Living in South Africa we have 320+ sunny days a year but very little uptake of solar technology. This was mostly due to the fact that we had cheap (but not reliable) electricity from our sole national power supplier. This situation changed drastically over the last few years with electricity prices tripling to try and raise the funding for a massive expansion of the now grossly over-utilised national grid. Energy prices have sky rocketed and reliability has plummeted. The upside of this was that the prices of solar panels and LED technologies dropped drastically and the availability became more first world as more entrepreneurs ventured into the import and supply of alternative energies.
The three small (12-25 Volt, 25Watt) panels cost me R250 (approx $30) each from a pawn shop about a year ago and they became a project waiting for a place to happen. I mounted one of the panels on the side of my garage using an old tool rack and hooked it up to a 12 volt CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lighting) that I bought for R36 ($5). I hacked a day/night sensor so that the 12 volt CFL switched on automatically at dusk and burnt the whole night long before switching itself off at dawn. The 12 volt batteries were more than capable of sustaining the CFL for 2 weeks or more with no charge at all so with full solar charges, the bulb switched itself on and off for the next year with 100% reliability and the single solar panel kept the batteries topped up on a daily basis. And that was as far as the project got for the next year.
I am currently in-between contracts and have the time on my hands to do some work around the house. I hate window blinds and so have been systematically removing them from all the windows (the previous owner of our house obviously loved them!) It was during one of these removal sessions that I realised that the aluminium channel would be the perfect fit for the solar panels.
This instructable is then the result of that brain wave and the resultant frame and mounting of the solar panels. Unfortunately I never intended to make an instructable out of this and it is only because of the success of the finished product that I decided to share the project with you. If the demand requires, I will dismantle the finished product and do a proper step by step instructable.
The three panels now charge a dual bank of 12volt batteries (reclaimed from a defunct UPS) via a dual solar regulator that cost R250 ($30). The intention is to drive all of the perimeter lighting of the property and the electric garage motors so that when we have one of our extremely regular 4 hour long blackouts, the property remains relatively secure and accessible.
Step 1: Old test install
Just for interest sake and context, these brackets taken from a workshop tool hanging kit were turned upside down and modified to fit one of the panels. The solar panel slotted between these brackets and was still secure over a year later. Not bad for a chewing gum and string temporary trial.