Over the last few months I have learnt a lot of new things. A few I have mentioned here such as 3D printing, but another over the last weeks has also taken my fancy.
The use of solar panels and 12v power to give electricities to a number of devices we use regularly in this video and filmmaking game in fact..
You are out on a shoot in a remote location for a few days, perhaps filming a special scene for a movie, getting footage for a David Attenborough or just for your own amusement. You will need power to charge batteries for cameras, mics, probably a laptop, mobile phones, maybe lights for a campsite and yes, even for cooking and refrigeration.
Sure, you could drag along a petrol-powered generator, but these are decidedly environmentally unfriendly and not cheap to either buy or run. So why not enlist the power of the sun, literally? You possibly have a solar setup on the roof of your house so why not mimic that in a scaled down version you can use on remote shoots?
If like me, this was all magic-meets-voodoo and you have no idea where to start, let me assure you, the basics are pretty simple. And it needn’t cost an arm or leg.
But first is to dispel the myth that a solar panel powers a device. It does not. A deep cycle battery does that. The solar panel makes sure the battery stays charged. Between these two goes a solar charge controller whose main job is to make sure the battery is not overcharged, as the panel will usually put out more juice than the battery is capable of storing.
Now if all your devices are simply 12v (such as a refrigerator), then you can plug this straight into the battery system, usually via cigarette lighter type sockets and plugs or a plug type called an Anderson plug, but if you want to charge or run 240v devices, you’ll also need an inverter.
The trick is working out what size you need for each of the components making up the system – that is, the solar panel, the charge controller, battery and inverter.
If you are running such a system into a two battery setup in a vehicle (one battery as a “crank battery” to start the car and the other to act as the power source for your devices), then you’ll also need a DC-to DC charger system and isolator in the mix, but I’ll leave that part to the auto sparkys to sort out and advise on.
To get these sizes, calculations are made as to how much power in Amp Hours you need based on the TOTAL of all devices running simultaneously, the number of hours of sunlight and the battery size.
The Bare Necessities
As a rough guide, and assuming you want to recharge batteries for something along the lines of a Blackmagic 6K Pocket Camera or a Panasonic PV100 say, a couple of mobile phones, a laptop like the Gigabyte Aero, a and some LED lights say and want some portability via a flexible solar panel as against a rigid fixed unit, then the following list would be a good basis to start from and give you room for margin to spare:
- 12v 100Ah deep cycle battery $299.00
- Battery box with connectors and voltmeter, USB ports etc. $129.00
- 200w Canvas Blanket Solar Panel (foldable) $399.00
- 200w folding panel (2 piece) $249.00
- Solar Charge Controller 30w $79.95
- 500W Pure Sine wave 12v/240v inverter with USB ports $149.00
Of course you’ll also need some cable, connectors and the like, and perhaps some extra Anderson plugs depending on the setup you decide upon.
I have put in links to some products as you can see, but I strongly suggest you chat to an expert about your power needs before committing to exact sizes in terms of power capacities to make sure, and then add a 20% margin on.
And don’t forget, once you have the basic system, it can always be expanded quite easily to accommodate greater power needs.
Disclaimer: I a NOT an electrician of any sort. This is information I have picked up as I have gone along and is given in good faith and accurate as far as I can tell, but I take NOT responsibility. ALWAYS get a qualified person to check when you nstart mucking about with electricities of ANY sort….