Photos by P.J. Perea
Our hunting club has a big barn that holds planting implements, an ATV, tractor, seed, herbicide and tools. But, we’ve been sorely lacking in the ability to use things like power tools, chargers and pumps, and we sometimes work into the night repairing or putting away equipment. Unless we brought our own battery packs, or cordless tools and lights, there were no power options. Extending a power line to the barn would cost up to $100 a foot, making a 300-yard project cost prohibitive on a small hunt club budget. Plus, adding power would be considered a major property improvement, which means a bigger tax bill in addition to paying a power bill every month. Paying a king’s ransom to charge a phone or tractor battery is not worth the price.
Knowledge is power
Fortunately, a low-cost option showed up at the local home improvement store in the form of a DIY 45-watt solar power kit. It was on sale for $150. All we needed was a sealed lead-acid battery for $125 and a 300-watt power inverter for $25 to complete the set. The kit included solar panels, solar array frame, power regulator, 12-volt lights and charging adaptors. For a fraction of the price of running a power line to the barn, we could have lights to work into the night, charge batteries and run power tools and pumps. Adding a solar power option to the barn did not qualify as a major improvement, so there are no additional property taxes and no power bills.
The kit was plug-and-play to assemble
- Find the south-facing end of the building and locate a sunny pot for the solar panel array. Use a compass if you want to be precise. Make sure there are no trees or structures that will create a shadow on the array during the peak solar hours of the day.
- Set the correct angle for the solar panel array based on your latitude and use the formula recommended in the manual. Our hunt club’s latitude is 34 degrees and the recommendation is add 10 degrees to the latitude to create an optimal angle of 44 degrees. Set the angle by adjusting the legs on the array.
- Place the solar panel array perpendicular to the north-south line of your compass so it is aligned with the east-west line.
- Set up the power regulator where it will be optimal for lights, battery and charging station.
- Run solar panel array wiring to power regulator.
- Hook up the charging cables to the battery posts, making sure to match polarity.
- Install 12-volt lights and plug into power regulator.
- Activate the power regulator and check if the panels are charging properly.
- Install power inverter to run 110-volt power tools, pumps and lights.
- Enjoy cheap, clean power.
A few installations tips
- If the framing kit does not have locking washers in the hardware, spend a few extra cents for locking washers. If a piece of framing separates from a bolt coming loose, it means damage to the fragile solar cells. The frame is subject to wind and weather. Don’t skimp on hardware and keep the frame sturdy and tight.
- Seal wire connectors with electrical tape to prevent moisture from damaging connections.
- If you live in areas with extreme weather conditions (snow, wind, ice), build a sturdier frame with metal or treated wood. The PVC frame in the kit will not hold up to extreme weather.
- Pay a little extra to get a deep-cycle or higher amperage/hour battery. It will hold more power and last longer than a lower capacity battery.
- Gently wipe off dust on the solar power array with a feather duster or soft cloth. A dirty solar panel lowers its ability to create electricity.
Affordable solar power options have made it possible to bring power to even the most remote places, making your time in the outdoors safer, more efficient and more enjoyable. Consider catching a few rays at your hunt club and you’ll be a fan of solar power soon. — P.J. Perea