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Designs on the Sun Therese Peffer
©1993 Therese Peffer
ometimes things turn out great Swithout any planning, sometimes
they don’t. We hadn’t seen the sun in several days, but as soon as I made some progress on my system, we had five glorious blue-sky sunny days! My small renewable energy system certainly wouldn’t be what it is without any planning. The time spent planning has saved hours of ripping up and starting over.
Several months ago, I bought a 60 Watt photovoltaic panel and scrounged a frame for it. I bought 60 feet of #10 wire with USE insulation (this insulation resists degradation by sunlight and can be used outdoors). A friend gave me a car battery from a dead SAAB, so I hooked the two together and charged the battery just for fun.
That’s what got me started. It sounds so simple doesn’t it? Just “hook the two together.” Since then I’ve spent many hours thinking and rethinking my little system for my trailer. I’ve looked at other systems in Home Power for ideas. I’ve drawn countless sketches, both electrical schematics and physical diagrams.
One of my “hurdles” was learning how to use a wiring diagram. I had a difficult time translating the electrical lines and squiggly representations to how things were physically connected. I was much more comfortable drawing the system as I saw it, with all the fuses, plugs, wires, and connectors.
So I started from a very simple concept: my PV panel connected to my battery:
Above: One down and one to go! After stripping wire and crimping the spade connector comes a dab of solder.
resistance, and seals the connection from corrosion. There’s a lot of connections in my circuit! If there is a poor electrical connection (resistance) at any one of the junctions, this affects the whole circuit. The resistance of the whole circuit will affect how much of the electricity gets to the battery and appliances. First, I stripped the ends of both wires about an inch with a pocketknife — wire strippers are no match for USE insulation! Next I crimped the spade connectors to make a good mechanical connection and soldered the connector to the wire to ensure a good electrical connection (see photo above).
The car battery had round posts — too large to accept ring connectors. I bought wing nut battery terminals at an auto parts store. The terminal fits around the battery post and has a 5/16 inch bolt. I connected the appropriate size ring connectors to the battery ends of the wire, tightened the wing nuts, and charged away!
One immediate problem arose — I couldn’t leave the system alone for very long. I was constantly heading down to my simple setup with the voltmeter to check on the battery. I sure didn’t want to overcharge the battery!
Controlling the Charge
I took a look at Chris Greacen’s portable system (described in HP #28), and borrowed a few ideas. One step was to add a regulator which would prevent the panel from overcharging the battery. (Of course this would free up my time, too!) I liked the idea of having the “brains” — the regulator, meters, outlets, fuses — of the system arranged neatly in a box. I didn’t want to cut or drill holes for
#10 gauge USE copper wire
olarex MSX-60 Photovoltaic panel
The panel sits about 20 feet from the trailer, so allowing for slack I cut two 25 foot lengths of the wire. The Solarex panel requires spade connectors (the connectors are shaped like a U or fork), so I added spade connectors to the ends of the wires.
I crimped and soldered all connections. Solder increases the contact of the metal connector to the wire, reduces
90 Home Power #34 • April / May 1993
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