Sunny Solar Power Weekend Project to Electrify Your Outbuildings
By Michele Cook
Sheds and outbuildings are essential equipment on farms and homesteads throughout the country. They are great for storing equipment, keeping materials dry, and creating a dry comfortable workspace.
Add electricity, and you can run your power tools and find everything in the dark. If you want electric in your shed or outbuilding you can run conventional electricity or you can make your own.
Solar power is the perfect choice for your shed or outbuilding. Small solar setups are cost efficient to install, and of course you won’t see a bump in your power bill when you leave the light on in the shed all night (*raises hand* so guilty).
Photo by Flikr/Andrew Magill.
Comparing Costs: Solar Power vs Conventional Electricity
One of the biggest reasons to choose solar over conventional electric is the cost. In most cases, you can create a small solar set up to power your small shed or outbuilding much cheaper than running conventional electric. To know if this is true at your house, you are going to have to compare the installation cost of solar vs conventional electricity.
Things to consider:
- Distance from the current power source to your outbuilding
- Amount of electricity required to power your outbuilding
- Permitting required by your local government body
- Cost of a professional electrician (if required)
The farther from your current power source your shed is, the more expensive it will be to run electric. Everything from the amount of cable you need to the size of cable will be determined by the distance.
The amount of electricity you will need will effect how big your solar setup will be. If you need a few lights to see by in the evening, a small solar system will do, if you are running an auto shop, your setup will need to be much larger.
In some locations, you can run solar or conventional power to your outbuilding without worrying about permits or regulations, but in other locations, you will need to get permits to run your electric. I have never met a permit that didn’t cost money, figure this into your cost as well.
The last thing to consider will be very particular to your knowledge and location. If you are comfortable working with electricity and your local government allows it, you may not need to budget for a pro. On the other hand, if you aren’t comfortable handling electricity or your local ordinances require a certified electrician, make sure you figure this into the cost.
If you figured up the cost and solar is cheaper, read on to find out what kind of equipment you need and how to install it.
How Much Power Will You Need to Run Your Outbuilding?
Figuring out how much power you will need is the number one thing you will need to do before you purchase any piece of equipment. To figure out how much power you will need, you are going to need to ask yourself “what do I want to run in this building?” Think about lights, power equipment, and appliances you plan on using in your shed or outbuilding.
Once you know what you are going to run, you need to add up how many watts all of this equipment uses. Things like light bulbs are pretty simple — a 40 watt light bulb uses 40 watts — other equipment might only give a power rating in volts or amps. If the power information isn’t in watts you will have to use the Ohm’s law formula to do the conversion.
If you aren’t a math wiz, there are sites to help you.
Once you know how many watts each piece of equipment uses, add it all up. This will be the minimum watt rating your solar equipment will need.
Tip: Use LED lights! They use about one-tenth the power of standard light bulbs.
Solar Power Equipment for Powering Your Outbuilding
Now that you know your watt rating, it’s time to talk about the equipment you need to create solar power for your shed or outbuilding.
For running AC power you will need the following equipment:
- Solar panels equal to or exceeding the watt rating you need.
- A charge controller so you don’t overcharge the batteries.
- At least one deep cycle battery (more if you want to run your equipment for a longer period of time)
- A power inverter to convert DC (Direct Current) power to AC (Alternating Current)
Most large hardware stores or tool outlet stores sell everything you need (with the exception the batteries) in one complete kit, this makes it pretty easy to get everything you need in one trip to the store.
Photo by Pixabay/Julian Affeldt.
Setting Up Your Solar Equipment
The basic setup for a powering your shed with solar power is pretty simple. Your kit will come with instructions. Follow them.
Set your solar panel in the sunniest area close to your building. You can put it on the roof or mount the panels on the ground using a pole or anything else you can mock up. Just make sure the panel is in a sunny place.
Next comes the charge controller.
In most cases, there are two wires coming from the solar panel that will attach to the charge controller, again follow the instructions your controller comes with. Your charge controller controls the amount of power going into your batteries to keep them charged. Too much power going into your batteries and you will destroy your batteries.
From the charge controller, you will hook up your deep cycle batteries. The batteries should be hooked up in parallel if you have more than one (24 or 36 volt systems will vary). Now you have plenty of DC power, but unless the equipment is specially made for DC power, you are going to need one last piece to keep the lights on in your shed.
A power inverter is the final piece of your set up. The power inverter will convert the DC power from your batteries to AC power you can run your lights and equipment from. If you are buying the pieces separately, make sure the wattage rating of your inverter is similar to the wattage rating of your set up.
Plug It In!
And you’re done. This is a simple weekend project that will keep the lights on in your shed or outbuilding without breaking the bank. Calculate your wattage, get your kit, find some sun, and hook it up.
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