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[Articles Home]  [Add Article]  

A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station

ROB NORMAN (VK5SW) on February 6, 2009
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A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station

Since I wrote the article called ' Modest 20 foot Tower ', I've had enquiries, wanting to know more about my 'Solar Powered Station in the Bush'...

There's an interest, nowadays, in alternative forms of power but the most popular for Amateur Radio Operators would have to be Solar Power... The problem, however, is that I don't know much about it but I can share with you what I do know... I've been operating my ' Solar Station in the Bush ' for a couple of years now and it's been working very well, although my situation is probably a little different to most, in that, we use our property as a ' getaway ' and we're only there for a few days each month or so, and therefore the demand on the battery is infrequent...

There are basically 3 components to a Solar Installation... The Battery, the Solar Panel and the Controller to regulate the current going into the battery... It's basically as simple as that...

The sizes of these, depend on the amount of current you need to draw from the battery and the duration... Once you work out these 2 requirements, you're able to figure out the capacities of the 3 components... In my case, for example, I operate CW on HF, so the current draw on the battery would be about 20 Amps or so, although I only run the radios at about 75% of full power, ie 75 watts... So, let's say the current demand is about 20 Amps anyway... If I was to run the transmitter for 1 hour, it would mean that the battery has used 20 Amp Hours in that one hour period... Batteries are rated in terms of their voltage and the number of Amp Hours that they can supply... However, batteries used with solar panels need to be of the ' Deep Cycle ' type... They should only be discharged up to and no more than about 20% of their capacity... If, for example, you have a 100 Amp Hour battery, it shouldn't be discharged by more than 20%. ie 20 Amp Hours so that 80 Amp Hours of the battery's capacity should still be available...

The battery I use has an Amp Hour rating of 670 Amp Hours... 20% of that is approximately 130 Amp Hours... So, I'm able to draw that amount, 130 Amp Hours without harm to the battery... Most people would think this to be ' Overkill ' but I tend to do this sort of thing... Therefore, if the transmitter was to run for 6 and a half hours, at 20 Amps, the battery would be down to the allowable ' discharge level '... There are many different types of batteries available nowadays, but I bought a lead acid type, made by Exide in the USA, because it's a proven and reliable type of battery, old technology... It consists of 2 volt cells in series to form 6 volt batteries, 2 of which make up the 12 volt supply... A battery this size can power a small house but you would need a number of panels to recharge the battery due to the regular current drain by house hold appliances etc... They're not cheap... This one cost $1500, Australian, a couple of years ago and the expected life is about 10 years if looked after properly... The voltage at the battery fluctuates with the current coming into it from the panel... It may swing from 12 volts or so of a night to 14.5 volts or so in the daytime... I have 3 different radios that I have used with this battery and the voltage swing doesn't seem to affect them...

The amount of charge going into the battery is dependent on the size of the panel, it's direction towards the Sun and the availability of Sunshine... Since we're not at the Radio QTH all the time and drawing current, the battery doesn't need to be charged quickly on a regular basis... One 80 watt panel is sufficient for my needs ie. to keep it charged... It's made by BP and cost nearly $700 Aust... The direction that the panel faces is important to maximise the exposure to the Sun... Also, the angle to the horizon should be optimized to ensure that the Sun hits the panel as near as perpendicular as possible throughout the year... High tech ones track the sun...

The ' Charge Controller, ' or ' Regulator ' ensures that the right amount of current from the panel is fed to the battery... When there is a large current drain from the battery, the regulator will allow maximum current to flow into the battery from the solar panel... With the panel shown, a maximum current of nearly 5 Amps can be produced with a cloudless sky... When the battery is nearly fully charged, only a small amount of current is sent to it... The maximum Amp Hours this panel can manage at this QTH seems to be about 35 AH or so a day ... When buying the battery and panel, the sales people will sell you the appropriate controller as well... The charge controller is able to tell you a lot of information... eg. the voltage at the battery terminals at present, the amount of current going into the battery at the moment, the number of Amp Hours already gone into the battery so far today, the total Amp Hours sent to the battery each day etc...

The other consideration is the wires connecting components... To reduce voltage drop, ensure that you use heavy gauge wires and also use fuses in the main lines... Ask the sales people questions, they want your business...

I hope this is of help in building your own Solar Powered Station... You can see mine, here, at www.VK5SW.com

73's for now... Rob - VK5SW...

Member Comments:
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A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by KC8VWM on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
I work in the solar wind energy business.(Wind Towers)

I also have a solar energy power system in my own shack.

10 out of 10! - This is a very fine article!

73 de Charles - KC8VWM

 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by KC8VWM on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
The direction that the panel faces is important to maximise the exposure to the Sun... Also, the angle to the horizon should be optimized to ensure that the Sun hits the panel as near as perpendicular as possible throughout the year... High tech ones track the sun...

--------

I would like to add that your energy demands are going to be greatest during the lowest period or least amount of hours of daily sunlight activity.

Therefore, the angle of the solar panels need to be optimized for when solar minimum periods occur and not for during solar maximum periods occur when electrical lighting requirements are less demanding on the system.

There are charts available that will assist you with "aimimg" your panels to help optimize maximum battery charging efficiency.

http://gatecrafters.webdirectbrands.com/SolarPanelInformation.asp

73 de Charles - KC8VWM
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by QRZDXR2 on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
wow.. look at them big'n batteries... bet if they shorted out one hell of a fire...

Which brings to the table... some of the new laws about such...

