I few years ago I bought a 40W solar panel from Yahoo Auction Japan for my tiny prefab at work. For years I have been using generators to power up my tools and sometimes I even use a DC/AC converters hooked to my cars just to get some juice to power-up lights. One time I hooked my DC/AC converter to power-up my vacuum cleaner and the vac killed the car's ECU... HAHAHA!

I asked the power guy if he can hook electricity to my prefab and his price is just too much. The only thing that he has that I don't have is the license for hooking-up the power. I have been playing with 240V since I was 7, I climbed electric posts and towers, have played with high voltage and even got electrocuted several times and this guy said that I have to pay around 100,000 Yen. I refused and he offered me that if I do all the work (building the pole, installing the meter, hooking-up the wires to the power pole, and doing all the set-up by myself) and all he has to do is to make it legal, he'll give me a 10% discount... I refused and showed him my huge generator which is enough to run a welding machine.

This is the reason why I stay off-grid because I don't like some wise-ass telling me that I have to pay a lot for his services that I know that I can do myself...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

lights "on"

Since I don't spend long hours here,  I decided to use 12 volts lamps. On the left is an ordinary 4WD 110 watt fog lamp. On the right is a 12 volts room lamp that came from my Toyota Hi-ace Van. The fog lamp drains the power quickly but the room lamp can survive until the next morning.  I only use the big 100 volts lamp if I'm working on something small and complicated like meters and other small electronic devices. The batteries too can power up this 100 volts lamp but not for a long time so I use my engine powered generator to power it up and not the batteries. 

photo taken on a cloudy day, notice the voltage reading... not bad ey!!!

Another cheap upgrade... 12 volts car CD/radio player and funky speakers. I salvaged two speakers from a Mercedes Benz and placed them inside a normal carton box, then I wrapped the box with aluminum tape for looks... It still looks ugly but it does produce quality sounds and the kids loved it. 

inside the prefab

This is how the wiring look inside the prefab. I made it this way so that I could dismantle it easily when I need to remove the charging unit. 

Top right is the voltage regulator. White switch is just an ordinary house light switch. The black lamp on the left is my back-up lamp that originally came from a Mitsubishi Pajero. It is 12 volts and have cigarette lighter socket. All the electrical wires came from scrap.

The batteries are all 12 volts. The two bigger ones are for cars and the two smaller ones are for motorcycles. All of these batteries came from my battery junk pile. The blue box on the lower left is my cheap DC/AC (12V to 100V) converter w/c had a cigarette lighter socket. The wires on the lower right is for connecting the DC/AC converter to a battery. The cigarette lighter socket came from my scrap Suzuki Wagon R and the alligator clips I bought from a hobby shop.

close-up view

roof intallation

The solar panel needed to be installed on the roof and to do this I used two pieces of wood for it's legs, two metal brackets, some bolts and nuts and galvanized wire for tying it to the roof. 
It wasn't raining but just after my installation, the rain poured like mad so I had to do the rest the next day. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

solar panel testing

Since I didn't want to pay the electrician clown who wanted to rip me off, I decided to buy a second hand solar panel. I found a cheap used solar panel at Yahoo Auctions Japan and bought it. Then I bought a regulator, some wires, switches, alligator clamps and a one way diod for preventing the charged batteries from getting depleted at night while the solar panel is not charging. The batteries that I was using came from my cars and since that I'm in the car biz, finding donor batteries for my little project is never a problem. Since the batteries that I was using are 12 volts and my solar panel only pumps up 19 volts max but I needed 100 volts, I had to use a DC to AC converter to power up small appliances like a radio, speakers,  small TV, and my Macbook or my other laptop. To make life easier for me, I ripped off a cigarette lighter socket from the crap car on the back ground and connected it to the batteries where I connected the DC/AC converter that had a cigarette lighter socket. 

The first time I assembled everything, all worked well and as planned. It was a cloudy day that day and the solar panel barely got my Macbook to run using direct current from the solar panel (I depleted my macbook's battery before testing). Then I connected a half-dead battery and left it to charge for about an hour and got my Macbook working again. 

Before I decided to buy this solar panel, first I made a small windmill generator with blades about 1.5 meters in circumference (sorry I don't have photos...) it too worked but the sound of the blades/fan spinning was too annoying and had problems when the wind wasn't blowing strong so it went to my metal bin for recycling. I also made a generator powered by a 50cc Honda 4 stroke motorbike engine but that too wasn't "eco" because it still needed gasoline to run and since I have a real generator that has lots of grunt, it went to my recycle bin for scrapping.  

