Introduction: Solar Interior Lighting (Getting Your Solar Feet Wet)

This is more of a proof of concept for both regular folk and fellow solar-hippie-alternative-energy freaks out there. There is no reason that anyone should have to pay for electricity to light their homes anymore. The majority of energy used in homes is from heating and cooling of one type or another, e.g., air conditioning, water heating, cooking, refrigeration.

Lighting takes up only 10 - 15% of energy used in homes today. With the price of LED lighting coming down this percentage could be cut by half or more. But why continue to pay for electricity for lighting at all when you can put out an initial payment on equipment and then be free of this charge on your monthly electric bill? Maintenance to a solar lighting system would primarily include occasional battery replacement. Other maintenance issues might be storm/hail damage (covered by home owners insurance---check with your insurance company) to solar panels or failure of electronic components such as a charge controller. On the bright side if you install a system and it lasts five years then hopefully solar panel production has increased and lowered the cost of your replacements. Not only would future solar panels be cheaper, but advances in the technology should also increase their efficiency giving you more bang for your buck.

I'm starting small. This is a simple solar night light.

Step 1: The Interior

This is where the light will be mounted. In the grill area to be exact. I know, I know, I know, it's a shame to not be using that as the charcoal grill that it is, but as far as we can tell it has never been used for that purpose. Maybe it was used many years ago in the 1960's, but now there is no hint of smoke or use at all. The chimney cap needs replacement and the top flue tiles of both chimneys need to be replaced. We also wouldn't feel comfortable using it without a vent fan installed on top of the chimney flue.

If anyone is a gifted metalworker out there . . . my ultimate dream for this grill would be to put decorative air tight doors over it and turn it into an indoor smoker. I guess it would still be useable as a grill as well. Indoor smoker . . . oh what a dream.

What was I talking about? Oh, yeah, solar lighting. . . .

Step 2: Up on Top

This isn't my first attempt at this. Several years ago I tore apart two solar "tiki torch" lights. As can be seen in the pictures I mounted the solar panels on the damper and ran wires down the flue to where I mounted the lights. They worked. Sort of. They really didn't put out much light. You could tell that they were on after dark when most of the room lights were out. Their flicker was quite nice, but just not bright enough. I should have added more.

The lower part of the flue has been boarded up. A long 2x2 is screwed into that piece of wood and from there you can see the lights hanging. I pretty much left this as it is. All that changed is the light on the end and the wiring. The damper doesn't seal well. I may need to block it off with some extruded foam to keep cool winter drafts out and to keep the a/c from bringing in outside humid air.

Another benefit of doing this project is that this is where my Mrs. sets up one of those little winter village scenes during the holidays. This solar light will be unhooked and I'll attach it to some 12v LED christmas lights to light up the scene instead.

Step 3: Needs

You'll need a few things.

1.  A battery (or more depending on how big of a system you're doing) -- this battery is a 12v sealed AGM battery that's used in kid's scooters. I picked it up on amazon for $17. It is a 17 amp hour battery.

2.  A 12v timer or motion sensor -- I looked for a 12v timer for ever and ever and never could find one. This instructable was going to be my first foray into an Arduino project. I ordered the Arduino and just for giggles thought I'd look for a timer one last time. And there it was.

Energy Efficient Products, Inc. out of Rome, New York. Not only did I find my timer, but they also carry a bunch of LED bulbs and solar generating systems. Shipping was fast and they were helpful when I emailed them with questions.

The 12v timer is a really nice gizmo. You can power the timer from your 12v battery, but it isn't necessary because there is a battery inside. I think they said it was a 3v. Programming it is easy and it gives you lots of options. You can program this for specific days, just weekends, or for everyday. There are 24 time settings, sort of. The first is an "on" setting and the second and "off" setting. It proceeds like that all the way to 24.

They also have a 12v motion sensor for anyone needing one of those.

3.  Lights of some sort. I'm using about a foot and a half of leftover 5050 LED strip lights from my LED Indirect Lighting instructable (which I could add a solar panel and battery to now that I think about it).

4.  A solar charge controller.

5.  An inline fuse of an amp rating suitable to your project.

6.  Various assorted connectors.

Step 4: Set Up

In the pictures you see how I set up my light and how I mounted it. The light is a total of 1.5 to 2 feet long. This particular LED strip is 4 amps per 16.5 feet. This breaks down to about a quarter of an amp per foot. This light at most is using half of an amp at 12v. The battery and charge controller holder was welded together with some scrap metal.

Don't be worried about wiring this thing. It's dead simple. You'll just be following the instructions for the solar charge controller and the timer. I'll break it down:
  1. Your solar panel plugs into the charge controller.
  2. Your battery plugs into your charge controller.
  3. Your timer plugs into the battery.*
  4. The light plugs into the timer.
* This particular battery has the male spade type quick connectors on it. I had to wire the female connectors that were plugging into it with two wires on each female connector. One to connect the battery to the charge controller and one to connect the battery to the timer. Refer to the picture of the connector with two red wires sticking out of it.

Step 5: The End Product

Ta-da! Nothing really that special. This is just an upscaled version of a solar garden light.

This is easy and inexpensive. Anyone planning a new construction home should really consider a 12v solar system just for whole house lighting. Beefing it up a little with bigger and more batteries (and appropriately rated charge controller) and a person could easily add DC outlets like these to charge practically anything that comes with a car cigarette lighter charger. Fixtures such as recessed lights, ceiling mounted lights, and the lights on fans could easily be converted to 12v dc with the use of a-type 12v dc LED bulbs. The fixtures could even be modified to use the different socket types of lower voltage LED bulbs. They are more expensive, but they also last longer.

It's easy to do and it's something the world should be moving towards as a way to ease strain on power delivery systems. Plus you'd have light even in event of a grid power outage.

Now go out there and save the world (and in the long run, your money) with energy conservation.

Green Tech Contest

Second Prize in the
Green Tech Contest