While solar is nice... you can get into a lot of trouble it seems having such a large battery pack. The fire dept is moving here to have them put into a safe container... seems a fireman accidently got mixed up with a battery rack ... the reasion the fire started was a short in the wire from them.... the wooden platform burnt and the batteries hit the concrete.. flushing acid into the fire.. and over the firemans bod... he got early retirement but more a lot of people ended up with lung problems when the acid hit the fire and carried away in a vapor.

So its not as great as its cracked up to be it seems... having one now incurs liability as well as the fire chief is not a happy camper sending his guys in to fight the fire... with the possiblilty of having a hydrogen explosion from them.

I am waiting for the first ECV to have a accident and the vict's get zapped to death... sorry to be so basic but I don't think most think about it and take it lightly for the green gooop
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by N2UGB on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Good article. Made me think a bit about Solar. I wouldn't go that route, if I had QRO rigs. But having only five-watters makes solar power very intriguing.
 
A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by K9ZF on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article, I enjoyed it.

Great photos on your web page as well, you have talent:-) You live in a beautiful country, I hope to get a chance to visit someday.


73
Dan
--
Amateur Radio Emergency Service, Clark County Indiana. EM78el
K9ZF /R no budget Rover ***QRP-l #1269 Check out the Rover Resource Page at:
<http://www.qsl.net/n9rla> List Administrator for: InHam+grid-loc+ham-books
Ask me how to join the Indiana Ham Mailing list!

 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by K5END on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
QRZDXR2,

Batteries must be installed properly, that's all and are no more dangerous than gasoline or firearms. Advocating battery and solar use has nothing to do with green groops (sic) necessarily.

Based on what you said, batteries had been mounted on a wooden platform. If so, that was carelessly negligent in the first place and someone should be held liable.

The proper place for a QTH battery is mounted to a steel frame just above or directly to a concrete floor. In the Authors photo one can see the battery installed correctly.

Go visit your local telephone company central office sometime. They may show you a battery larger than your QTH, and how it is installed properly.

One note, gel cells offer some safety advantages over flooded (normal car type) batteries.

Second note, a battery is a collection of cells. If you have two "batteries" wired in parallel or series, it is still one battery. "Batteries" means they are separate systems.

And yes, sometimes they are wired in series. It depends on the application.
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by K5END on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Meant to include that there is a popular and incorrect myth that storing a battery on a concrete floor is not good for a battery.

Not so, unless of course it is stored there undercharged, discharged, and/or allowed to deteriorate over time.

In other words, the concrete floor is not a factor.
 
A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by KI4TMM on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
I love to see articles like this. My ham station is completely solar and mobile. It is a maritime Ham/Marine HF about our boat Makai.

It consists of 480 watts of solar, 680 amp of deep cycle battieries, Icom 802 with an at130 tuner and a 23 foot shakespear 390 whip.

Most cruisers are estentially mobile solar and/or wind mobile stations, but it is good to land dwellers going this route for more reasons than just being green. A self powered station allows the use of emergency communication when the power is out.

 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by K5END on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
To the Author,

FB article.

I've been considering going solar-DC for my ham shack for several reasons (with the exception of during our hot humid summers) and enjoyed your article immensely.

Thanks for the info. and your shared experience.

73
 
A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by K1CJS on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article and a nice installation. Those batteries are big enough to run your station for a week! It looks like they're cells from an electric forklift battery.

Anyway, you figured 20 amps constant draw, but that doesn't happen. Figure about a 20% duty cycle at most, and your 6 hour nominal 'safe' operating range becomes 30 hours plus. The fact that the charger will restore energy used during the day increases that figure even more.

In any event--not to argue the finer points--you have an excellent 'bush' station! Good luck with it and 73!
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by K2FOX on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Very nice article. I too have solar power, as a backup, not quite as elaborate but it works well. I ran Field Day off of it a few years ago.

Good Job!

73's

Jay
 
A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by K8QV on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for the excellent write up.

Expect all the experts here to tell you what you did wrong, but pay no attention. Normal people appreciate articles like this. Well done!
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by N2EY on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Great article, great pictures, thanks!

You hit all the important stuff just right. Sure, there are lots and lots of details and options, but the article is a great illustration of a real working installation.

And while the installation isn't exactly inexpensive, neither is buying and running a generator.

I don't know what the wind situation is at your QTH but a combined PV/wind generator system may be the optimum for many locations.

I've dealt with big storage batteries and the best I've seen are the nickel-iron and nickel-cad wet cells (we're talking hundreds of AH wet cells). They last decades and tolerate all kinds of abuse. Only problems are they are only 1.25 to 1.50 volts per cell, so you need 9 or 10 of them in a "12 volt" bank, and they cost more.

Thanks again.

73 de Jim, N2EY
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by WI7B on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!

Rob VK5SW,

Fantastic solar station. I have visited your website before and saw your layout. Good on you for publishing in eHam.

Very wise to have the "extra" battery storage. Stuff always happens. When visiting friends in Costa Rica, I noted their solar battery storage used to power their home is also lead-acid. They readily admit that after a laundry day of cleaning clothes, they wished they had MORE.

All the best,

---* Ken (ex-VK3BEC)
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by W9OY on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
I second the worry about that much stored potential energy. I had an acquaintance who was a Y2K nut and he converted to solar. About 6 months later his house burned down due to his "solar" installation. It was a "professional" job, not some kludge, but it did not take into account what happens when that much potential energy gets out of control.

73 W9OY
 
A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by W7MJM on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Nice setup! Just one question: How do you vent hydrogen that is emitted by the batteries during charging? Those don't look like sealed lead-acid gel-cells or AGM, so hydrogen emission could be a problem with the batteries being located indoors. I'd hate to see your fine station go the way of the Hindenburg!
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by AC7CW on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
I always mount batteries outside the shack. I've paid for very heavy gauge wires to bring power in but next time I'll probably cannibalize a set of jumper cables. Having the solar panel on an Az-El rotor tracking the sun would be great, maybe somebody in the Ham community can develop an inexpensive one?
 
