After some searching, i found a 42Ah AGM battery which was old and never used but in good working order. I mounted it into the free battery box and coupled it to an 80W mono solar panel with a budget $20 solar controller. I fitted out the box with some fuses, a couple of 12v outlets and those cheap 12v to USB car socket convertors and that was the end of the ipod argument!
Now almost twelve months later, the solar bug had well and truly bitten! The original unit had reached its capacity and now it was time to upgrade...
Step 1: Start Small But Think Big
I looked at building a storage box for extra batteries but after coming across a secondhand TV cabinet for $20, it became the base for my project. It had plenty of storage and strength to cope with the added weight and didn't look too odd in the living room of our home.
The unit, although quite heavy, has wheels underneath and having Anderson type connectors allow disconnection from the panels to make it mobile.
Step 2: Some Fabrication Is Necessary
The hardest modification was cutting up the two panel inserts to fit the shelf where the VCR/DVD player would usually fit in. There is one black panel in front set back just past halfway. This houses four 12v cigar sockets, a pair of power switches and two voltmeters. It also creates a cavity for the wiring to be hidden in behind all of which is accessible by another panel mounted on the back.
The blue voltmeter seen here is the current battery voltage and is positioned up high so when you watch TV at night, it isn't in view. The yellow voltmeter is wired to the panels and when the solar output falls below 7 volts, it switches off so it's not distracting by night .
Step 3: Filling Up the Storage Area
As this system is always inside, I wanted AGM type batteries as they are less of a safety hazard than standard car batteries. I also installed four vents in the back for air circulation as well as adding an illuminated computer case fan.
I was using the inverter (which is sitting atop of the subwoofer) to power the audio system until I came across some desktop computer speakers that could be directly powered from the batteries.
I also have some 12V LED downlights which take power from the system too.
Step 4: Solar Panels Are Necessary
These panels are all 80w and rated at 4.4 Amps max each but the controller has current limiting to 15 Amps to prevent overloading. They output about 5 Amps an hour on a cloudy day. The picture was taken in the middle of the day and, apart from the shading from the poles and railings, they still can get a reasonable amount of sun. The three panels produced just over 60Ah on one sunny winters day.
Step 5: The Solar Controller
More info from their website http://www.morningstarcorp.com/en/sunsavermppt
Step 6: 12V Picture and Sound
As with most budget TV's, the inbuilt sound is dismal so the next addition was a desktop computer speaker system. They are perfect as they are compact, have an input voltage of 13V DC, draw less than 1 Amp and are surprisingly powerful.
The speakers are held up in place by some strong double-sided tape and the subwoofer is hidden in with the batteries.
Step 7: Interface Devices
I added my Raspberry Pi http://www.raspberrypi.org inside the battery compartment close to the fan for cooling and it is fed 5V power through a Kensington Car Adaptor. It has a WiFi adapter and has Openelec software running Xbox media centre.
I found our WDTV media box will run on 12V directly and while it too streams media from the home network like the raspberry pi setup, it's ability to play many different video formats comes in very handy for watching backup movies straight off a portable hard drive. No more scratched discs!
Step 8: Audio and Video Control Unit
Step 9: Charge, Charge and More Charge
Plenty of charge options are available from four power outlets, eight USB outputs, two laptop chargers and a charger for the portable DVD player (which is handy for watching movies in bed).
Behind the entertainment unit is a 12V car jumpstarter pack which has a capacity of 22Ah and is constantly trickle charged. Being portable, it gets a lot of use outside. I have a 2300 litre rainwater tank that I draw from with a 12V marine washdown pump and this pack allows me to wash out the pool filter and up to three cars before it gets down to 50% depth of discharge.
Next was the radio. I thought about installing a car stereo but that would take up too much room and add to the huge amount of wiring already done so I opted for a small MP3 player with radio functionality. It runs all day and has 5V USB charging which makes it perfect for this setup. Other music is available via the iPod, CD's in the portable DVD player or through online streaming.
This unit provides a great source of 12V power and its surprising to find how many appliances quite happily run on it but the biggest consumers so far have been from laptop chargers which will draw upwards of 5 Amps due to the voltage having to be stepped up to about 19V.
I also have a lamp powered by this setup https://www.instructables.com/id/Solar-Powered-Floor-Lamp/
Step 10: Morningstar PC Software
Step 11: Conclusion.
There is always room for improvement and additions and I've considered 12V outlets in other areas of our home but at this stage it's better to be a standalone unit so its isolated from the rest of the house. It also has the bonus affect of making our family more social having to be in the same room together!