Sunday, October 3, 2010

kids at play

I spend most of the time working at home or moving around and I don't spend much at my lot but when I do, I often get visitors mostly kids. Kids needed the prefab to play and they needed electricity to connect their iPods, PSP or Nintendo DS. Kids also love playing with my Macbook listening to iTunes which is connected to a huge speaker that needed juice from my solar panel.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I need lights !

At first I use my small prefab as a box to store some of my bikes. Parking the bike inside in the dark wasn't fun and I have busted my shin and ankles countless times. Using my generator to power up the lights inside the prefab was a too much work especially if I'm hungry and in a rush. 

After installing my solar panel and moving stuffs around, I don't have to mess around starting my generator and even with my pile of crap inside the box, I can tip-toe my way inside without busting my ankles.

working on my bikes

This is me, my bikes and my small prefab just after I installed my solar panel. I used the solar panel's batteries to use a 100v electric drill to drill some holes to extract several broken bolts on the bike that I was working at. The batteries were just half charged then and the drill easily drained up it's juices. Good thing that I have a strong engine powered generator to finish the job.

My views about solar energy... I've used this solar panel to charge-up batteries and with years of experience using it, I can say that it is very reliable, easy to maintain and FREE. I have thought of adding more solar panels but since I'm not using a lot of electricity, one is enough for me. When my friends saw this, most of them wanted one for themselves. I am not an enthusiast and never an "eco" freak but I was trained to live off-grid so I just utilize what I need to make stuffs easier for me. Funny I never admit that I'm not into this "eco" thing but I do separate metals from aluminum, bronze, copper, etc and sell them. I also scrap dead batteries. I separate wheels from rims and plastic from metal and get rid of my scrap and garbage properly. I like repairing and using old stuffs and refrain from buying new parts as much as I can. I use wind, and solar energy and I feed my generator with old crappy car fuel boosted-up with acetone plus several of my chemical mayhem :) I think I'm more of a "cheap guy" than an "eco Freak" but when I'm in front of the ladies, "I love ECO" hahaha!

Back to the topic Many times I was asked by friends to help convert their houses to solar power but I often refuse because of the pros and cons.

Pros and cons: Solar panels are expensive and if you will be needing solar energy to power your house, you need lots of solar panels and lots of batteries plus a good DC/AC converter and this too don't come cheap. I helped a friend install solar panels to his cottage house and we ended up using 8 larger solar panels and lots of batteries to support his small room air conditioner and a small refrigerator. The batteries can easily support normal home appliances but not larger ones. The good thing is that solar panels are basically maintenance free. Once the set-up is done, all you have to do is to wipe/clean the panels from time to time to remove dust, leaves, dirt or bird shit and thats it. Batteries do lose their charging power as they age and this is one big factor to think about. Most batteries can last for 3 to 5 years depending on your usage or if you are lucky but some lose their charging power a lot more sooner than expected. It is always best to do a good computation or a good estimate on your long time electric bills to see if it's worth doing. 

For me I saved at least 200,000 Yen on my electricity bills for two years since my generator gobbles lots of fuel. I couldn't do a computation against the electrician and the electric bills because it will not be fair to them. I only paid about 10,000 Yen for my second hand solar panel and about 6,000 Yen for the voltage regulator, 2,000 yen for the DC/AC converter, 300 Yen for the alligator clips, 2,000 Yen for the galvanized wire and brackets and the rest are free. Remember that I never paid for batteries since I have a constant supply of car batteries coming from my cars and from car dealer buddies. If you are planning to use solar energy to power your home electricity needs, it will always be best to also have electric service from your local electric company. 

I also tried installing several solar panels on my house but I found out that they are too much work for me (changing batteries and hooking-up gadgets). I still want and still need to save electricity even without using my solar panels. What I did is to use energy efficient appliances like eco bulbs/lights, I tried staying away using my desk top computers and use laptops instead. I still use five analog TV sets and one of them is quite huge and eats electricity a lot. There are lots of new eco friendly appliances that can really help you save money. Please think about these new eco friendly appliances when you do your computation... 

If you are an enthusiast or you just want to try solar energy to power-up your laptops, shavers, etc, and look cool and eco to your friends, I suggest you get yourself the largest solar panel that you can get your hands on and start from there. Smaller solar panels are just not powerful enough but if you start with a larger panel, you could probably even use this to power your desk top computers and TVs provided you have several good batteries. 

Another good technique is to use a step down transformer... I will not discuss this here but this also works :)