A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by KD4LLA on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
I have been using a 60 watt solar panel/10 amp controller in my shack (location-southern MN) since 2004. At times I can get 8 hrs of steady use. The system also powers lights and a ceiling fan. Batteries are the weakest link. I started w/ 2 deep-cycle and have since went to very large forklift type (lead-acid) battery. I see no more fire danger having a battery present than that extra gallon of lawnmower gas folks have in their garage.

Mike
 
A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by AE6Y on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
This is a really interesting article, thanks! One question: I thought the idea of deep-cycle batteries is that they are designed to be deeply discharged, i.e., to be discharged routinely by up to 80%. This would mean that you can discharge them down so that there is only 20% of capacity remaining. But you seem to use them the reverse way, discharging only 20%, so that 80% of life is remaining. If my understanding is correct, you have a lot more potential hours of hamming on one charge.
73, andy, ae6y
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by K3AN on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Deep cycle batteries are DESIGNED to allow deep discharges. You can draw up to 80% of their Amp-Hour capacity, not just 20%.

Also, your estimate of current draw for CW operation is excessive. You only transmit about half the time, and the key is down only about half of that time.

Counting receive current draw, your 100 Watt radio (not counting any other equipment that is drawing from the battery) probably only draws about 7 Amp-Hours for each hour of active operation. If you just have the radio on to listen (no transmit), the draw is no more than about 2 Amp-Hours per hour.

Receive 50% x 2 Amps = 1.00 AH
Xmit Key up 25% x 4 Amps = 1.00 AH
Xmit Key down 25% x 20 Amps = 5.00 AH
Total = 7.00 AH


 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by W6LAR on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Great article Rob!

I too use solar and it is with my RV set up. We have a travel trailer and I've got two 120 watt panels feeding two 150 amp hour 12V floor machinery batteries. They are wet cells made by Trojan and are deep cycle types. Use is mainly for running my ham gear while dry camping and the other sundry appliances in our RV like lighting and the heater blower motor. I also run a signwave inverter with the supply. And your quite right about the angle of the panels for the highest current. I built a system on a mountain top that had over 120 panels and produced 210 amps at 54 VDC. If it was not set at the right perpendicular angle to the sun it would drop off dramatically. Using good safety practices and proper placement for your batteries can save you a lot of headaches.

Larry, W6LAR
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by W7COM on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
AE6Y re batteries: See Alan's page at http://www.k0bg.com/alternator.html for a good write-up on the different types and uses.
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by KA1MDA on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
"The proper place for a QTH battery is mounted to a steel frame just above or directly to a concrete floor"

I believe the type of installation mentioned above would be unwise, and possibly a code violation. Batteries should never be mounted on an uninsultated steel rack. The reason being if the cells were to overheat and the cases were to melt (or otherwise breached at the bottom), the steel rack would offer a dead short across the plates in the battery, making the problem far worse!

On the commercial steel racks I use for my batteries (manufactured by C&D), all steel members which come in direct contact with the cells are enclosed in insulating plastic sleeves (upside down U-channel). I also made up some plexi-glass insulators which lay on top of the batteries, preventing accidental shorts if someone should drop a wrench, screw driver, or metal handled mop across them. I think there may even be a reference in the electrical code requiring insulated supports for batteries. With a 48 volt / 660 Ah battery bank, you don't want to take any chances!

Tom, KA1MDA
www.ka1mda.org
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by N6HPO on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
As a beginner, I can fully appreciate the workmanship and thought that went into this project. For $2,200 US, this is quite the bargain! Well done, Rob!!

One question: is/has solar technology considered making a solar collector that is convex? Would this not make the placement of the collector less sensitive to the Sun's path across the skies?

The deviation of the Sun as it traverses across our planet [from season to season] would be less of an issue, would it not? Again, I'm a neophyte and just asking a question; this is just an observation, NOT a criticism!

I'm just thinking out loud. Is this something that is practical?

Alan

 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by AC7ZL on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Rob VK5SW:

Looks like you have a very fine station and a neat installation. However, I would not be comfortable with using large high-current batteries in my home without appropriate enclosures, fusing, and a cut-out switch.

It is not too much a stretch of the imagination to picture a ring of house keys or a metal ball-point pen, knocked accidentally from the operation position, landing across the battery terminals. The results of such an accident would surely be spectacular, if not dangerous.

While my station is powered by a nice, big, linear supply fed by the house mains, I, too, have made provisions for battery back-up.

My battery is a single, 12-volt, Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM), deep-cycle battery. An AGM-type battery was selected because AGM batteries don't have loose electrolyte sloshing around inside-- spillage is not really an issue. AGM batteries produce little, if any, gasses during the charging process. In addition, they are mechanically robust, and will tolerate deep discharges well.

The battery was placed inside (and fully enclosed) by a black, plastic, battery box. These are readily available at auto parts and marine stores. The battery box provides some mechanical protection to the battery, and prevents accidental contact with the battery terminals.

The battery box, in turn, is placed inside of a small, steel, ventilated, rack-mount enclosure, just large enough for the battery box to fit inside. The front panel for this box is a 1/8-inch aluminum plate. Mounted to the inside of that panel is a large 40-amp fuse, and mounted in the face of the panel is a rotary cutout switch good for a several hundreds of amps.

