Add Solar Powered LED Lights to a Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit




Introduction: Add Solar Powered LED Lights to a Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit

Last fall I added a Harbor Freight 45 Watt solar panel kit to my outside storage building. I wanted lights in the building but it was not worth the cost to run power to the building just for lights. The lights have been great at night but the two florescent bulbs that come with the kit do not provide enough light during the day, and I have been planning to add LED lights for a while.

Here's the write-up I did on the Harbor Freight 45 Watt solar panel kit last fall.

And here's the write-up I did on the install itself.

Step 1: Select the LEDs You Will Use

There are a lot of vendors out there, and many of them are misrepresenting their products. So, when it came to buying LEDs for this project I bought direct from a Chinese vendor I have bought from before and trust. I also wanted waterproof LEDs because these would be installed in an outside building.

These are available from Youmyelectric LTD in China and at the time this article was written, a roll cost $11.84 delivered! The roll is 5 meters (~15') long, the string is waterproof and the LEDs are SMD5050's.

The LED string comes terminated with color coded wires on both ends - black for -12V and red for +12V. The waterproofing is a heavy clear silicone.

Step 2: Tools Needed

For wire connections I used a Weller soldering iron plugged into a power inverter I got for Christmas. Then I plugged the power inverter into the solar charge controller I had already installed in my storage building.

If you don't have a soldering iron then you can use crimp on connectors, but DON'T just twist the wires together and tape! If you do then you will soon have connection issues as the wires loosen up over time!!!!

Step 3: Add Extension Wires to the LED String.

The first real step is to figure out where the end of your LED string will be and then to add extension wires to run power to your LED string.

As I mentioned in the last step I used a soldering iron. I also had some red and black wire laying around that worked great.

Because this is low voltage (only 12 volts) any wire able to carry the current to the LEDs will work, even speaker wire will work. Just make sure you can identify which wire is connected to the black wire and which wire is connected to the red wire. Also make sure all of your connections are solid.

Step 4: Before Running the LED Light Strip

Here are pictures of where I decided to add the light strip. It's the header that runs all the way around the work bench area of my storage building.

Step 5: Install the LED Light Strip

The LED strip comes with 3M double sided tape. To install, just pull the backing off and press in place onto any clean surface.

One thing to be aware of is - never make sharp corners. Corners should be done in a arc like my fourth picture in this step.

I left the end wires attached in case I want to extend the LED string later.

Step 6: Run Extension Wires to Power

Route your extension wires in such a way that they won't be in the way and can't be damaged later.

In my case I threaded the wires through the insulated staples I was already using to run power to one of my florescent lights.

Step 7: Disassemble the Harbor Freight Light Socket

Disassemble the light socket you will tap into by unscrewing the front collar.

Once disassembled you'll see the wires attached to the back, and they are color coded - black is -12V and red is +12V.

Stuffed bear belongs to my grandson.

Step 8: Add Your LED Strip to the Light Circuit

Feed the two extension wires through the back of the light socket.

Strip some insulation off the ends of the wires, twist the strands together then place each under the correct screw and tighten.

Step 9: Reassemble the Harbor Freight Light Socket

Reassemble the socket.

The wires should be coming out of the back of the socket.

Step 10: Test Your Results!!!

After my install I tested the lights.

The first picture is of the other side of the storage building - the side without the LED lights.

The second picture is of the LED lights and florescent light I tapped into on. The LED lights have made a huge difference even with the outside light coming in through the windows.

The third picture is the LED lights and florescent light on at night.

And the fourth picture is looking into the building at night. It was not completely dark outside and the camera adjusted the exposure, making the light from inside the building brighter than it really is.

Thanks, Tom
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    5 years ago

    Great how to. Assume running one strand of LED lights. If you needed to add more how many do you think you could run off the solar setup ? I live in Florida and like to run solar powered LED strips around my deck and can't seem to find info on the amount power neeed per 16ft (which seems most common length strand. Thanks


    Tom Hargrave
    Tom Hargrave

    Reply 5 years ago

    The string wattage should be on the LED light package. Just divide the wattage by 12 (for 12 volts) and you have Amps. So, let's say for arguments sake that the string draws 2 amps and you want the lights on for 4 hours. Power draw would be 8 Ampere Hours (2 Amps X 4 Hours)

    The harder part is figuring out how much energy you can gather in a day. This kit is rated at 45 Watts, which is 3.75 Amps. So, if you have 10 hours of direct sunlight you would gather 37.5 Ampere Hours of energy. But this is perfect conditions with the sun shining squarely on the solar panels and reality is your solar panels will only be pointing directly at the sun for part of the day! You need to know how much to expect from your solar panels and fortunately others have done this for us.

    The rest is based on experience and I figure that since the solar panels are only perfectly aligned once a day I could half what the chart says and be close enough. Tampa is rated at 5.67 hours average, so half that is 10.6 Ampere Hours (3.75 X 5.67 / 2).

    The other things to do are buy a large enough reserve battery to bridge shady and rainy days, and to limit your LED light usage. Not many of us are out all night and it's best to leave them off when you aren't in the back yard.


    6 years ago

    I think adding solar set up in any kind of freight management
    business is a great initiative when we talk about the SCM. A great
    initiative in order to go green.


    7 years ago

    How much did the whole kit cost?


    7 years ago on Step 10

    Nice instructable. What is the size of your shed?