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If you have trouble with your electricity supplier, you may be interested in the story of my journey toward building a solar power lighting system.
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From the first time I saw, first hand, a solar cell making electricity, I was hooked. It was magnetic. I was going to have one, making electricity for me, one day. I didn’t get around to trying it, until about 1979. I ordered $400.00 worth of solar cells from a company in California. I made a makeshift solar panel with them, which worked for a while.
Much later, in 1993, I tracked down a company in Calgary, who sold solar panels. I bought 1 for about $500.00. It was about the size of a large beach towel. It was blue in color and was mounted inside an aluminium frame. My first attempt at making a solar power lighting system worked but wasn’t very efficient. I used a little incandescent bulb from a reading lamp hooked up to a car battery, that was charged by the solar panel. I mounted the solar panel in the most sunny window I had to put it in. At that time there weren’t compact florescent light bulbs. I liked that solar panel so much that I bought 3 more like it from the same company. Each panel made about 50 watts in direct sunlight.
A solar cell reacts with sunlight making a positive and negative charge. When you link the two charges by attaching a wire to both ends of the solar cell, charged electrons move along the wire, and an electric current flows. When the cells are joined together, to increase the voltage and amperage, you have made a solar panel. So all this makes the electricity your light uses.
Once you have the electricity, you have to store it somewhere, or use it right away. Since the whole point of a light is to use it in the dark, and solar panels only work in sunlight, you need a battery, to store the electricity until you are ready to turn the light on.
To keep the electricity in the battery while the solar panel is connected, a diode is used. A diode is an electronic device which only allows direct current to travel in one direction. If the current tries to go in the other direction, then the diode stops it. This happens when a big dark cloud moves in front of the sun. Your panel makes so little power the battery has more voltage push, than what is coming from the panel. So the voltage from the battery tries to send current out from the battery. We want the battery to charge, and not waste the electricity until we turn on the light.
To use the direct current electricity in a battery, to run an alternating current or household current compact florescent light, you need to convert the electricity from the battery, to the kind of electricity the light will use. This device is called an inverter. It makes AC electricity out of DC electricity. The inverter is connected to the battery and the power cord from the light is plugged into the inverter.
When you switch your light on, you are using the power from the sunlight captured during the day time. The advantage of using compact florescent light bulbs is that they are very energy efficient, using little electricity, and giving out the same amount of light used by a 60 watt regular light bulb. You make your own power and don’t care if the power from the electric company goes off. Your lighting system will still work.