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http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2009/Jan/23/Solar_Panel_NO_Background.jpgAside from the natural curiosity of ‘why’ someone would adapt ( as their lifestyle) a life lived from the perch of a horse-drawn covered wagon, is ‘how’ such a person actually does it.An email arrived regarding the use of solar panels to facilitate the electrical needs of Dakotah's wagon. The answer became sort of a primer for solar power; I like to call, Solar 101.I have found the following website to be very useful http: //www.solarliving.org/ when it comes to all things solar. This organization is located in Hopland, California, and is open year-round with living exhibits of alternative energy and water conservation. It is worth stopping by if you find yourself in the area; but in case you can not visit in person and would like to know more, they have a catalog in addition to the website.There is a basic rule for solar panels to keep in mind. The bigger the panel, the greater the power generated by it.http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2009/Jan/23/Solar_Panel_-Wide.jpgPower is the term used to describe the wattage used by any electrical device. In addition, there are two basic types of electrical current to consider; AC (alternating current - the devices you plug into your home outlet, like TV's, toasters, etc) and DC (direct current - the type of electrical devices you might plug into your car cigarette lighter socket.) Most automotive vehicles today are 12-volts DC, and in the US , most all of the smaller electrical devices are 110-volts AC.Solar Panels (cells) collect sunlight and through a solar-voltaic process, convert the sunlight into electricity which, in turn, charge the 12-volt DC batteries (also called Deep-cell or Marine Batteries - car batteries discharge too quickly) A device called an "Inverter" converts the DC voltage to AC voltage which will power small household electrical appliances (laptop computers, radios, etc). The disadvantage to using an Inverter is that it also consumes power (wattage) to make the conversion; so it is best to use only 12-volt DC equipment whenever possible, or you may have to buy additional batteries. So, all that being said, make yourself a checklist in advance to determine your specific solar power requirements:1.What electrical devices will I need?2.How much power will each device need?3.How much power will all devices need if I have to use them all at once4.After calculating your power needs, then look at how many batteries it will take to provide the power.5.Use the calculations above to determine how big each panel and how many solar panels it will require to re-charge (or put back) the power you consume on a daily basis. The cost of a solar panel is proportionate to its size, as the size is proportionate to the amount of power it can generate.http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2009/Jan/23/Solar_Panel-_Close.jpgLastly, and this will be a major factor in how much electrically powered equipment you can use, is how much direct-sunlight is present during any given day? Even though a person has a sufficient number of solar panels with which to produce the power needed, the sun has to show up to make the panels work.If we lived in Alaska during the winter, we're not going to get enough power to charge our batteries with only 3-4 hours of daylight. Or, if we lived in the Pacific Northwest, where it is gray, cloudy, and raining many of the days, we're not going to get sufficient sunlight either.A good rule of thumb when considering a "Dakotah" lifestyle is: take only what you need, and improvise the rest. Otherwise, you'll be hauling a generator in your supply trailer with a spare 100 gallons of gas to keep up with your power consumption.Happy Trails.