Solar power project step 1, initial purchase and testing
Recently electronics retailer Maplin went into receivership, or in other words, they went completely bust. You can check out their message at https://www.maplin.co.uk/
When I was a young boy I used to order their catalogue via post (i.e. mail order for you Americans) and pour over the list of thousands of components, imagining all the things I could do with them. In the 90's it's the only way you could get this stuff, there were no shops in Ireland yet, and no usable internet shopping. Of course I was just a child and was just abstractly imagining the potential, but they were like the ingredients of magic spells that would make robots that could talk to you, alarms for your door, rockets to space, and anything else I could imagine.
I was lucky enough to be bought a few DIY kits of my choosing that were aimed at children and young people. I didn't always have the skill to put them together properly, and no one in my family knew more than I did, so it was often a frustrating experience, but sometimes I would get it right and the thing would come to life. I've often tinkered with electronics, breaking a lot of perfectly working units in the process, and breaking broken things far worse than they started. At least now in middle life I can actually build and understand some of it!
You can understand perhaps why Maplin holds a special place in my heart. All of my nerdy friends had the same reaction at the news of their closure: good riddance! They are overpriced and gaudy. That may be so, but it wasn't always like that. I assume they've closed because of the same old story on the high street, internet companies doing it cheaper than bricks and mortar shops.
As a final parting gift to me, their customers and in fact mainly to the company's creditors, they are selling all stock at cut down prices and have been for over a month now. Everything must go. Of course I had to see what they had on offer.
As luck would have it, a number of solar power components that I've been looking at for over a year were all at least 50% off! I bought a few components and wired up a basic solar charging system.
The "brain" of the system is this Solar Charging Regulator (Duel) unit. It has the ability to charge one 12v 16 Ah battery or two 12v 8 Ah batteries from a solar cell of up to 15 Amp current.
Here is the full component list:
- Solar Charging Regulator (Duel)
- 2x 12v 7 Ah lead acid batteries
- 15 W solar cell
- 15 Amp fuse, and fuse holder (recycled from plug heads)
- Wire, crimp terminals and screw wire connectors
Here's everything except the solar cell, which is quite large. I just did some quick wiring to make sure everything worked. As you can see in the photo, the batteries share a common negative terminal and have separate positive terminals. The solar charging regulator automatically switches between them.
I set it up with the solar panel on my car as the width of the panel fit very well with the width of the front window, and angled it safely at the falling evening sun (which was the time it took me to get around to this task).
Obviously not a very practical or permanent charing situation, just to get it tested.
The big question ... did it work?! Well here's your answer!
Yes! Both batteries in charge mode. The LEDs are not very bright (probably to not use too much of the precious sun energy), and of course usually you have solar charging happening in quite bright sunlight, so I had to shield them with my hand and get close to see them. After only half an hour they were fully charged, at which time the green LED on the right lights up and the batteries enter trickle charge mode.
I was really happy to have just a wonderful high power solar cell panel to use now and was lucky enough to get it at such a cheap price. My luck was of course Maplin's unluck, so a final thought to them and thanks for their service over the years. It's easy to get caught up in sneering at their business and their loss but there were always people behind that service and the young version of me was helped on their course for discovery and wonder by their company.
Next time - more testing! But this time testing what I could use the battery power for and how long a battery lasts.