The steel box provides additional protection to the battery, as well as offering containment. A catastrophic failure of the battery is thus less likely to cause peripheral damage. Note that I did say the enclosure is ventilated.

I can count on the battery being entirely "safe" when the cutout switch is in the "OFF" position. This is very handy when one wants to make changes to external wiring powering my Rig Runner and radios. A fault condition will blow the enclosure's internal fuse, also rendering the whole thing safe and inert.

I can't conceive of any fault-situation, short of a rifle round dispatched through the battery itself, that would result in the uncontrolled release of energy, heat, flames, or chemicals.

The steel box rests on a wood slab cut to size from a sheet of 1-inch plywood, and the plywood painted and is fitted with casters. The whole enchilada sits on the floor beneath by operating desk. The slab and its casters allow me to move the enclosure around as necessary for maintenance or inspection.

All that said, I enjoyed your write-up and photos.

73,

Pete
AC7ZL



 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by NA0AA on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Wow, nice battery! I agree that you are way overestimating your average current draw, but that's OK, it's just going to give you that much more reserve. And I was thinking of a couple of T-145 golf-cart batteries as an upgrade to my 100 amp/hour AGM battery.

BTW, I think this "Hydrogen gas" issue is pretty overblown unless your shack is a sealed environment - Hyrdrogen is so light and dissapates very quickly - unless you are doing charging and discharging at VERY high rates you normally just don't have to worry about it.

Now, electrical safety is another matter entirely. That much battery would melt an adjustable wrench in about 2.5 seconds. Ouch.
 
A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by N8RGQ on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
I have ran off battery power for my Ham Station for 18 years . Currently I have four sharp 142 w Solar Panels for about 568 w generation peak. I have four DEEP-CYCLE Interstate 8D batteries that hold about 250 Amp's each for a grand total about 1,000 Amps to run my station . The controller is a Morning Star TRISTAR TS-60 . I allso run a 12v LED 2w Light Bulb in the Arm Lamp on the bench for Light . It is great to finaly be able to write off on my FED/STATE Taxes purchases for my HAM-STATION ! If you live on a GRID that the Electric Service goes out regularly like mine this setup is a "GOD-SENT!"
73,
Terry
N8RGQ
PS- The 120v service in my QTH is run off of four "AIR-X" 400 w wind turbines and 32 "DEEP-CYCLE" Interstate 8D batteries , Xantrex XW series 6 kW - 12 KW surge Inverter :)
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by KB0TXC on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Very nice article!

I too run my little ten-tec 2 and 6 meter FM rigs off of a small battery that is kept charged with an automatic charger. Once I get some planned improvements made to the QTH, I want to put up a solar panel and controller as well.

You are lightyears ahead of me my friend!

73!

Joe KB0TXC
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by WA1RNE on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
by AC7ZL on February 6, 2009

Rob VK5SW:

My battery is a single, 12-volt, Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM), deep-cycle battery. An AGM-type battery was selected because AGM batteries don't have loose electrolyte sloshing around inside-- spillage is not really an issue. AGM batteries produce little, if any, *** gasses *** during the charging process. In addition, they are mechanically robust, and will tolerate deep discharges well.


>>> This is a nice setup, but I second AC7ZL's advice, especially around battery out-gassing during the charging process. Ventilation for hydrogen gas is mandatory during the charging process for obvious reasons. I have a natural gas detector in my home that
also responds to hydrogen gas. You may want to pick one of these up to keep tabs on the level of gas in your home. Better still, consider relocating the batteries where they can be ventilated properly and run a protected DC bus to the station.

The other consideration is cost. At 1500 Australian, or about US$1012, that's more than some hams spend for the entire station and antenna system - and doesn't include the wind generator and controls.

The AGM batteries are an excellent choice for several reasons:

> No out-gassing because they are recombinant, meaning that during the charging process, oxygen and hydrogen recombine inside the battery.

> No watering required as they are very efficient and lose very little water.

> Very low self-discharge, approx. 1-3%/month.

> The charging method is the same for lead acid batteries so most automatic chargers can be used.

>> The only drawback with AGM's are cost - like 2-3x a typical deep cycle battery.

Alternatively, I use (2) Exide GC-110 6 volt deep cycle golf cart batteries in series. They require a fairly large deep cycle charger and must be ventilated, but they only cost about $180 new and provide 186 A/hours at a 20 hour rate - plenty of capacity for a moderate ham station.


...WA1RNE


 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by QRZDXR2 on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
K5END on February 6, 2009
Meant to include that there is a popular and incorrect myth that storing a battery on a concrete floor is not good for a battery.

Not so, unless of course it is stored there undercharged, discharged, and/or allowed to deteriorate over time.

In other words, the concrete floor is not a factor.
-----------------------------------------------------

have you ever heard of putting a couple of drops of mineral oil in the battery cells to keep them from losing water...

I was reading a interesting article from the old RR telegraphers and they consistantly talk about how to maintain the wet cells by insureing that they have a floating coat of mineral oil on the surface...

Does this work? keeps the battery from hydroginzing and outgasing as bad??

I have a south facing roof on the house. (100x50) on the one side... the power company sent a letter saying that they would like to see me get solar...on it. However, they want to only use inverters.. no batteries... looked like a good thing as it would give a whopping amount of power during the day... and the interest rate was doable... it was when they had the indipendent contractor submit his cost estimate that I said... nope not me... and the rate of power generated would only net me half of what it cost me to use during the night. such a deal.



While small systems might be practical, we have one on the RV and it runs the elect refrig and charges the bats, the big systems are not. When you get done with all the political and up front cost, including the city which wanted to tax me for the power I generated.. at the full kw rate and not what I send it back to the power company 1/2 rate.

