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SOLAR POWER and AMATEUR RADIO
- My Story -
by Don Dorward
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This -- is me
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Don’s Mini - Biography
• I am officially retired, a widower, have Ham licence Basic and
Advanced, no code (never could get the hang of it...!)
• Past business experience in Electronics R & D, Quality
Assurance and Regulatory Affairs – in the fields of Medical
Electronics, Power Audio, OEM Automotive Electronics, and
Electronic Components Manufacture
• Hobbies are Power Boating (…Stink pots – not sticks’n rags!),
Ham Radio, digital photography, solar and wind energy.
• I collect, buy and sell various “treasures”, and am an avid
eBayer, & sometime Hamfest vendor.
• Member of RAC, ARRL, SPARC, VHARC, Life Member IEEE
• Main gear is my Kenwood TS-570S for HF, Yaesu FT-8800/7800
for vhf/uhf, ADI AR-247 for the forgotten band, 706MKIIG for
marine mobile, and of course various HT’s…
• I have 3 Solar Ham Articles published in TCA 2004/2005
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How it Started – The Big Power
Blackout – Aug 14, 2003 – Where were you?
• That day I was in relatively good shape – the ICOM 706 at that
time was the base rig and was powered from a 12 volt Marine
battery, so I was on the air right away.
• With the shack in the basement of my house, the first thing I
missed was ordinary lighting to see by. I dug out an old 12v,
6 watt camping FL light, and later on a 15 watt CFL lamp,
powered by a 150 watt 12 to 120vac inverter.
• Second, I realized hat my lonely 12 volt storage battery had
been charged only by a small 1.5 amp AC operated charger, so
it would become a problem very soon.
• Fortunately for me the black-out only lasted 24 hours.
• Still I had retrieved my Honda generator from the boat up north
to power the refrigerator, recharge the radio battery etc.
• This started me thinking….., what if the power outage had
lasted a lot longer ?? What would I do ??
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A First Solar Panel
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A First Solar Panel
• An ICT PRO15W, (15 watt rated) was purchased from the local
Crappy Tire parts store on “special”
• Wow, only 12” wide and 36” long, it was easy to mount up on a
south-facing roof over my deck!!
• Rated 15 watts at ~ 14 volts, I reasoned it should give me about
1.1 amp of D.C. current to charge my radio battery. This would
in theory remove my dependence on charging from the AC grid
• On further thought, I began to worry about the possibility of
Over-charging the poor battery, with this new and free source
of 1.1 amp D.C. !!
• So, some kind of charge control, would also be needed…..
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A First Charge controller
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A First Charge controller
• An ICT #10014 charge controller, rated to handle up to 7 amps, or
100 watts of solar power was also purchased from the local Crappy
Tire store, and it was also on “special” at the time.
• The 7 amp rating sounded great and I reasoned it would allow me to
later expand my system, by just adding more panels
• Note that a solar charge controller is an essential item to protect
the battery system from over-charging, by monitoring the battery
voltage and switching off the solar charging current when the battery
charge is complete.
• The ICT #10014 is a simple on-off regulator with hysteresis,
allowing battery charging at battery voltages less than ~13.0 volts,
and stopping charging at battery voltages above ~14.5 volts
• (…why this particular device is a really poor performing design, for later
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• Surprise ! I soon found out that solar panels are rated for basically
“ideal “ conditions, conditions that that we never have, or rarely occur.
• Panel ratings are based on full sun, always perpendicular to the
panel, clean glass, etc.
• Bottom line, you are not likely going to get 15 watts out of a 15 W
rated panel, except maybe once, on your birthday, at high noon, in
June or July, and with all other variables maxed out.
• Variable 1 – Azimuth. The east/west angle of the sun relative to that
new panel of yours. Unless you install expensive azimuth tracking,
there is nothing else you can do, just make sure your panel faces true
south. (not magnetic) Losses from azimuth alone can be 30 – 40 %
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SOLAR PANEL ANGLES (DECLINATION)
FOR LATITUDE 43 Variable 2 - Declination.
The height in the sky where the sun is
APPROX PANEL ANGLE relative to the horizon. This changes during
MONTH (Degrees from horizontal)
the different seasons of the year. You can
manually adjust the angle of your panel for
each season, or just leave it at a fixed
“default” declination angle, typically equal to
FEBRUARY 55 your latitude. (approx. 43 degrees for
MARCH 42 Pickering area) Losses may be ~ 10%
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Guidance and Facts
• Combined solar efficiency variances due to azimuth and
declination settings of your panel can easily reduce your solar
cell output by as much as 40%
• Your 15 watt rated panel may only produce 9 watts at best, a
100 watt panel only 60 watts.
