Introduction: The Frugal Man's Solar Shed Project

Picture of The Frugal Man's Solar Shed Project

This is my overview of how I added solar power to my shed on a budget!

Step 1: Assemble Your Parts!

Picture of Assemble Your Parts!

I did a lot of research on Instuctables and on the Internet to find out the parts I needed. The first picture shows the basic parts.

Being frugal, I picked up parts over a 12 month period. Winters are cold here in Canada and online shopping passes the time! Doing it over time also helped control costs because I shopped for good deals.

Parts for my system included:

~ 50 watt solar panel from eBay- $60
~ MPPT 20 watt solar charge controller from eBay - $12
~ 2 deep cycle marine batteries (used in good shape with battery cables) - $40 each - from Kijiji (like Craigslist)
~ harbor freight charge controller(used in another project) and lights (no panels) from eBay - $15
~ block of 12V led lights from eBay- $3
~ volt meter (optional) - found in a thrift store - $2
~ Solar panel mounting kit from harbor freight - found in a thrift store - $3
~ 800 watt (max 1600) inverter from eBay - $35
~ miscellaneous stuff I had laying around (extension cord wire, speaker wire, electrical connectors, fuses, wood, screws, etc.)

Total cost - $210. Enjoyment - priceless!

Step 2: Putting Up the Solar Panel!

Picture of Putting Up the Solar Panel!

The first thing I did was decide on a location for the solar panel. Since my shed faces south, I mounted it on the front of the shed. I used a length of extension cord wire to hook up to the panel. Only the red and black wires were connected at the back of the panel using the + and the - signs to guide me. The green grounding wire was not connected but in future I will use it to ground the system. I used extension cord since the wires are wrapped in rubber to protect them from the elements.

I assembled the harbor freight mounting kit and planned how to attach it to the solar panel. This meant drilling some holes to mount it. I then measured the outside edges of the solar panel to determine where to install the mounts on the shed. Using a drill, a measuring tape, a level and some screws, I put up the mounting kit.

To determine the right angle for the solar panel, I went to the Internet and found out the ideal angle for my latitude and longitude. For me, it was around 48 degrees in the summer and 64 degrees in the winter. Since I won't use the system in the winter (don't want to freeze my batteries since I live in northern Ontario and it gets really cold here), I decided to get as close to 48 degrees as possible. The holes on the mounting brackets let me set it at 45 degrees (rough enough!)

I drilled a hole in the shed for the electrical wire and then the tricky part came. I balanced on a ladder, holding the solar panel and threaded the wire through the hole. Then, doing more balancing, I held the panel while putting nuts and bolts on to secure the panel to the mount. Too bad I could not video that part. It was the hardest part of the job and surely looked ridiculous!

Step 3: Wiring Up the Components

Picture of Wiring Up the Components

This was the fun part, wiring everything up to see if it worked. First thing was to wire the batteries. I hooked them up in parallel - positive to positive (red cable) and negative to negative (black cable). This kept the voltage at 12V.

Then using wiring harness with alligator clips, I hooked the red wire and black wire from the batteries to the solar charge controller where indicated for the battery connection (red to positive and black to negative). You need to pick a lead battery and that is where all your connections go. I also spliced a 10 amp fuse in the red wire from the battery to the controller.

Next, I hooked the red and black wires from the solar panel to the solar charge controller where indicated by the sun symbol (again, red to positive and black to negative). I also connected the volt meter between the solar panel and the charge controller so I could tell the voltage being provided by the sun. On most sunny days it is over 13 volts.

Then I hooked the 12V light to the charge controller at the light bulb symbol (red to positive and black to negative).

From my research, this sequence is the proper way to connect to the charge controller. And by the way, the light worked!

Then I hooked up the 800 watt inverter to the lead battery with the cables provided with the inverter and tested it out. First I hooked up a radio - no problem! Then, I tried some tools. No problem with a sabre saw or a soldering iron but no way with a chop saw. That distressed me since I wanted to build stuff in my man cave shed!

I laid out some 12V lights and spliced them together running off one switch. I put a 10 amp fuse on the red wire of the lights. I also ran some extension cords from the inverter to my work bench. All working fine!

Then back to the Internet for more research on running bigger power tools. I soon found out that my inverter was underpowered for a chop saw ( needs 1800 watts to start). So I spent more money and bought a 2000 watt inverter with a maximum wattage of 4600 watts from Amazon ($165 with free shipping) and guess what? The chop saw works fine!

So this is my journey to set up my shed for solar power! Hope it helps you on your journey! Please like and share if you find this instructable helpful!

Yours in frugality,

Tom

Comments

chris_maker (author)2016-10-03

Love the project!
Please vote for my solar shed in the solar contest 2016

mikoli007 (author)2016-09-14

New to all this stuff. Could you explain the difference or need for ~ MPPT 20 watt solar charge controller from eBay AND

~ harbor freight charge controller(used in another project) and lights (no panels) from eBay - $15?

What is the Harbor freight charge controller for?

TIA

brucenadams1 (author)2016-08-26

I bought $15 used solar panels, but they were 48V. With the correct 48V MPPT controller and 4 12V batteries in series, I am able to run 120VAC, "40 W" LED lights. The LED's have to be the dimmable type. My solar project was for lighting only and worked well. The shop tools are still plug-in.

gareth.collier.1985 (author)2016-08-24

I looked up battery wiring a few years ago for my boat, the best way to to wire up 2xbatts for a more even drain is to connect the + from one and the - from the other, if you enlarge your system overtime there is other ways of connecting more batts for a more even drain. Hope this is useful for you, thanks for sharing.

http://www.smartgauge.co.uk/batt_con.html

thats the link to the site i read years back on how to connect multiple batts.

worth a read to save your batts and help them last longer.

hope it helps.

Thanks for the link Gareth. Sure it will help me and others!

My understanding is that would make the system a 24V system not 12V as I intended.

No, the connection to your devices, not the wiring of the batts themselfs, keep the batts + to + and - to -
But wire your external devices from the + of batt 1 and from the - of batt two.
I will see if I can find the site I got the info from.

colinmcc (author)2016-08-25

"

I hooked them up in series - positive to positive (red cable) and
negative to negative (black cable). This kept the voltage at 12V."

Please change this, you hooked them up in parallel, NOT series. Series would be 24v.

BaldEagle5556 (author)colinmcc2016-08-25

Thanks Colin. I will change it.

kode1303 (author)2016-08-24

super cool :-)

StevenG8 (author)2016-08-24

What running time do you get on a full charge for the chop saw, and how long does it take then to recharge. Interesting project, this is on my wish list

BaldEagle5556 (author)StevenG82016-08-24

I used the chop saw to mail a wooden frame for a solar panel I added to another shed. This one was just lights. You only use a chop saw intermittently so while there was a small drop in voltage for useage over a 3 hour period (12.8V to 12.4V), I am sure I could have used it much longer.

seamster (author)2016-08-24

Looks good Tom! Thanks for sharing the details of your setup.

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