I wanted to go with the batt's and keep the power...the deal is off.. if you do... said the power company... but the fire dept said .. no way. heck we can't even have more than 5 gal of gas in a APPROVED CAN.. now.

I was told that you have to be hooked up to the grid or else you can't live in the house... and the power company wanted 50 bux a month just to have you hooked up.. use their power or not.

I still think it would be great to have a elect car as well as the ham station and house off the grid... and not have to buy any power from the grid... but that ain't going to happen with all the politics and their money you have. they make it to where you can't afford to use solar, wind or other independent power.

I also wanted to know if and when the thunderstorms happen what you do about the spikes in power when their are discharges??

 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by KB0TXC on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
[have you ever heard of putting a couple of drops of mineral oil in the battery cells to keep them from losing water...

I was reading a interesting article from the old RR telegraphers and they consistantly talk about how to maintain the wet cells by insureing that they have a floating coat of mineral oil on the surface...]

KB0TXC Responds:

The telegraphers would float a layer of oil on top of the open cell "gravity batteries", also known as crow's foot batteries in order to prevent "electrolyte creep", which is the tendency for the electrolyte salts to climb up over the top of the cell. (same thing happens in gun blueing tanks) They would also coat the top half inch of the cell with parrafin to prevent this as well.

Gravity batteries were somewhat cantankerous as there was copper chloride (blue viterol) solution at the bottom of the cell, and Zink Chloride solution at the top of the cell. A crow's foot shaped copper electrode was in the bottom of the cell, and a Zink crow's foot shaped electrode at the top of the cell. Gravity kept the electrolyte solutions more and less seperated, thus the term "gravity battery". If too much current was drawn from the cell, the electrolyte solutions would mix and render the cell unusable. Telegraphy circuits use little current, and thus were a good source of potential for telegraph circuits.

If I could find someone who would cast the electrodes for me, I would build a few for my old time landline telegraphy demo set up.

Best and 73,

Joe KB0TXC
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by WB6DGN on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
"...but it did not take into account what happens when that much potential energy gets out of control."

And just how much "potential energy" can be supplied by the drop to the house from the commercial electric power lines? Over the years, electricians and, to some extent, the general public, has learned how to use and control that, virtually unlimited, source of energy. So, too, as installers and electricians and, to some extent, the general public gain more knowledge and experience with a slightly different system of energy supply, safety requirements will be put into place to govern a safe and efficient installation. In the meantime, I agree that caution is the keyword in any supplemental power system. However, to dismiss those systems out of hand because they can supply large amounts of energy makes no sense and ignores the potential of the existing system.
Tom
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by N2EY on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
QRZDX2:"have you ever heard of putting a couple of drops of mineral oil in the battery cells to keep them from losing water..."

Not a couple of drops. A layer of oil above the electrolyte.

QRZDX2: "I was reading a interesting article from the old RR telegraphers and they consistantly talk about how to maintain the wet cells by insureing that they have a floating coat of mineral oil on the surface...

Does this work? keeps the battery from hydroginzing and outgasing as bad??"

The batteries they used were primary cells, not storage batteries. The purpose of the oil is to prevent electrolyte evaporation. Those old primary cells often did not have covers and the electrolyte surface was quite exposed.

Storage batteries liberate hydrogen and oxygen by electrolytic action while charging; oil will not stop that.

73 de Jim, N2EY
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by N2EY on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
KI6HPO asks: "is/has solar technology considered making a solar collector that is convex?"

Yes.

KI6HPO: "Would this not make the placement of the collector less sensitive to the Sun's path across the skies?"

No. In fact, it would be worse than a flat panel. Here's why:

With a flat panel, every part of the panel is equally exposed to the sun, so all the cells of the panel work equally. (most PV panels consist of several cells in series, since each produces less than 1 volt in full sun)

With any kind of curved panel, some parts would get more light than others, and the cells would produce unevenly. What really matters is how much area is illuminated by the sun, and the best shape for that is a flat panel.

Having the panel(s) automatically track the sun will improve the output, but at the expense of complexity.

73 de Jim, N2EY


 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by K5END on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
QUOTE

"I believe the type of installation mentioned above would be unwise, and possibly a code violation. Batteries should never be mounted on an uninsultated steel rack. The reason being if the cells were to overheat and the cases were to melt (or otherwise breached at the bottom), the steel rack would offer a dead short across the plates in the battery, making the problem far worse!

On the commercial steel racks I use for my batteries (manufactured by C&D), all steel members which come in direct contact with the cells are enclosed in insulating plastic sleeves (upside down U-channel). I also made up some plexi-glass insulators which lay on top of the batteries, preventing accidental shorts if someone should drop a wrench, screw driver, or metal handled mop across them. I think there may even be a reference in the electrical code requiring insulated supports for batteries. With a 48 volt / 660 Ah battery bank, you don't want to take any chances! "



You have to use the proper hardware for the specific cells, trays or cases with the battery according to the manufacturer specifications. I did not say otherwise. My point is that using a WOODEN frame is borderline insane.

I am familiar with C&D. We have around 100 tons (literally) of their batteries installed in our network.

"Plexiglas" is unsuitable. (It will become brittle and break unexpectedly.) I assume or hope you used Lexan or another suitable polycarbonate material.

The clear polymer covers have part numbers and are part of the manufacturer's specified installation.

Making your own is based on good intentions, and I admire the initiative.

I'm disappointed that your C&D rep did not supply the clear covers with the sale. You might want to ask him about this.



 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by K5END on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!

"Having the solar panel on an Az-El rotor tracking the sun would be great, maybe somebody in the Ham community can develop an inexpensive one?"

