Solar Lab

This is my first solar panel project; creating a lab powered by solar panel. Well it all came about following a discussion between me and my wife, if I am successful is making the complete solar powered lab, she will let me convert the whole house to solar power. I am not sure if that’s doable, but certainly worth a try.

Well I started off by using our garden shed as a lab in January following our return from Pakistan on a family visit. Cleaning and emptying it was the difficult part. Me and my sons helped me clear out the garden shed and then building a table inside. We used old wood from dismantled wardrobe to make it a table as seen in some of the pictures. Took a couple of the chairs and left them in the lab. This was the start.

Then started the hunt for a solar panel, after agonising searches on the ebay and internet, I found a Sharp 245W solar panel locally in Nottingham for £170!!!. On a sunny day me my son went to pick up the panel, with some ingenious thinking we got to fit in the car (Kia Picanto!!!) and brought it back.

First installation was in excitement without thinking to put the panel on the roof in the direction of the slope. Well what did we expect, no power!!. I spoke to my brother in Pakistan, who told me to measure the current from the panel, (I was only happy measuring the voltage). Measured current to my surprise was 0.5amp, way lower that expected.

After internet searches we found that the direction in UK for optimum solar energy should be "South Facing Panel at an angle of 30 degrees". Well was exactly the opposite of what we needed. Installing it was the hard work. We had salvaged an angle iron from the old bed from the house at used it to make the stand. Bought the panel angle fixing (each £2.99 from B&Q with nuts and bolts). Me and my son spend the whole weekend doing that, sounds easy but believe me in freezing cold on the shed was a task.

The next task was to buy a new battery, I found one on ebay for £89.00 leisure GEL AGM battery 110A. I thought that should do the trick, though later found out that 110Amp batter would require 20.5 hours to charge, if the solar panel was delivering 5amp for 20.5 hours!. Well we had the sun shining by Allah's will on the panel for at the best 6 hours in Jan,Feb,Mar so that would mean from complete discharge to charge would take 3.5 days!

I also bought a solar panel charger MMPT technology what ever that is, auto switch-able 24/12V and wired it all up (cost £13.96). I already had a 500W 12V to 220V inverter (no idea about the cost) which I also coupled it in parallel to the battery.

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Then came the task of wiring up the battery output to the garden shed, now called "The LAB". Took an old ceiling cord on/off switch and installed it to the roof to attach 12V light bulb. I also took my wife storage box, put 12V sockets in to it and made a power distribution socket to supply my lab.

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Of course I cheated a bit in that I did get the mains power in the lab while I was using my electrical iron and of course it was freezing cold! got an old heater and started keeping myself warm in the mean time.

I also had an old storage cabinet. In the different drawers I packed all the tools from the house. Earlier I hung up an old storage shelf on the wall and stacked some stuff hanging around.

After all this, I took an old laptop rusting away, cut the power cord and attached a 12V male connector and to my surprise it worked!. It needed 9V power supply but it worked with 12V. I installed antiX linux on it (because this is a very old laptop). All was working fine except that the keyboard was a hit and miss.

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I also installed a twin 12V 8W tube light (cost £11.48 each!), but the light was very low, hence the ceiling light lets see when it comes. I ordered 4 x 5W LED bulbs (cost £6.99) from china, due to be delivered in 2 weeks, which I am eagerly waiting. I also ordered a voltmeter and ammeter (cost £4.98) to attach then to the battery and solar panel so I could monitor them as very rightly advised by my brother back in Pakistan.


A week has passed and another gloomy day!

Luckily the voltmeter and ammeter arrived from china. I used two of my youngest son's plastic plates which he does not use any more. Cut a few holes and made the face plates where I was planning to fix the voltmeter and ammeter. Initially I used two cells to power the LCD displays in parallel, but when I tried it the voltage of both the ammeter was exactly the same. Then I realised there must be some short circuit somewhere, when I combine the power supply of both the meters. Hence I decided to power one LCD meter with cells and the other one with battery power. Luckily the voltmeter and ammeter accommodated the ranges of voltages available very well. The voltmeter and ammeter costed £4.98 each. I wish they had an on/off switch in them, but never mind I scrounged a couple from my collected junk.

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The SMD bulb (5W, 64 LED, G4, Pure White 6000-6500K) had also arrived from china. I plugged it in, and that’s what you call light. Much much better than those 8W tube lights. I wasted money on them. It consumed more watts and less light. In comparison this was 5W, 12V bulb with excellent light.
I had ordered 4 for the price of £6.99 from ebay, but ended up using only one, because the light was enough.

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