Solar Power / Panels

Solar power is power created by converting sunlight into electricity.

Solar power is becoming more popular for a range of reasons including:

Decreasing costs and increasing quality of solar panels and equipment
Solar power is free once the system is set up
Solar power is clean, efficient and renewable
Increasing and ongoing cost of fuels for generators
The banning of generators in many areas, including some National Parks

Solar panels have no moving parts and very little maintenance and are designed to convert sunlight into electricity and this electricity can then be used immediately or stored in a bank of deep cycle batteries.
Solar panels need full sunlight to produce full power and the amount of power produced will depend upon the rated output of that panel. Overcast weather and shadows will dramatically decrease the power output of solar panels.

Small panels are available that are designed to maintain the charge in your battery when you are away and not using your vehicle, or when your boat is moored without use. These panels produce milliamps of power and are not capable of charging a battery that is continually running appliances.

Larger panels are rated in watts / amps and it is important to consider what appliances you want to run and how long you want to run them for each day to calculate a daily power draw.

Draw of appliance x Number of hours use = Total draw for that appliance

By doing this calculation for each appliance and then adding these totals together you can calculate your total daily power usage, for example;

Fridge – 1amp per hour x 24 hours per day = 24amps
Light – 1 amps per hour x 5 hours per day = 5amps

Fridge + Light = 29amps

Therefore we need to put back 29amps per day from our panels. However it is recommended that you build in a safety margin of 30% in case of bad weather or extended usage, so this would increase our amps required to approximately 38amps per day. You can now select solar panels that will supply 38amps of power to your batteries per day. It is important also to select a battery, or bank of batteries, capable of supplying and receiving the amount of power that you require and it is recommended that batteries are not discharged below 20% of their capacity to maximise the life of the battery.

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Generators run on petrol and produce 240V (household) power to run 240V appliances including lighting, freezer, television, radio and laptop. Generators when running can also power a charger to charge a battery bank. This allows you to power 240V appliances while the generator is running and then switch over to the battery bank when the generator is turned off. The battery bank can then either power 12V appliances, such as lights and radio, or continue to run the 240V appliances via an inverter.

As with an inverter, generators are rated in watts and must be matched to the appliances you wish to run. Each item you wish to run will have a draw on its specification plate or label, simply add these together to get the total watts you wish to power. Select a generator that is rated to more than this amount. A 1000 watt generator will power an average campsite, including lights, TV and radio. A 1600 to 2000 watt generator is generally recommended for larger campsites with more equipment and for running power tools.
Base model generators produce modified sine wave power that may not be suitable for sensitive equipment such as video cameras, laptops, medical equipment or multi speed power tools. In these instances a pure sine wave inverter is preferred, and although more expensive it produces pure power that is suitable for sensitive equipment.

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Power Inverters

A power inverter changes DC power or direct current (car/boat battery) to standard AC power or alternating current (240 volt / mains power). This allows you to run 240V electrical equipment from your car or marine battery for mobile applications, emergencies or simple convenience.

An inverter is also known as a ‘step-up transformer’.
 It is a device for changing 12V DC electricity, like that contained in renewable power system 12V battery banks, into 240 volt AC electricity, like that from the mains power grid. This allows you to operate conventional 240 volt appliances from a battery bank and makes for a simple system without the need for special appliances.

Power inverters are small rectangular devices that have a wire lead with cigarette lighter plug, or alternatively alligator clips for connecting directly to a battery. The device normally has one or two outlets for standard electrical plugs, like those found in the home. Your laptop, small-screen television, video game player or 240V lighting are all examples of devices that you can power through an inverter.

Power inverters are great for camping at parks that do not provide electricity. The television, fan, and stereo can all still be used. On the boat we can plug in the digital movie camera to capture those enormous fish on video that we might have missed after the camera’s battery ran low!

In a utility outage a power inverter can be used for emergency electricity. Just run an extension cord from the car into the house, or if there is a charged spare battery, we can connect the power inverter directly. Plug in a radio to tune into important alerts, run essential medical equipment, lights, or whatever else we need that falls within the inverter’s power limits.

Remember Inverters are rated in watts

Power inverters come in many models that are rated in watts. The amount of wattage required depends on the total draw of the devices we wish to use. If we have a two-outlet inverter, and we will be plugging in 2 devices at once, we add up the total wattage of both devices then add at least 50% more to account for peaks or spikes in the power draw. For example if the DVD player draws 100 watts and the laptop another 100 watts, a minimum 300-watt inverter is recommended.

When using a power inverter it is important to remember that the inverter is drawing power from the battery and battery levels should be monitored. A second, or separate, battery is ideal, as well as a means of charging such as a generator or solar. If you are running an inverter from your vehicles starting battery the vehicle should be run regularly to recharge the battery.

There are two main types of inverters.

Modified sine wave inverters deliver power that is consistent and efficient enough to run most devices fine. Due to price this type of inverter is the most popular. Modified sine wave inverters can cause minor buzzing on radios and minor buzzing and lines on televisions, but this can be overcome by stepping up to a pure sine wave inverter.

Pure sine wave inverters are the most expensive, but they also deliver the most consistent wave output. Some sensitive equipment, like certain medical equipment and variable speed or rechargeable tools require pure sine. Any device will run on a pure sine wave, whether it requires it or not.

Always use a power inverter that is rated high enough for the device(s) you are running and avoid adapters that would allow more outlets than the unit is designed to accommodate.

Working with car batteries can be dangerous and can result in serious injury, and improper use of a power inverter can lead to electrocution, so for your own safety be sure to read and follow any and all safety precautions that are listed in the owner’s manuals included with the inverter.

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Battery Chargers

At the heart of many power systems is a quality deep cycle battery or battery bank. Quality batteries, especially deep cycle batteries, can cost you hundreds of dollars, and by looking after these batteries you can get maximum life out of them. A quality battery charger can ensure that your batteries are kept charged, without the risk of overcharging.
Many small automotive chargers are inadequate when it comes to charging large deep cycle batteries, especially when replacing large amounts of power drawn from the battery by high draw appliances. A 10 amp charger is capable of charging a large deep cycle battery overnight, ready for the next days fishing. Smart chargers are designed to provide a fast and accurate charge and are a true ‘connect and forget’ charger. Once a smart charger has completed its charging cycle, it drops to a safe ‘float’ voltage to maintain the batteries charge, without overcharging.

Smaller battery chargers are suited for topping up a battery, but a 10 amp smart charger is a worthwhile investment when running fridges, electric motors and when running high draw appliances or multiple pieces of equipment.

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Solar Regulator / Charge Controller

A solar regulator, sometimes referred to as a charge controller, is designed to prevent your batteries from being over-charged. Solar regulators will stop, or decrease, the power being supplied from the panel to the battery once the battery has reached its capacity. It is important to select a solar regulator that is rated to the output of the panels that you will be using

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