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“Working on Sunshine – Whoa-aoh”

Solar panel on the TSLA Turtle for powering the electric outboard

“Working on Sunshine – Whoa-aoh”

“Working on Sunshine – Whoa-aoh” – time to feel good! Feeling defiantly efficient today as load shedding did NOT stop me in my tracks this time around. I hauled a big battery off my solar-powered boat and plugged it in via a neat little 800 Watt inverter. That I normally use for inflating boats and tyres and things.

Never even squeaked as I plugged my whole office in, via multi-plug. Lighting up my computer, big monitor, phone and a camera. What’s more, it really is FREE. Because since my little portable power station double functions with real work on the boats, the capital layout was made already. All it took really was carrying that damn 105 amp hour battery up the stairs!

And plugging it all in.

Working on sunshine

I have been fortunate enough to have lived on solar power for a long time. And have built up experience in all kinds of installations. Boats, lodges, research stations – all running on solar because there is NO grid out there on the edge.

But working on sunshine really is simple. Solar panel(s) to charge controller to battery(s). Batteries to inverter and the lights come on.

  • Solar panel(s)

The solar panel that lives on my boat, must have generated an acre’s worth of charged batteries since I had it. For about two years now it has been pumping FREE power into my batteries day after day, relentlessly. I can go 18kms with just two batteries. Taking 12 people or more. The economics are staggeringly good. All that petrol and oil saved from my pocket and the environment.

Panels pump out differently according to the power of the sun. So you cannot attach one straight to your battery or it might explode due to over-voltage charging. Or suffer damage from under-charging.

This is why you need a charge controller…

  • Charge controller

The brains of the operation. Starting out at a few hundred rand, the very basic ones are just fine for little camping or office operations. They have input ports for the panels. And outputs to the batteries. And output to your main power *loom.

*This is not a necessary step and can become quite complicated as the output of charge controllers is limited according to price. The more you pay, the more the system can output.

All we want this to charge a battery really. So we can ignore that output port for now. Plus the *inverter has enough technology built into it, to prevent battery damage during use.

  • Batteries

You are gonna need some heavy battery power (and inverter) if you want to power a big chest freezer or hot water geyser. But just a small fridge, a computer, charging station, and some lights – too easy with one 100 or so amp-hour camping battery. This is all I am using to stay productive today as we endure yet another load shedding session here in South Africa.

You can use a car battery just fine. But it’s not purpose-designed like a camping battery. Also known as non-starting batteries, these are the ones you want. Deep-cyle. As in slow charge in, and slow charge out.

You can NOT ever allow any battery to drop below 10.8v. That ruins everything inside the battery. And renders your guarantee useless. Battery manufacturers have a tell-tale inside the battery that tells if the charge level dropped below 10.8v – rendering the battery and the guarantee defunct.

You have been warned! You really need to know your batteries and their charge levels at all times. And then build it into your schedule to harvest as much sunlight as you can whenever you can. Or using the mains.

  • Inverter

This used to be the expensive piece of kit we all need. But now it’s cheap. I paid R850 for the inverter under my desk humming away merrily right now.

At a rated 800w, it runs my air pump (300w) with aplomb. My smoothie maker runs slightly slower but it churns out fruit juices too without any complaint (350w).

The inverters all come with a failsafe to protect the batteries you are using. When the voltage drops below about 11.8v, the inverter turns itself off. Sounding a rather annoying alarm btw. This is time to simply swap out a battery, and put another one back on charge.

High-end equipment often is available as integrated units with the inverter and charge controller all in one box.

Powering your household?

Just buy more and more. It’s that simple. Except for your inverter, the rest of it is all scaleable infinitely. More batteries. More solar panels. Until you have enough power to plug in a fridge. And then eventually a geyser.

  • Fridge/Freezer 400w
  • Mini fridge 100w
  • Fan 50w
  • Kettle 800w
  • Fryer 1000w
  • TV 100w
  • Vacuum 800w
  • X-Box 100w
  • Geyser 3000w

These are all rough averages and you can get more power-hungry kettles and things. You need to start becoming aware of the power required to run your machines, and what it is you are trying to achieve, and adapt.

Remember that most charge controllers and inverters these days have onboard USB charging ports. Often 5A or more. So if you power your laptop, phone, tablet and even lights, with USB, you are really beating the duck curve.

Powering your office or factory?

It really is not a challenge anymore. Buy big inverter sizes right from the start. And grow the rest of your operation into its capacity. Then you can buy another inverter and so on.

Using battery-powered tools eases the transition to solar too. Since you only have to recharge batteries, as opposed to supplying direct power to the juice hungry grinder or drill you need to be running. Battery management is now gonna be your thing.

However, if you do want to plug straight in, the following list tells you what requirements you might have. If you operate two of these machines at the same time, add the two up to get your final requirement.

Workshop
  • Belt sander 1000w
  • Grinder 1200w
  • Small grinder 650w
  • Drill 800w+
  • Welder 250 to 8000w
  • Lathe 100w +
Office
  • Projector 250w
  • Computer 300w
  • Coffee maker 1000w
  • Aircon 2600w
  • Printer 800w

All of the above figures are averages. You can get very powerful computers, and normal ones, that use half the energy. You need to check your desired energy output, and then match it up with your inverter and battery bank.

A word of caution – inverters always over-rate themselves. So my 800w inverter, will most likely only handle 600w or less. And if you turn two appliances or machines on at the same time, that initial surge needed to get the magnets or whatever spinning – overloads the system and it will kick out with an alarm.

You can order your very own Solar Starter Kit from us right here at The Sardine News website.

Working on sunshine!

More fun apps and websites:

Umzimkulu Adrenalin – we will get you right out there

Spillers House – BnB and Backpackers

Umzimkulu Marina – self-catering in Port Shepstone

Port Captain – Egyptian themed and flavoured

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