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Old 08-09-11, 09:47 PM   #1
davranyou
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Default I need an introduction to Solar Power

Hi Everyone,

I am hoping someone can provide me with some resources on understanding solar power and basic knowledge on how to utilize it.

Most internet searches I do result in websites selling plans on making your own solar panels or windmills

I realize some people are capable of this, but not this guy I am comfortable spending some money on small working solar panel and attempt to figure out how to use the power it generates in small projects to get me started.

What I am looking for is a way to understand what is required in the process of doing a solar powered project.

I understand that I will not be able to directly power 110V household device from a solar panel, but there have to be some simple projects I can experiment with to develop a working knowledge of solar power.

For instance, I would like to try and heat a Hot Water Tank (Decommissioned gas or electric) using solar power during the day. It would not be my primary hot water source, but a hot water "pre-heater" water source to aid my "grid-tied" hot water tank (or on demand unit one day in the future) so it does not work so hard heating water from ground temps.

I am already practicing many conservation techniques to reduce my gas/electric/water usage overall, this is just one thing that I would like to attempt as, well... from my point of view, it appears to be less cash intensive than a big grid-tied solar array and battery bank inverter setup.

I like the idea of small projects that I can pack up and take with me as I move. The house I am in is definitely not our long-term dream home, therefore the big ticket green investments will wait until the perfect house is found.

Any help is greatly appreciated! Heck lets start smaller and see if we can raise the temp of my daughter's kiddie pool with a solar panel!

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Old 08-09-11, 10:45 PM   #2
Xringer
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Welcome to DIY-R-Us .. If you have not already checked out this site,
Solar Photovoltaic Projects
They have a lot of interesting projects you can study..

There is a lot of solar stuff on youtube too. Plus, we have a few
installed projects right here on this forum.
Mine are on-going, it's kinda a hobby of mine..

Take care,
Rich
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Old 08-09-11, 11:40 PM   #3
davranyou
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Thanks for reply the Rich. I have been to builditsolar.com before and spent many hours reading over their extensive resources, most of which seems tailored to bigger solar powered projects.

I have had trouble finding much info on small scale temporary projects.

Here are some specific questions I am curious about for said project...

Let say I want to heat a 30 gallon Hot Water Tank with a stick on pad style heater (Like an engine oil pad heater for cars/trucks)

How can I figure out what wattage of heater would be required to raise the temp say 10 degrees celsius during the day (say a six hour time span)

Through work I can source both 110 volt pads and 12 volt pads of varying wattage. I am guessing that if I use a 12 volt, I may not require the use of an inverter?

Anybody know of some good small scale projects to learn from?
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Old 08-09-11, 11:57 PM   #4
Ryland
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If you just want heat, then solar thermal is the way to go.
I would say to start out with a book like The People's Power Primer by Robert A Dahse it's on his web site GeoPathfinder and is only $10, he does a good job explaining what everything does and what you need for a small system like you might want and what you need for a larger system.
If you want to read about solar water heating then something like Amazon.com: Solar Water Heating: A Comprehensive Guide to Solar Water and Space Heating Systems (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series) (9780865715615): Bob Ramlow, Benjamin Nusz: Books is going to give you all the info you could ask for from someone who has worked on more real life solar hot water system then you can imagine and explains how to make them work well without fail.
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Old 08-10-11, 12:36 AM   #5
davranyou
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Yeah, Solar Thermal is definitely the most efficient way to go when it comes to solar water heating. One reason I am not looking at it now is because I want to sell the home in less than two years. Integrating an efficient system like that seems like a waste when I will not benefit greatly from it. Selfish, I know, but being green to the planet should also save you a little green in my eyes.

The other reason I am thinking solar power... is that when night time comes I hope to be able to disconnect the solar panel and connect a pedal power generator. So my workout is also working towards a nice hot shower when I am done trying to burn excess calories.
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Old 08-10-11, 05:25 AM   #6
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The first thing to understand is that the amount of electric power you get from a solar panel is not enough to provide electric heat. Its not efficient to go from solar electric to electric heat. If you want heat, you need to look at pipes and a fluid, and store solar heat in an insulated container.

With solar electric, the first step is not to install a solar panel. It is to drastically reduce your electric use. For a smaller system, you should try to eliminate anything that needs electricity for heat or mechanical power. Just stick with light, sound and data. You can occasionally plug in an inverter and run a drill or other tool, but that should not be a regular use for a small system.
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Old 08-10-11, 07:29 AM   #7
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Welcome to the site davranyou.

I don't want to discourage you, but unfortunately you picked one of the worst green technologies for ROI (return on investment). Solar electric panels have one of the longest paybacks out there. Solar hot water is much quicker, and conservation is much much quicker than that. I don't know how much you've done with the house, but going over it again would probably be more worth while than going with a simple solar setup.
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Old 08-10-11, 07:59 AM   #8
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If you want to go small scale and portable with solar PV, a good starter project is LED lighting.

It's something that can be expanded, if you wanted to add more nighttime lighting around the house, or outdoors..



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Old 08-10-11, 02:13 PM   #9
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If you are lucky and in great shape your exercise bike will put out 200 watts, but if you are riding for more then just a few minutes then figure 100 watts if you are an average American, that is the same kind of heat as a 100 watt light bulb will put out.
To give you an example of energy used to heat water, my electric tea kettle is one of the most efficient ways to heat a small amount of water using half the energy it takes to heat the same amount of water in a microwave, so it takes about 50 watt hours to bring 4 cups of water to a boil, that would be ridding your stationary bicycle for half an hour to heat enough water to wash up in the sink.
At the same time you could lay a black garden hose out in your drive way and have a small pump from an RV to circulate the water in it in to the kiddie pool and end up with a nice warm kiddie pool by mid afternoon.
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Old 08-11-11, 06:54 PM   #10
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We have about 445 watts (rated) Photo Voltaic solar panels and 6 - 6volt golf cart batteries, with two controllers, and a 1750 watt inverter to convert the 12Volt power to 110 volt AC.
We do use the power to make coffee in the morning and to run our computer, we use it for all lighting we have mostly LED lighting with some CFL's and some florescent tubes. Total cost for our set up today would be about $2,500. The only reason we can justify this expense is because we live full time in an RV and often do not have grid power available.
Using solar power is fantastic, but as others have noted, if you have grid power available in all likely hood it is the lowest cost of any power you can get.
You might use your $$ resources more effectively to heat hot water by direct sunlight, and use the warmed water to warm your house, and for domestic hot water. Other really good ways to save power is to use electric bikes, scooters, cars, lawn mowers, these cut down the use of fossil fuels. Even though some utilities burn oil and coal to generate your electricity, they produce much less pollution than your gas engines, for the same amount of power.


Last edited by nibs; 08-11-11 at 06:56 PM..
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