• Add in air-borne dust, bird sh_t, and solar panel aging effects,
and you need to de-rate to about 50%, for real-life.
• My personal measurements of performance were as follows;
– Cloudy November day, 15 watt panel yielded 0.075 amps or 0.9
– Sunny November day, 15 watt panel yielded 0.58 amps or
almost 9 watts !
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The 15 watt panel –
Is it useful ?
• Lets not rush to “dump” the 15 watt panel as being totally
useless, it is a convenient size !
• We can agree that it won’t be of much use to charge and
maintain a battery that may regularly have to supply 100 watts
• However, it is reasonably “portable”, and could be teamed up
with a small gel-cell “brick’ or motorcycle battery and used for
QRP operation, or powering 5 watt HT’s for ARES use etc.
• Other uses could be charge maintenance of little used batteries
for RV or boating, provided some charge control is present.
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The Basic Hook - Up
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Adding a 75 Watt Solar Panel
• The photo shows the 75 watt Siemens SQ75 on the right
• In parallel with the old 15 “watter”, I should now have 15 + 75 =
90 potential solar watts available. (….maybe, see preceding
discussion on reality)
• Note that the new panel is 5 X the power rating of my original 15
watt unit, but it is only 2.3 X larger in size (47” x 21”)
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• The panels can be connected in parallel providing they are of
the same voltage rating and have series isolation diodes
• Most panels come with the isolation diodes already included –
check before using.
• For larger installations individual power panels and terminal
blocks would be used.
• For my simple system I combined the panels in parallel in a
fused, and weatherproof junction box with an on-off switch.
See schematic to follow.
• Note: professional panels come with UL approved junction boxes on the rear,
to simplify series-parallel connections
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(Courtesy of VE1SOL,
Yarmouth N. S.) and control
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Connecting & Paralleling
• You can easily increase your stored ampere-hours by
connecting more than 1 battery in parallel as shown, using
suitably sized cables
• Heavy duty cables with lugs for screw terminals can be found at
various auto supply stores, or can be home-made.
• Don’t mix different types, sizes, ratings or ages of batteries, for
• Also, be well aware of the increased hazards, of paralleling
large storage batteries, relative to gassing and fusing,
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• Marine batteries typically come with screw-terminal battery
posts fitted with a wing nut as seen in the photo.
• Ring type connectors , lugs or terminals can be purchased at
automotive/electrical supply stores.
• Be sure you use cable sized appropriately to the maximum
expected amps you will draw
• One good source of pre-lugged cable are auto battery cables,
available in lengths from 18” to 36”.
• I have often used the 18” long cable, cut it in 2 and added my
own lug connector.
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& Gassing Hazard 1
• This a huge subject that we can only touch on here. My advice, is
that where possible use low-gassing or recombinant battery
types like Gel Cell, AGM*, or VRLA* that are available today.
• These batteries may be sold as RV, Marine or deep-cycle types
and are off-the-shelf at most large retailers.
• In my case I wound up with marine batteries, as that relates to my
boating hobby. The “Nautilus 1000” is rated at 80 AH, 115 reserve
minutes. Manufactured by Exide as type XXHD-M-24. (group 24)
• Be careful, the marine battery is a compromise between a true
deep-cycle battery and an automotive starting battery.
• These batteries are wet-cell, and as such, will emit Hydrogen gas
during heavy charging.
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• Hydrogen gas in concentrations of more than a few percent
can be both flammable and explosive.
• Keep battery installations away from ignition sources like
furnaces, water heaters etc.
• The photo shows one way of dealing with Hydrogen generation
by venting to the outside.
• I use a Rubbermaid 2156 “Totelocker” with a hinged lid to
contain the batteries and to convection vent accumulated
hydrogen to the outside via a 1.25” ABS pipe.
• Note: one wet-cell battery being lightly charged by a small 1.5 amp
charger over a few hours is not likely to present much risk.
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• There are 3 levels of fusing recommended, first at the panels,
second following the batteries and finally preceding each DC load.
• The most important fuse in the system is the “class-T” safety fuse
which follows the storage batteries.
• This is a special, very fast acting fuse designed specifically to
interrupt a major DC short circuit, and acts similar to the “fusible
link” present in all automobiles.
