This is my second use of a distributed solar lighting system, where the panel can sit somewhere in the sun and send power to the lights that are in a shaded spot. I guess its kind of a half step between solar garden lights and wiring your home for solar power. The result in this case is a single panel mounted to a sunny spot on a wall that sends power to a string of glass bottles underneath a grape arbor.
At some point after I built my Solar Powered Walkway, my brother and his family came over for a visit. Everyone seemed quite impressed with the lights, especially his wife. Ted had just finished building a massively oversized grape arbor for the gigantic grapevine that's been cluttering up his backyard for the last several years, and Michelle asked if she could have a set of the lights to put under the arbor. I thought this was a great idea and told them that if they paid for the materials I'd be happy to build something for them.
Of course, since I'm never happy to just leave well enough alone I decided the original design could use some work. So, I started tweaking things, a little here, a little there, and soon enough the result was something quite different from my original design.
About halfway through building this I got to thinking about the fact that I never get my sister-in-law anything for birthdays and Christmas, as I'm never really sure what she'd like. I am awful at buying presents for people. However, here I'd been presented with something that I knew for certain she'd like, and her birthday was even coming up soon! I ended up finishing the build the week before her birthday, and presented it to her the weekend before her party so we'd have time to set it up in the arbor.
Step 1: Stuff you'll need
Most importantly, you'll need a set of solar powered Christmas lights. I used a set from dealextreme.com and then altered it to make it work for my purposes. If you don't feel like making some major changes to the electronics, I'd recommend you find a different brand. These were not the best quality, the brightness of the LEDs was somewhat disappointing, the battery they came with didn't work, and the solar panel wasn't able to charge any battery enough to run the lights for more than a few hours. That being said, I was able to make it bigger, better, and stronger with some work and extra parts.
If you go with a different brand of Christmas lights you may or may not need the following items, but if you go with the dealextreme lights you definitely will:
- A solar panel that puts out about 2v@600ma (I built one out of fractured panels from Electronics Goldmine)
- A pair of decent rechargeable NiMH or NiCd AA's, 1.2v@2500ma each
- Around 150-200' of light gauge speaker wire
- A 2xAA (or two 1xAA) battery holder wired in parallel, not in series (I hacked up some old electronic gadget and rewired it for this)
- Some sort of case to hold your new solar panel (I built mine out of . . . well, you'll see that in a future step)
- Some cedar boards (I used a single cedar fence picket)
You definitely will need:
- Silicone sealant
- Paper towels
- Stiff wire
- Electrical tape
- Krylon clear matte spray
- Clear glass bottles/jars/vases (get them second hand)
As to tools, you'll need the usual assortment of modern tinkerer's tools:
- Hot glue gun
- Screw driver
- Wire cutters
- Soldering iron