer, albeit quite a bit simpler. I repurposed an old rolling cooler and fitted a 50w panel to the top, then mounted a charge controller and battery to the insides. Was preparing for a Lake Powell trip where we had 3 families who needed to keep stuff charged for a week... and it worked really well. Will put some pics below, but it was great for the phones, tablets, ham radios, and karaoke mic. :)IMG_2627.jpgIMG_2630.jpgIMG_2631.jpgIMG_2632.jpgIMG_2637.jpg

@Anak the parts list is pretty simple: panel, charge controller, and battery. that's the basics, you can make it more fancy and more expensive if you want, getting into the different panel types, charge controller types, battery types, etc. But a super budget solar system will still work pretty well. Only real downside with my setup is it's really big- fine if you can toss it into a trailer or truck bed, but not inside the vehicle... it's currently on loan to my neighbor who is off hunting.
 

Anak

Rank V
Member

Pathfinder I

2,271
Sandy Eggo
@Anak the parts list is pretty simple: panel, charge controller, and battery. that's the basics, you can make it more fancy and more expensive if you want, getting into the different panel types, charge controller types, battery types, etc. But a super budget solar system will still work pretty well. Only real downside with my setup is it's really big- fine if you can toss it into a trailer or truck bed, but not inside the vehicle... it's currently on loan to my neighbor who is off hunting.
The compact size of the OP's system is what I find most appealing. I have assembled solar systems before. His arrangement in a toolbox, all the way down to the recessed plugs, is what I would like to reproduce.
 
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JimBill

Rank V
Member

Enthusiast I

1,251
Tres Pinos, CA
First Name
James
Last Name
Madison
Member #

18747

I started out playing with a 45 watt Harbor freight kit. The controller was basic and the three 15 watt panels worked fine. Once I got familiar, I built the small emeergency box. When that was done I was ready to engineer this large setup. I worked from the load I wanted to handle outward. Determined battery size first, then controller size, and so on. It's been well over 10 years since I built the box. Unfortunately it was kinda a scavengers parts list. I was originally going to use ammo cans, but the batteries I decided on didn't fit what I had. From what I remember:

Toolbox- Ace Hardware
Batteries- 18amp hour SLA, x3 (was contracting for an alarm company, they rotate batteries on alarms and I was able to get this kind free for quite a few years)
Battery holder- home made with scrap wood from friends cabinet shop
Charge Controller- main one is a 6 amp Sunsaver with Low Voltage Disconnect, and the second I believe is a 4 amp Sunsaver (e-bay)
Inverter- e-bay, out of a decommissioned police car, 100W
6 volt power supply- e-Bay
Battery and Solar volt meters- e-Bay
Terminal blocks, micro switches, and banana plugs and sockets- gift from work when they where closing the plant.
Hardware, other switches, shrink tubing, wire, electrical terminals, etc.- Ace Hardware
The rest- Radio Shack. I struggled to find a plug system and did have my heart set on the recessed panels. I looked everywhere to find something, and found banana jacks/sockets (for incoming power) 1/4 inch Mono audio jacks/sockets (for lights and other accessories), and audio builder components including the recessed plates. At the time my local Radio Shack was well stocked and happy to let me go bin surfing to find what I could use. I also use speaker wire for all cords.

Anak- For the recessed plates, search Amazon, e-bay, or the like for Audio components for building speaker boxes or subwoofer boxes. Search words such as "Speaker Input Plate Blank", "Terminal Cup", or "Audio Jack Plate" will turn up a selection and give you more ideas for search keywords. Yes, I miss Radio Shack! The recessed plates allowed for throwing the box in the back of the truck or the like without damage or snagging of the components on other gear. If I broke one now I would play hell finding the right sized replacement.

A note on Solar panels- I purposly went for amorphus panels, rather than crystalline. The amorphus will charge with indirect sunlight, so even on a hazy or overcast day I can charge. The efficiency isn't as good, but crystalline take direct light only and living within the marine influence overcast days can be the norm here.

Now fast forward to today. The box is heavy! I wish I would have gone with my original idea, which was the panels, a small junction box, cable, a battery box, cable, and then a power distribution box. When camping in the Sierras, usually camp is under trees and having the main box in the center of camp and running a lot of cord to the panels just becomes an excercise in compromise. It would be nice to have the batteries in between the panels and camp table, with a kicker cord to the tent, and just a distribution box on the camp table. Plus the box is pretty heavy with the 3 batteries (after injuries and age, I'm not 20 anymore...).