• Even a single 80 AH storage battery is capable of delivering more
than 1000 amps into a short, which can melt a screwdriver blade,
or worse cause an explosion.
• This fuse must be within 18” of the battery pack, and all loads
follow it. Typical Class-T ratings may be 100 or 300 amps.
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The Class “T”
• The need to have a class “T” fuse often seems to cause
• This special fuse protects the battery bank from a dead short
• Like a wrench or a screwdriver blade, or a catastrophic inverter
• it will prevent fire, melted battery cables, or even explosive
rupture of the batteries with acid spill…
• I used an Xantrex TBF300C fuse block with a TF300 fuse
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DC Voltage Distribution
in the Shack
• Connecting and individually fusing your various DC loads can
• Both MFJ, Rigrunner and Marine suppliers can provide a
variety of compact, fused distribution panels
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Estimation of real loads
• You can estimate your solar power needs as volt-amps, watts or
amp-hours,….pick one that works for you and use it.!
• The table following shows a sample estimated solar
consumption load, as being 26.5 A-H each day.
• In other words, to support this, it will require a minimum of 26.5
A-H from the solar panels each day just to break even. Lets say
30 A-H in round figures to cover losses etc.
• This means, for only 2 hours of sun daily you would need 15
amps from the panels, or for 4 hours of sun, you would need 7.5
amps, or for 6 hours of sun you would need only 5 amps etc.
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Sample Load Chart
Load item Amps @ x Usage Effective
12.5 V Hours Amp-Hours
Icom 706, receive only 1.2 3.5 4.2
Icom 706, transmit @ 50 W 10 .5 5
Icom 706, transmit @ 100 W 20 .25 5
Dial scale illumination of .2 4.25 .85
SWR meters, etc.
120 V ac inverter, average 2.7 4.25 11.5
load with 2 CF 15 w lamps.
Total Consumed Daily Ampere-Hours 26.5
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System Cost Summary 2005
(for information only)
Item Cdn $ US $
Siemens SQ75, 75 watt solar panel $376 $289
ICP PRO15W 15 watt solar panel $160 $123
Mastercraft 11-1838-6, 700W $99 $76
modified sine Inverter
Misc. cables, connectors etc $75 $58
Class T fuse and holder $68 $52
ICP 100147 amp charge controller $40 $31
Battery enclosure and venting $35 $27
Totals: $853 $656
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Solar Ham 2 Hook - Up
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Adding a 3rd panel, 80 Watts
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Adding a 3rd Solar panel, 80 Watts
• Improvements made here are first a 3rd solar panel, the same
physical size, but now rated at 80 watts. ( a Shell Ultra 80p,
cost was $317 US, or about $4.40/watt Cdn)
• Total installed solar watts are now 15 + 75 + 80 = 170 !
• A new solar charge controller, with PWM float point control, as
well as the ability to “dump load” at full battery charge. (what do
you do with excess power?)
• Solar panel voltmeter monitor for state-of-charge
• Battery system monitor with “Expanded Scale” voltmeter
• Added marine batteries to the bank, now 5 x 80 AH (400 AH tot)
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Solar Charge Controller with PWM
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PV Panel Monitoring
• I find it useful to be able to monitor what the solar panels are
doing. for example if they are covered in snow, there will be no
• You could use a DVM, or an LED circuit, but I chose a simple
approach using an old-fashioned 100 uA DC panel meter
• The advantages are it consumes almost zero power, (~15mW),
looks good and provides a dynamic display of solar panel
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Snow on the
darn panels !!
@ # %% !!
• Obvious eh? – it happens, so BRUSH IT OFF
• Otherwise the result is zero solar panel output
• Light snow will usually melt off the panels, as they do get warm
• Charles, VE1SOL in Yarmouth, suggests waxing the panel
faces, or spraying with a silicone lubricant to encourage the
snow to just slide off.
• This does work some of the time …. , but look at the photo !!
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(expanded scale voltmeter)
• You need a simple means to monitor the relative condition or
state-of-charge of your batteries.
• Measuring SG is messy and not really necessary.
• The simplest method is to use battery bank terminal voltage to
estimate the state-of-charge (see chart to follow)
• Providing the battery has been at rest for several hours, (neither
charging or discharging), full charge will be indicated by a
terminal voltage of 12.6 to 13.0 volts.
