Cabin Life – #86

Well, it’s finally happened, I have electricity.  Granted, it’s not much The Panelelectricity, but it’s a start.  I don’t need enough to run appliances or a whole house, just enough so that my phone and computer don’t go dead, and hopefully a light or two to read by.

A few months ago I got an email from a reader who said he had an old solar panel lying around and didn’t need or want it anymore.  It was mine, he said, if I just came and picked it up.  You never know who you’re meeting through an email, so I was a little wary.  So, fighting the urge to tell everyone where I was going and with whom just in case I didn’t make it back, I drove the little ways to his camp.  I did bring my girlfriend with me, you know, for protection.

He was nice enough to pick us up at the boat launch and give us a ride out to his camp.  It was a nice place, bigger than mine, but much better set up.  He had running water, internet, and a beautiful location right on the water.  We got the solar panel and hung out for a little while, then headed back to the car.

I’m sad to admit it, but that was almost three months ago.  For three months, I’ve had this solar panel sitting in the cool shade of my shed, doing nothing.  I even had the charge controller and a deep cycle battery, but was too busy (lazy) to get around to hooking the thing up.

So this week I pulled everything out to the yard and set I up just to see what would happen.  The charge controller showed a charge, and I was angry with myself for putting off what turned out to be a ten minute job.

I left the panel out all day in full sun and went to town to buy an inverter.  I picked up a nice one and did some other errands before getting back home in the evening.  I was excited and ripped open the package for the inverter and hooked it up.  It immediately started flashing and beeping, and not in a good way.  The charge was too low on the battery to power the inverter.

No big deal I thought, it’ll take a couple of days for the battery to get fully charged.  But, since everything else seemed to be working, I set the panel up in its full-time place on the south side of the porch.  I moved the battery onto the porch and drilled a couple of small holes for the wires to run through.  I then fed the wire through, and the positive wire was about eight inches too short.  Of course.

The next day I went to the hardware store (again) and picked up some wire.  The thing was now fully set up and actively charging.  But not fast enough.  I took the battery to work the next day and plugged it in to the trickle charger.

Now, the battery is fully charged, the panel is up and running and hopefully it will be enough juice to keep the battery charged.  It’s a big step up in the cabin life, and the prospect of having light this winter is very exciting.

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2 thoughts on “Cabin Life – #86

  1. If charging laptop and mobile phones, get 12v chargers (just search ebay for laptop name and car charger). You’ll save power and noise compared to running the inverter to bring the voltage all the way up to mains and then bring it straight down again to 16/12/5V.

    Also, 12V LED lights are dirt cheap and can be quire good.

    Avoiding mains voltage also makes the wiring simpler and safer.

    In general, you’d be surprised at the big range of 12V stuff you can get. I almost never require my inverter (switched on 4 times this year to run a drill).

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