Affordable Auxiliary Solar Arrays
By John from Iowa
The first thing to remember is that solar is not cheap! The power is free and sustainable, but it’s costly to get there. A person can spend as much money as they want in that direction. I did not go whole hog on my system, as I wanted primarily the ability to power a few small appliances, and mainly a power source to recharge my rechargeable batteries. I have a couple of systems setup in different locations, as well as the ability to setup portable arrays if needed.
My main array consists of 4 – 85 watt and 1 – 30 watt panel. It is located on the southern side of a utility building that I have.
These run to a 21 amp ICP charge regulator/controller that also gives the status of the bank of batteries,
ICP Charge Controller
then it runs to a bank of 8 – 12v deep cycle marine batteries.
Tied to that I have a 2,000 watt power inverter for the 110 household type current,
Power Inverter to make household type 110v current
There are also 2 – 12v cigarette lighter type sockets to have the ability to run 12v appliances, if needed or desired. There are fry pans, ovens, coffee makers, etc. available to use.
I do have a problem with this system though, in that I really hate to cut trees, as you can’t really replace them in your lifetime. So my system doesn’t get full sun all of the day. It gets about 2/3s of what it could get, but meets my anticipated needs.
It will power a small freezer, or a portable ice maker, a 110v chain saw, and many other like items. It will also recharge any type of battery for any application.
Secondary Portable Array
I also have a secondary array at a nearby building that is not used to its full potential, but is primarily a backup system. It consists of 1- 85 watt panel, and 2 – 50 watt folding panels.
A folding panel showing polarized plugs
Front view of a folding panel
They run to another smaller charge regulator/controller and only 2 – 12v deep cycle batteries. This then runs to another 2,000 watt inverter that is actually a backup in case of a failure of my primary unit. The panels on this array can be plugged into the main array by the use of polarized two way plugs, making it very modular for increasing power to the main system.
The hooks for adding folding cells to the main array
Separate Off-Grid Building with Solar Power
At my pond I have a shelter house on which I mounted a 30 watt solar panel.
30 watt panel mounted to the southern edge of the shelter house roof at the pond
Then it runs to a smaller charge regulator/controller.
Charge Controller at the Pond array also shows battery status
Ribbon gauge showing battery status separately
Then it runs to only 1 – 12v deep cycle battery. This runs out to 12v RV type lights in the ceiling of the shelter house, as well as a couple of cigarette lighter 12v socket outlets. I can plug in a 400 watt inverter to the 12v system and produce 110v power for most small appliances that I might use there.
Totally Portable Solar Set-Up
Last, but not least, I have several smaller panel setups that are extremely portable and powerful that can provide 12v power just about anywhere that has sun exposure.
As I mentioned in the beginning, this stuff isn’t cheap. It was done over a long period of time, so it became more affordable. I started very small with a couple of the Volkswagen solar cells, a plastic battery box that had a built in12v lighter socket and external terminals, and of course a deep cycle battery, added to that a splitter that allowed multiple lighter sockets for plugging in 2 panels or for multiple power out plugs.
Battery box showing 12v outlet, fused reset button, and charge condition ribbon gauge on top of the box
The battery power box that holds the deep cycle battery
Full starter set showing 2 Volkswagen cells and outlet splitter
In the future I will post some Do’s and Don’ts as well as some tips for use. There is much to know about solar, but it isn’t as complicated as most might think, at least for the smaller setups like mine.