Solar Recharging

Harness the power of the sun.  Solar recharging is a quick and easy way to utilise solar energy.  A simple solar panel feeding a battery, or bank of batteries, will allow you to cut back on your power bills.

Imagine feeding your smartphone, battery charger for the kids toys, solar pump for the fish pond or fountain, or low cost lighting for the front path or garden lighting for free. Adding an inverter would allow either 110v or 230v AC units to be run from the system.

Solar starter kits are a great way to get into solar energy.  A system designed for a boat/car/caravan can be mounted on the roof of your house as a standalone unit.  Adding a car battery or two will allow the system to charge during the day and give you power overnight.  Just remember car batteries need a well ventilated area and should never be charged inside the house.  A simple ventilated box mounted on the wall is best, or place them under a deck.  They need to be high enough to be safe from any run-off and need to be kept dry.

Here’s an example of a system available on sale right now at Amazon.



Why Sustainable?

It seems like quite a simple question really. Is it?

Well let’s try to set out some of the pros and cons to help us work out why we would go with sustainable, or green, or renewable, energy.  Let’s face it, we haven’t even agreed on a name for it yet, so, is it any wonder that we haven’t yet agreed on an approach.

What are some of the advantages of renewable energy?

  • It can’t run out – by it’s very definition, it won’t run out.  Some renewable fuels may end up in short supply, but we can increase production to a point.
  • Ongoing, it can be done for free, or at least low cost, if it’s done right.
  • It can lower your energy bills and even turn a profit if power is fed back into the grid.
  • Many renewable energy sources are emission free or at least emit lower levels of harmful greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

What are some of the disadvantages of renewable energy?

  • High setup costs – it can be expensive to setup because of the lack of investment into making it affordable.
  • Misunderstood – again, this is a function of the lack of investment.  Some vested interests, particularly in the non-renewable fuels industries, have caused a lack of funds towards research in this field.
  • High costs for green energy – as power companies invest into green technology, they seek to recoup that investment quickly by jacking up the prices.  They believe the general public will pay extra because they perceive it as being good for the environment.

So how do we overcome some of these disavantages and benefit from the positives?

Do it yourself can be the answer.  It doesn’t need to be complex or expensive.  Using parts from the local hardware store, supermarket and even the local junk yard a low cost, effective system can be up and running in a day or two.

Whether it’s electricity, hot water or fuel for your diesel engine, there are any number of solutions out there. Even just running your hot water inlet through a simple solar pre-heater will raise the input water temperature into the hot water system by a few degrees.  If the water is warmer going in, that’s less money spent on heating it up to the required temperature.

Where to start?

Sustainable Energy is one of those things that is attractive to almost everyone, but the first thing people ask is “Where do I start?”

There are plenty of expensive options out there and with governments offering rebates on solar systems, plenty of reputable and not so reputable providers have sprung up. Often the packaged deals are expensive and have a long payback time, usually several years.

The DIY market on the other hand allows you to start small.  I started out with a couple of simple off-the-shelf solar lights.  They charge up all day and shine all night. We have a bunch of colourful path lights in the back yard to allow safe access at night. Each light is a standalone unit with it’s own photovoltaic cell and battery. Many times I’ve looked out the window at 4 or 5am to see them still shining away. A subtle coloured light, alternating between red ,blue, orange and green, just enough to safely navigate the path. They were installed when we first moved in to the house over 5 years ago and the only one that no longer works is a result of the dog trying to eat it (he’s grown up now – it’s a puppy thing, not a problem that the lights are particularly tasty to dogs).

Our front door and front path need a bit more oomph, so they are lit with white light, which is much brighter and chews through the power a lot quicker.  These lights are part of a more efficient system, with a larger photovoltaic panel and battery, they are wired in like any other household lights. The system is entirely 12 volt DC, meaning no expensive inverter. Coupled with a motion sensor to preserve the battery, we are assured of a friendly light to find our key by when arriving home. Our visitors are greeted with a safe path up the steps, even if we forget to put on a light for them.

Solar Christmas lights are a feature in our house every year, allowing us some festive cheer without the attendant increase in the power bill.  Slowly increasing the amount of 12volt DC lighting in our house has reduced our bills slowly, but without the high capital cost of a major system.  A few simple batteries and switches, a couple of solar panels and 12volt lights are all that is needed.

You don’t need to go all out and you don’t need to invert the power to AC on day one, or even ever, if you don’t want to or can’t afford it.