• The simplest means is to use an analog DC voltmeter, modified
for expanded scale. (11 to 16 volts)
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(expanded scale voltmeter)
(free meter scale
program by J.L.
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• Many hams have use an old lead-acid car battery with some left-
over 120vac charger to power their 12 v rig, mainly because it was
• There is nothing wrong with that, especially where the power
needs are modest, like 5 watts, or occasionally 50 watts for short
• However, there are better types of batteries available:
1. Deep-cycle batteries marked as AGM or VRLA (best choice)
2. Marine/RV batteries, which tend to be a compromise between the
automotive staring battery, and the deep cycle battery.
3. Electric fork-lift or Tow-motor batteries, are another example of
deep cycle batteries that may prove useful and may be found as
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Lead-Acid Battery Sizes & Ratings
• Battery manufacturers build batteries to an internationally
adopted Battery Council group number, I call the Battery
Confusion Index (or BCI group # 24, 27, 4D, 8D etc.)
• This specification is based on physical case size, terminal
location, polarity etc.
• Rule-of-thumb - Larger and heavier, generally = more
ampere-hours of capacity, and that’s a good thing
• Series/parallel connect only batteries with similar types and
• Ampere-hour (AH) or capacity ratings are not as readily
available from manufacturers as they should be
• Reserve Capacity = the # of minutes to discharge to 10.5 V
@ 25 amperes continuous.
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Lead-Acid Battery Sizes & Ratings
(Typical AH ratings for some common battery types)
COMMON BATTERY NOMINAL REALISTIC REALISTIC
USE GROUP AH AH (@ 75% USEABLE
SIZE RATING OF MAX) Amps/Hr.
Passenger 24 40 - 85 64 2–4
Car 27 85 - 105 80% 4-5
Heavy duty 4D 140 – 160 120 7–8
Commercial 8D 200 - 215 160 10 - 11
Note: AH Capacity = the continuous # of amperes the battery can
supply for a 20 hour period. ( the 20 hour rate)
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Solar Battery Charging,
• Solar Battery charging generates no hum at all. PERIOD.
• If you operate your rig direct from a 12 volt storage battery
system, and are in the habit of charging the batteries from an
old automotive battery charger that has no filtering ( pulsating DC
at 120Hz), there could be an issue, but only if your batteries are in
terrible shape and have developed high internal resistance.
• A good storage battery acts like a huge filter capacitor, which
tends to swamp-out any “Hum” issue.
• In a somewhat related issue, problems with mobile installations
with noise pick-up and alternator whine come from not
powering the rig with a separate feed from the battery.
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• Inverters, this is another very large subject in itself, that I will just
touch on at this time.
• Usually the need is to convert your 12 or 24 v battery power into
120 Vac, to power your TV, computer, refrigerator etc.
• The photo above supplied by VE1SOL, shows the “modified-
sine-wave” wave-form produced by most lower cost inverters.
• This is often not well tolerated by all AC loads, particularly some
TV’s, VCR’s etc.
• Advice – buy the highest power rating inverter you can afford, in a
true-sine wave type, if you intend to seriously use AC power from
your solar installation.
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• So far actually quite disappointing, But I did learn a few things !
• Bottom line is that wind turbines need a steady wind that you
can’t easily get in an urban built-up area. You need to get the
turbine well above roofs and trees, for example at least 100 ft.
• Consequently my horizontal wind turbine project was a failure
from the start, at about 25 ft.
• I do plan on experimenting with vertical wind turbines that are
more tolerant of swirling wind currents. (e.g.; Savonnius etc.)
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More Commentary from Me..
• Fact - There are more wind turbines installed in China
(Mongolia) than in any other region of the world.
• Over 140,000 turbines, mostly 100 – 400 watts, with low cost
batteries, provide electricity to about 1/3 of the non-grid
• In North America and in Europe, Wind turbines rated at less
than 400 watts are almost non-existent, and what is available is
• I believe that we have become so wasteful of electric power in
general, that turbine manufacturers and even importers, here in
North America, believe that anything less than 400 watts is
useless, and so they are not produced or imported..
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Some Related Websites
for info etc.
• http://www.windsun.com • http://www.generationpv.com
• http://www.homepower.com • http://www. solar-electric.com
• http://www.cirkits.com • http://www.sunwize.com
• http://www.xantrex.com/ • http://solarhardware.com
• http://www.energyalternatives.ca • http://tonnesoftware.com
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That’s All Folks…..
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