Good news.

A better method would be a polar equatorial mount aimed at the optimal Right Ascension for your latitude.

It's a better alternative than the Alt-Azimuth track, and a much simpler design. You could adjust the Right Ascension coordinate every two weeks or so and maintain good efficiency.

Best of all a polar equatorial mount can be driven by sidereal clock, instead of the power draw of a computer running all day long, making all the Alt-Azimuth calculations.

 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by K5END on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
"One question: is/has solar technology considered making a solar collector that is convex? Would this not make the placement of the collector less sensitive to the Sun's path across the skies?
The deviation of the Sun as it traverses across our planet [from season to season] would be less of an issue, would it not? Again, I'm a neophyte and just asking a question; this is just an observation, NOT a criticism!
I'm just thinking out loud. Is this something that is practical? "


Excellent question, and they do come in all shapes, sizes and configurations.

It depends on cost, power requirements and physical constraints.

As mentioned, a clock driven alt-azi mount is a good solution for critical needs, but it is more reliable to mount extra panels oriented to catch the Sun as the Earth turns and the axis appears to precess during the seasons.
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by K5END on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
"have you ever heard of putting a couple of drops of mineral oil in the battery cells to keep them from losing water..."


I would never add mineral oil or any foreign materials to the cells.

Ever.

Period.



Flooded cells may require de-ionized water occasionally, but I would not add anything else.

If the battery gets to the point it needs new electrolyte, I personally would just get a new battery.
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by K5END on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
"A better method would be a polar equatorial mount aimed at the optimal Right Ascension for your latitude.
It's a better alternative than the Alt-Azimuth track, and a much simpler design. You could adjust the Right Ascension coordinate every two weeks or so and maintain good efficiency. "

Oh, Boy.

I must be sleep walking. Before someone corrects me, the manually-adjusted coordinate should have been "DECLINATION" and not "Right Ascension."

Right Ascension is the celestial spherical coordinate similar to terrestrial longitude, and Declination is that for latitude.




 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by N6AJR on February 6, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
I saw a neat idea on solar he other day on TV.

The fellow is selling solar panels ( phoovoltaic) backed with a plae with tubes for water circulation ( coolant) and he gets electricty and heats his watter with the same panels. and as a by product the solar cells run cooler and become more efficient. super idea
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by K0BG on February 7, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Actually, Catfish, that's not new or novel. Some of the very first solar voltaic panels had to be cooled in order to work. In fact, it's not uncommon nowadays for Trombe walls to incorporate solar voltaic panels.

Alan, KBG
www.k0bg.com
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by WI7B on February 7, 2009 Mail this to a friend!


Rob VK5SW,

Hope you are safe with the wildfires blazing to the south of you in Gippland!

73,

---* Ken
 
A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by N8EKT on February 7, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Nice set up but the plywood under the batteries reminds me of a story.

When I worked for Bayer Corporation, I took care of all the two-way radios yet the union electricians
took care of the plant public address system
Well the plant wide paging was done over a UHF Micor
that I had to maintain yet the elctricians serviced the lead acid battery that backed up the transmitter.
One day after a test with the mains disconnected, they noticed the battery didn't keep the transmitter on the air.
They found that the battery was dead.
I checked the float voltage and current from the charger and all was fine.
I met a former plant engineer and a plant electrician of more than 30 years at the transmitter after they had replaced the battery.
I noticed that the new battery was now elevated on some phone books!
I asked the former plant engineer and the 30 some year electrician why.
They said that was why the battery discharged.
I tried my best to contain my laughter as I quickly left the room before I burst out laughing some distance down the hallway.
I later found that the battery they had replaced had exposed plates for as far as the eye could see and likely had not been filled prior to it's replacement
during the last inspection.
In my comments later at the lunch table with several plant engineers, I joked that if we suddenly have a phone book shortage, I'll know to look under the load center batteries!

We all shared a good laugh and simply let the incident go unmentioned and unnoticed.
 
A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by AA6CW on February 7, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Regarding the use of "sealed" VRLA batteries for deep-cycle applications, just keep the following in the back of your mind. The main advantage of these batteries is ease of transport and installation. In a commercial environment, they need to be precisely charged at a voltage that depends on their temperature, and regular "Cellcorder" measurements must be done to track their condition. They are supplied with a steady float voltage, and are kept charged for when they are needed during a power outage. Undercharging or overcharging will cause premature corrosion and/or growth of the cell plates. A 12V battery has 6 of cells. When the plates of one of them grows big enough, a short can occur, and the entire float voltage is dropped across the 5 remaining cells, causing an overcharge condition that can lead to thermal runaway, where acid, hydrogen, and (poisonous) hydrogen sulfide can spew from the battery. Just keep this in mind when determining where to install your sealed batteries.
 
A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by AA9WO on February 7, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Reminds me of my days as XT2DP. I ran a 100% solar station, made 22,000 qso's, 5BDXCC -- all on low power. No amp, but of course I had a nice prefix ... 73, Dan
 
A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by K4FX on February 7, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
A great article Rob,

I have been curious about solar power for some time, this was just what I needed,

Good job!

K4FX
 
A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by G0GQK on February 7, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Good grief ! Those are the biggest batteries I've ever seen. Well, you do have a lot of sun in the old antipodes. With the amount of sun we have in the UK it would take 6 months to charge a 6 volt battery !
Like someone else pointed out, I think I'd make a wooden top for those batteries.

G0GQK
 
A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by N3IJ on February 7, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
This is a helpful thread.

What are the pros and cons of solar power for ham repeaters, especially in emergencies? Does anyone know the proportion of amateur repeaters that are solar powered?

