Our products are built to be highly portable, but we’re not always traveling — so how do you get the most out of a small solar power system? I wanted something that was as convenient as plugging into the wall and generated enough power to run all our home electronics: two cell phones, an iPod Touch and an older MacBook that we only use for about an hour a day. I also, hope to run the lighting for the office in the near future.

In my view, the real trick is to get the panel(s) outside and the battery in a really handy spot. I ended up using a 15 foot wire to connect the panel from my window to the battery sitting on my desk. The battery charges up like clockwork once the sun gets to the back of our house for a solid 4 hours, even in winter. Now we just plug in our phones and MacBook at the end of the day or whenever needed. (On a side note, don’t believe those solar chargers that come with a suction cup, putting your panel “near a window” isn’t nearly as good as getting it outside.)

Items needed:
Panel and Battery Pair – I used the 15 Watt solar panel and the V60 Laptop Battery, but you could also pair up our 6 Volt panels with the V11 or V39 battery.
Circuit Box – I used the 15 Watt circuit box
Long speaker wire or something flat that will fit under a window sill
Heat shrink tubing
Solder and Soldering Iron
Small deli container for water proofing

Step 1: Create wire extension
I cut the 15 Watt circuit box in half and attached 15 foot stretch of speaker wire in between, soldering the connections and covering with heat shrink tubing.

Step 2: Waterproof the connection
Since the panel will be sitting outside, I put the first part of the connection in a deli container and covered the entry/exit with silicone to create a quick waterproofing. Here’s the container attached to the back of the panel. The entry/exit for the cables is pointed downwards to prevent water from leaking in.

Step 3: Mount panel outside
We’ve got these convenient iron bars, but in general, try to point the panel towards the South and angled a bit up towards the sun (optimal position will vary throughout the year). Use your creativity here.

Step 4: Run cable to Battery
This is the part that determines whether it is easy to use or not and stands the test of time. I ran the wire along the floor boards where our cable connection runs all the way to my desk so it is clean, neat, and undisturbed by children and cats. The wire ends up right at my desk and the battery is within arms reach. You do want to make sure your window closes cleanly as it would be dumb to waste heat/cooling in order to power your electronics.

Step 5: Start charging
That’s it. Again, this is pretty easy from a technical perspective. The hard part is getting good sun on the panels and making sure you consistently use the charge built up in the panel instead of going the easy route and charging from the wall. Good luck.

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4 Responses

  1. Chad

    I love the basic idea presented here: a solar powered power station for the home. I’ve been playing around with this type of idea for a solar appliance, but haven’t found anything that quite fits the ideas floating around in my head.

    The V60 Laptop Battery looks promising — at least for devices which can get powered directly from DC sources.

    The point of failure in this demonstration is due to the do-it-yourself requirements to set this up. Ideally, I’d love to see a consumer-friendly version of this idea. Take your solar panels, place them in a good location, and plug the panels into the battery. Plug-and-Power (TM).

    Still, this looks like a fun project for a Saturday afternoon, but there is a lot of room to bring such an idea to the mass consumer marketplace.

    Reply
    • admin

      We’re definitely thinking about it. This is our first experiment which allows us to figure out all the things that make it potentially difficult to install and use on a consistent basis, there will be more coming. Stay tuned…

      Reply
  2. Cameron

    Another idea that would be cool is another unit or stand that the battery would sit on could hook up into the wall outlet, so that you could use all the electricity you can get from the panels, but when it runs out, you could switch to the wall outlet. That would make it more user friendly. And equip it with a USB hub with at least four inputs.

    Reply
    • admin

      I think more USB ports would certainly be helpful. Electricity backup is interesting because it would allow users to always charge in the same place rather than changing behavior when there isn’t sun for long periods of time. Meanwhile, it is nice and sunny in New York today so we’re charging up all our electronics.

      Reply

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