Solar system, 2019

So this is the year. I've cleaned out fifty years of cruft around my cabin at the lake, started some much needed repairs, remodeled the kitchen, and repaneled the bedrooms. This year, I add (drum roll, please) electricity.

OK, so it's not as dramatic as all that. After all, I've had a generator at the cottage for about a decade. But, what is dramatic is that, for most purposes, I'm about to replace that noisy, costly, polluting generator with silent, inexpensive, eco-friendly solar power.

I have talked about this change for some time; I plan to put LED lighting into the two bedrooms and the loft. This will augment the LED lighting I have already installed in the kitchen and dining area, to give the cottage some safe and convenient lighting.

Originally, we lit the cottage with kerosene lamps, but about a decade ago, my brother installed two bare lights in the great room, which ran off of an inexpensive generator. A couple of years ago, I updated these lights to LED, but still powered them (via an AC/DC converter) from the generator. However, outside of kerosene lamps, the bedrooms had no lighting of their own. So, no cabin lighting unless you run the generator or burn kerosene.

Kerosene lamps give enough light for the bedrooms, but I've always been cautious of the fire hazard. After all, this is an isolated log cabin surrounded by forest. Do something stupid or have an accident, and you sit in the middle of a million-dollar forest fire with no rescue in sight.

As I've mentioned before, the bedroom walls need repaneling. The existing cedar shake panelling is too dark, and in some places incomplete. Repaneling these walls would give me an opportunity to run low-voltage DC electrical wire into the bedrooms, so that I can replace the kerosene lamps with 12V DC LED lights.

But, that's only half the battle. I want to stop using the generator to power the lights. So, I plan to use a 12V sealed lead/acid battery, instead. And, to charge the battery, I'll use two 100 Watt solar panels, mounted on the roof of the cabin, along with the appropriate charge control electronics mounted indoors.

And I intend to install all this by the fall of this year.

So, I've got my time at the lake this year all planned out. I'll open the cabin as soon as I can in May, and start the interior work. This will keep me busy indoors, where the bugs cant get me. I'll first strip the last of the cedar shakes off the bedroom interior walls, and then install the low voltage wire and utility boxes into the two bedrooms and the loft. Then, I'll re-insulate the walls and panel them over with pine tongue-and-groove to match the walls that I renovated last year.

With that done, I'll re-insulate the kitchen side of the gable wall, and move Mike's artwork boat from the entrance side to the kitchen side of that wall. This will let me re-insulate the entrance side of the gable wall. I'll get this indoors prep work out of the way while the bugs are biting outside.

Next up, I'll install the electrical control panel at the entrance side of the gable end, and connect up the existing greatroom electrical connections. Then, fixtures and fittings in the bedrooms, followed by connecting that circuit to the control panel. I'll test all these connections from the generator, as I've equiped the control panel with a 10 Amp AC/DC converter.

By the time I finish all this work, bug season will have wound down, and I can work outdoors. So, outdoors I will go, to mount the solar panels onto the roof, and run it's electrical connections down and in to the control panel inside.

And, that should be it.

Comments

This solar lighting project has three large components: the interior electrical work, a power distribution panel, and the solar panels themselves. During the day, the solar panels generate electricity from sunlight, which the power distribution panel uses to charge a battery. The power distribution panel then powers the interior DC lighting from the battery, on demand.


The first step in this process is to build an all-weather mount for the solar panels. This mount will hold two 100 Watt solar panels at the proper angle to efficiently capture sunlight energy, adjustable in angle to accomodate the seasonally-changing solar azimuth. A simple, three position hook system will lock it into position, preventing it from moving, while permitting angle adjustment at suitable intervals. When not in use, and over the winter months, the mount will fold up to safely store the panels and protect them from the elements.

I've completed the mount, and painted it with suitable colours: a forest brown for the undercarriage, and a reflective white on the part that holds the two solar panels. When closed, it will present a red-and-white Maple Leaf Flag of Canada.

The "power distribution panel" uses the DC electricity generated by the solar panels to charge a 12V lead/acid battery. It also manages the discharge of that battery to the various electrical circuits in the cottage.

I constructed and tested the panel over the winter; the solar panels connect (with a fuse) to the input side of the controller, the battery (again, with a fuse) to the battery connections, and the load (the lighting circuits) connect (with more fuses) to the output side of the controller. Switches enable and disable the solar panels and the battery, and another switch controls whether the load disconnects from power, or connects to the controller or to a (fused) AC/DC converter. The AC/DC converter provides an alternative power source, should the solar charge controller fail.


It's been a busy spring and summer in this stage of my cottage renovation. Early in June, I stripped the two remaining walls bare, in preparation for running wiring and repanelling. While there were no surprises in the master bedroom wall, the wall in the guest bedroom presented a different story; it had been used well as a mouse abode, with three nests.

Of course, I cleaned out the wall cavities, then packed them with polystyrene insulation. With the panelling in place, this would prevent future mouse residencies. Some cavities, I left empty. In those, I ran my 10AWG DC wiring, and then insulated with glass fibre insulation for fire protection.

Next, pine tongue-and-groove to match the wall reconstructed last fall. It took two days to completely panel the two bedroom walls, and they now look marvelous. I still have to install a bit of trim, and whitewash the walls to match the previous work, but that should take only a couple of hours on my next trip.

Soon, I'll be ready to install the solar panels, and hook all the existing lighting up to the new power source. I still have to construct and install the bedroom lighting fixtures, so the project still has a ways to go.

But, I'm getting there. You might say that I "see the light at the end of the tunnel", so to speak.