I have read that the price of panels is dropping. Last week a U.S. chain store had a "45 watt" panel on sale for $180.

Tom
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by N2EY on February 7, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
N3IJ writes: "What are the pros and cons of solar power for ham repeaters, especially in emergencies?"

I can only think of one "con": The system must be adequately sized for the worst-case scenario, which means lots of repeater usage when the sunshine is at a minimum. That gets expensive fast.

N3IJ: "I have read that the price of panels is dropping. Last week a U.S. chain store had a "45 watt" panel on sale for $180."

The problem is the cost of the overall system, compared to the local electric utility. I don't think the author of the article had the option of a local utility!

In the 48 states of the USA, electricity rates vary all over the place. I pay about 5 cents per kilowatt hour; in some parts of the USA the charge is less than half that.

That "45 watt" panel will probably deliver about 30 watts of usable electricity in full sunlight, because of losses in the regulator, and the way they rate panels. Then you have the inefficiency of batteries and inverters (if used).

73 de Jim, N2EY


 
A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by KC9JEC on February 7, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
I think you have an excellent solar set up except that I would be very conerned about chemical fumes discharged from the batteries being closed in like that, a room full of fumes and one little spark from the relays in a rig or from a amp and you and your QTH will be on the moon......Thanks for the article
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by RFDANNY on February 7, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
K1CJS... NOW AN EXPERT ON SOLAR POWER!

YOU NEVER CEASE TO AMAZE ME..... FOOL.
 
A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by P29SS on February 8, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Nice setup and thank you for the article.

I will have to agree that the batteries are a bit oversized. I have been living in the bush for 12 years in Papua New Guinea and have had a variety of setups. My current configuration consists of 3 80-watt Kyocera panels, a Morningstar Prostar 30 charge controller and 2 Rolls S460 Batteries (360 Ah). I also have an AirX wind turbine which is basically just an expensive weather-vane (you really need a lot of wind to get any juice out those things).

My batteries just sit under my desk in the house, but then again it is the tropics and we never shut the windows and have 2 feet of open screened areas above the eaves in the gable ends. They rest in a busing tray that I bought at Sam's Club--the kind they use in restaurants.

I also have a second similar dedicated system to run our refrigerator, a SunFrost RF12.

My experience with the Rolls batteries has been superb. The first set lasted 8 years, and was only done in by the fact that my village friend who looks after the house let them dry out while we were home in the US last year. I've had a much better experience than most of my colleagues who use other brands or even car batteries.

As for cost, the charge controller was about US$170, the panels about $320 each and the batteries I just bought were $780 for a set of 2, plus shipping (which about doubles the cost of my whole setup, hi hi). I purchased everything in the US.

From this system I run an iCOM 706Mk2g, SCS PTC-IIe (using Airmail), and mostly operate in the digital modes with my HP dv6700t laptop. In addition we run 2 ceiling fans, lights (fluorescent & LED), an occasional table fan, and various portable electronics. It all works fairly well, but you do have to be constantly aware of what you're using, especially with kids about.

Scot p29ss
 
A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by N8QBY on February 8, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Rob, very impressive work. Thanks for the article.
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by WA4DOU on February 8, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
"In the 48 states of the USA, electricity rates vary all over the place. I pay about 5 cents per kilowatt hour; in some parts of the USA the charge is less than half that."

This stat from: http://www.neo.ne.gov/statshtml/115.htm

"Nebraska is the only state that generates electricity entirely by publicly-owned power systems. As of July, 2008, the statewide average price for all sectors from all electric utilities is the eighth-lowest rate in the country, based on the latest federal figures. Nationally, electricity costs 49 percent more than it does in Nebraska. Across all sectors, Hawaii has the highest electricity rate (32 cents), and West Virginia has the lowest electricity rate (5.66 cents)."

 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by K5END on February 8, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
FWIW, I just realized the drive for the polar equatorial mount used to mount a solar panel and follow the Sun all day would use a plano solar clock, and not a sidereal clock. (I'll blame that one on a long week and insufficient sleep.)

This means there is potentially a very inexpensive and low tech way to build a solar panel Sun tracking device.
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by VK5SW on February 8, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
G'day everyone.
It's a bit hot down here at present, had a week of over 40 degrees C. days, bushfires are the worry.

The battery has spent that week in the shed with no harm to it, even though the shed had been locked up for that time. The electrolyte levels in the cells were down though and had to be topped up.

Also, it is recommended that the deep cycle batteries are not discharged below about 20 percent on a regular basis, otherwise it can reduce the life of the battery.

73's - Rob VK5SW

 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by KC8VWM on February 8, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
it is recommended that the deep cycle batteries are not discharged below about 20 percent on a regular basis, otherwise it can reduce the life of the battery.

------

True!

In fact, a device that would cutoff the supply when the battery is dischasrged by that amount is also desireable.

I have such a device.

Cheers.

Charles - KC8VWM
 
OOPS! 15 cents, not 5 cents!!  
by N2EY on February 9, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
I previously wrote: "In the 48 states of the USA, electricity rates vary all over the place. I pay about 5 cents per kilowatt hour; in some parts of the USA the charge is less than half that."

MY BAD!

I pay about 15 cents per kilowatthour, not 5 cents!

Sorry about that, didn't proofread well enough.

Thanks, WA4DOU, for the pointer.

---

The wide variation in electricity rates in the USA is something you don't hear much about, for some reason, but it makes a big difference in things like the payback time of a solar or wind system, or the overall energy cost for a given situation.

Imagine if gasoline were $2/gallon in one state and $6/gallon in another, at the same time..