A look on Amazon yesterday left me amazed at the options now. Strangely, I didn't see any mid-range setups. Most were a lot less battery ($150-$400) or a lot more ($1000+). But I do like the 3 way charge inputs most now have - 12V car, solar, or house plug, and really like the lithium batteries (less space and weight), The closest I could find is the Goal Zero Yeti 400, but it is still only 2/3 the battery amp hours as what I built.

I like your build nakman, it gets the job done and at a fraction of the price of a commercial unit! Rock On!
 
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Anak

Rank V
Member

Pathfinder I

2,271
Sandy Eggo
I started out playing with a 45 watt Harbor freight kit. The controller was basic and the three 15 watt panels worked fine. Once I got familiar, I built the small emeergency box. When that was done I was ready to engineer this large setup. I worked from the load I wanted to handle outward. Determined battery size first, then controller size, and so on. It's been well over 10 years since I built the box. Unfortunately it was kinda a scavengers parts list. I was originally going to use ammo cans, but the batteries I decided on didn't fit what I had. From what I remember:

Toolbox- Ace Hardware
Batteries- 18amp hour SLA, x3 (was contracting for an alarm company, they rotate batteries on alarms and I was able to get this kind free for quite a few years)
Battery holder- home made with scrap wood from friends cabinet shop
Charge Controller- main one is a 6 amp Sunsaver with Low Voltage Disconnect, and the second I believe is a 4 amp Sunsaver (e-bay)
Inverter- e-bay, out of a decommissioned police car, 100W
6 volt power supply- e-Bay
Battery and Solar volt meters- e-Bay
Terminal blocks, micro switches, and banana plugs and sockets- gift from work when they where closing the plant.
Hardware, other switches, shrink tubing, wire, electrical terminals, etc.- Ace Hardware
The rest- Radio Shack. I struggled to find a plug system and did have my heart set on the recessed panels. I looked everywhere to find something, and found banana jacks/sockets (for incoming power) 1/4 inch Mono audio jacks/sockets (for lights and other accessories), and audio builder components including the recessed plates. At the time my local Radio Shack was well stocked and happy to let me go bin surfing to find what I could use. I also use speaker wire for all cords.

Anak- For the recessed plates, search Amazon, e-bay, or the like for Audio components for building speaker boxes or subwoofer boxes. Search words such as "Speaker Input Plate Blank", "Terminal Cup", or "Audio Jack Plate" will turn up a selection and give you more ideas for search keywords. Yes, I miss Radio Shack! The recessed plates allowed for throwing the box in the back of the truck or the like without damage or snagging of the components on other gear. If I broke one now I would play hell finding the right sized replacement.

A note on Solar panels- I purposly went for amorphus panels, rather than crystalline. The amorphus will charge with indirect sunlight, so even on a hazy or overcast day I can charge. The efficiency isn't as good, but crystalline take direct light only and living within the marine influence overcast days can be the norm here.

Now fast forward to today. The box is heavy! I wish I would have gone with my original idea, which was the panels, a small junction box, cable, a battery box, cable, and then a power distribution box. When camping in the Sierras, usually camp is under trees and having the main box in the center of camp and running a lot of cord to the panels just becomes an excercise in compromise. It would be nice to have the batteries in between the panels and camp table, with a kicker cord to the tent, and just a distribution box on the camp table. Plus the box is pretty heavy with the 3 batteries (after injuries and age, I'm not 20 anymore...).

A look on Amazon yesterday left me amazed at the options now. Strangely, I didn't see any mid-range setups. Most were a lot less battery ($150-$400) or a lot more ($1000+). But I do like the 3 way charge inputs most now have - 12V car, solar, or house plug, and really like the lithium batteries (less space and weight), The closest I could find is the Goal Zero Yeti 400, but it is still only 2/3 the battery amp hours as what I built.

I like your build nakman, it gets the job done and at a fraction of the price of a commercial unit! Rock On!
Thank you for the reply. And for the suggestion of where to look for the recessed panels. As soon as I first saw Radio Shack in your sources I thought "Dang. That's not gonna work." It is a shame they went the way they went. Once upon a time they were a useful resource.

I will start trolling for bits and pieces to build one of these.
 

Downs

Rank V
Member

Enthusiast III

1,854
Hunt County Texas
First Name
Joshua
Last Name
Downs
Member #

20468

Ham Callsign
KK6RBI / WQYH678
I built something similar a while back though less refined. I would like to pick up another 100 watt panel or two so i could at least run a small cube fridge to salavge some perishables during an extended power outage at home. Its mostly used for 12v camp power though.

I had a thread on it somewhere here. I think when i totaled it up on that thread it was 240 dollars or so.