Simple DIY Solar Panel Project

I've written a lot about making solar panels at home to save huge amounts on your electricity bill and slash your carbon footprint, all without paying big supply and installation costs. However what if you don't want to take this step right now, instead you just want to have a play with solar technology and see what it can do? Here we present several simple and fun experiments you can do without breaking the bank.

I'd like to look at the solar garden lights that are spreading everywhere like wildfire at the moment. These are getting so cheap and readily available that you can pick up a dozen for next to nothing.

A quick search on eBay I did turned up packs at a “Buy it Now” price of $2.95 and I saw plenty of auctions at less than a dollar!!

Now these solar garden lights don't pack a lot of power really, but they do have a fully working solar cell, a little battery (usually AA size) and a bonus LED light thrown in. Apart from using these lights for their intended purpose of lighting up your garden, you can fire up your imagination and put them to all sorts of great uses. How about using some of the spotlight types over your door so you can find your key at night? What about lighting up the path to the garage so you don't trip?

These are a few of the more obvious suggestions, but I like to tinker, so if you have some basic skills at wiring, or even better like to hack electronics, how re-using these gadgets for other low power applications? You can make a solar USB charger by hacking together a couple of solar garden lights solar cells and adding a simple regulator. Put enough in “series” (electrical term for connecting together the batteries within the solar garden light units in a daisy chain fashion) and you can build up the voltage a bit. Experiment with a few in series and then connect together a few of your series chains in parallel (another term meaning positive to positive and negative to negative). Series gives you more voltage, and parallel gives you more current and the combination of both can mean more power. Try this; take the guts from a dozen solar garden lights and disconnect the LED lights leaving just the solar cell and the batteries. Divide into two groups of six, connect each group in series then connect the two groups in parallel, now you have a 9V solar power generator than might even run a pond water pump for a pretty display in your garden. Not bad for less than $10 I say.

I've even seen some modifications using red LED's and a clever arrangement of a lens to make a DIY solar projector which you can use to throw up little projections onto walls outside. Spell out words or simple pictures with your solar projector for a bit of arty fun.

The best part of all these little solar projects, is that once you have put them together, they cost nothing to run and you can leave them going all the time to continue to inspire you to bring solar power goodness into your life.

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Chad Decker