73 de Jim, N2EY
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by K5CQB on February 9, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for the article Rob. That's a really nice setup.
73,
Jim
k5cqb
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by KC8VWM on February 10, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Basically, I like to have solar power in case "Jericho" happens in my neighborhood.

It's really not about the cost of electricity these days, but rather it's about being able to produce my own energy so I can be more independent and not rely on the grid especially when the chips are down.

73 de Charles - kc8vwm



 
FAKE FOLKS THAT FAKE US FOLKS OUT!!  
by PLANKEYE on February 10, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
by RFDANNY on February 7, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
K1CJS, by far the biggest WANNABE ever to possess a ham license, talks down to the hams that volunteered their time to be a part of something.

Now that is truly ironic.

So what if they are wannabes? They are having fun, getting exposure to the hobby, and doing something much more productive than commenting on EVERY article on the Internet regarding ham radio and being wrong 75% of the time.

K1CJS, you are a fool, and LGH... go write another article on how you hate antenna tuners. You are both a waste of oxygen.

_____________________________

PLANKEYE:

I got to Cross Channel on this one fellas!

At least RFDANNY's got Guts!

K1CJS just slithers and trolls around for someone to argue with, acting like he know's everything. Look at his post's for Goodness Sake if you don't believe me.

You might fool everyone else, but you don't fool me!!

PLANKEYE






 
RE: FAKE FOLKS THAT FAKE US FOLKS OUT!!  
by NV2A on February 11, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for taking the time. Good article and I'll bet because of you there will be more guys joining in on the fun of solar.

I'd give my eyeteeth to be able to visit your neck of the woods for about 1 month with my cameras!

73's
ray. NV2A
 
thanks for taking the time  
by NV2A on February 11, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for taking the time. Good article and I'll bet because of you there will be more guys joining in on the fun of solar.

I'd give my eyeteeth to be able to visit your neck of the woods for about 1 month with my cameras!

73's
ray. NV2A
 
RE: FAKE FOLKS THAT FAKE US FOLKS OUT!!  
by KC8VWM on February 13, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Shut up plankeye...lol
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by KN9D on February 15, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
RE: house not APPROVED for occupancy if not connected to utility service.

People lived in nice houses rather well for the first several hundred years of this nation without electric from the city or public utility.

As long as solar,etc. was just the province of a few "crackpots",Mother Earth News,ham ops on field days ,the authorities basically ignored it.
But when people started putting together systems that might actually make their home independent of the city utility,then the political types find justification to so tax and regulate IT out of existence.
It is NOT solar or wind generated power they fear or that your installation will really be a hazard but that you might achieve a semblance of independence.
Independent persons start taking charge of their lives,making their own decisions,and questioning the necessity for petty officials dictating their lives.

LED lighting looks to be a huge step in controlling energy use for those on both utility and alternate sources.I am trying various LED types here ;so far most are not bright enough except as night lights.
Although the barbecue lamps with 6 LEDs is ok for logging and lighting the rigs front panels.
$5 21 LED warm white direct replacements for ordinary lamp bulbs were disappointingly dim.
Lowe's stores now have some LED cabinet lighting,so it is making its way into the average consumer home.

One of the local discount stores here had some thermoelectric "dorm" refrigerators.I need to research the efficiency of those.Refrigeration is usually a big energy need.

And we can't forget our COMPUTERS need a lot of electric ,especially if left on standby or full time internet connection.If ham radio apps will run on the new min netbboks that might be an option.
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by KN9D on February 15, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Congratulations to ALL who have such great solar/wind/hydro/whatever setups.

That also makes it possible your ham station will be able to help others in case of widespread outages.

I have only a motley assortment of small panels and some batteries sold for irrigation pumps,sufficient only for the small TV/radio/CD combo,a few barefoot rigs,and light enough for safety.
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by W9WHE-II on February 18, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
Great project and article! Loved it.

Just one question:
Why worry about anything (let alone electricity) now that the Messiah, Barack Hussein Obama has taken over and turned the USA into a socialist nanny-state? Do we really need to worry about anything? I say not. Afterall, the Messiah has just spent nearly a trillion dollars rewarding his loyal supporters and another trillion in pork is in the offing.
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by WA7PRC on February 21, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
W9WHE-II on February 18, 2009:
[snip]Why worry about anything (let alone electricity) now that the Messiah, Barack Hussein Obama...[snip]

This thread was a good read, until it was lowered to the political level.

That aside, thanks for the FB article, Rob! While I'm not off-grid, I run my HF rig from a float-charged battery pack that consists of four Group 27 automotive batteries in parallel (320Ah). They're kept in a litter carrier in my garage, a few paces away from the radio shack. Flattened " copper water pipe serves as buss bar material, and I have a 50A fuse inline. Power is brought into the shack with my automotive jumper cables, custom-made using 1/0 welding cable. I dare say I^2*R loss isn't a concern!

I originally put this together for use during Field Day. We've operated two 100W stations simultaneously w/o charging, and the terminal voltage afterward dropped to 12.35V. We have a homebrew regulated DC-DC booster (similar to the MFJ-4416B) to keep the voltage to the rig at 14V, and another (16V @ 5A) to power the computer for logging.

vy 73 es gud dx,
Bryan WA7PRC
 
RE: A Solar Powered Ham Radio Station  
by W9WHE-II on February 24, 2009 Mail this to a friend!
"This thread was a good read, until it was lowered to the political level".

Oh my, yes.
That IS the problem with the USA. We need to avoid political discussions. That way, one party can just seize total control of the country with no checks and ballances. RIIIIIIGHT.
 
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