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Do It Yourself 12 Volt Solar Power (2nd Edition) by Michel Daniek  RSS feed

Burra Maluca
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Available direct from the publisher here - green shopping
also as an e-book edition

Or from

Do It Yourself 12 Volt solar power by Michel Daniek, is the book for you, if you want to introduce alternative power supplies around the house and garden or even live totally off-grid in your boat, caravan or yurt. A practical introduction to solar power and 12 volt supplies.
Neil Layton
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Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
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Review of Do It Yourself 12 Volt Solar Power (2nd Edition) by Michel Daniek (2011) 978 1 85623 072 8

I give this book 8 out of 10 acorns.

The last time I studied electronics seriously was when I was doing a course in Craft, Design and Technology (Technology) at school when sixteen. At the time, my teacher told my mother at a parents' evening that “he [which is to say me] has a lot of good ideas: he's just utterly incapable of putting them into practice”. As an Aspie who is almost as physically clumsy as he is socially inept, I have to admit that little has changed.

If I'm going to get off grid, I need this book. It assumes you know nothing, and moves on from there to show you how to set up the essentials.

The book begins by discussing the various types of solar panels currently on the market. The author debunks some of the myths (often peddled by the fossil fuel industry and its apologists) surrounding solar panels. He also gives you some idea of the necessary output to run some common appliances. Costs of solar panels, both the panels themselves and the inverters needed to run them, are falling all the time.

Solar power, of course, only produces electricity in daylight. There are several solutions to this. One is to use the electricity direct, for example to run an irrigation pump. Another is to hook it up to the National Grid (a more viable solution in some countries than in others). Stored micro-hydro and hot oil-Sterling engine systems are mentioned, but not properly discussed.

Importantly, however, the book does talk about obtaining batteries, measuring their output and actually refurbishing them. Most car batteries have a 12-volt output, which is probably ideal for our purposes. Solar and leisure batteries have other advantages, in that they don't lose their capacity as quickly, but systems using large inputs such as washing machines will need several running in parallel. Lead gel and deep cycle batteries also have their pros and cons, and decisions may have to be made depending on availability and cost. He also covers the more common smaller batteries that can be used as part of an array. The book was written before the advent of the Tesla battery, which may become the standard for the off-grid system, provided the price comes down.

It's not a good idea to simply charge a battery and take electricity straight from it. For a start the high charging tension from a solar panel can cause a battery to overheat. In addition you can have a discharge effect from the battery back to the panel. For this reason the book discusses the different types of regulators and how to install them (later he talks about how to make your own regulator, but I suspect this may be something I'd want to tackle with more skill and experience).

Then the book goes in to the details of calculating input and output for any given system, and the difference between parallel and serial connections. This was the bit I was quite good at. There is a brief chapter about the use of the multimeter to test these things.

I remember making a mess of a class at school when using the wrong diameter cable for a job, and there is one idiot-resistant page which would have been extremely useful at the time, with similar information on fuses, plugs and switches. With that out of the way, he then talks about how to actually connect up your system, and gives a number of examples of tools and other technology you can hook up to it. I can think of several more, such as a DIY nutcracker.

To run technology with higher demands you then need to convert 12V direct current to 230V alternating current. This requires and inverter, and the book shows you the different types of these and how to hook one up. My suspicion is that this is where a Tesla battery might really come into its own, but here is a discussion of how to do it yourself, probably considerably more cheaply.

In my view he spends too long discussing electrosmog. My suspicion is that most human response to this is most probably based on suggestion, but I've been wrong before.

Now you have your power, you can run all sorts of things from it, including just about everything the off-grid permie might want or need. He starts with lights (definitely), cordless tools (highly likely), solar grinders (likewise), circular saws (not ruling it out), sun following systems (a great use for an old bike wheel), music systems (not a bad idea, but this was written in the days before the millivolt MP3 player), and solar welding (no, really!). There are then chapters on battery testers and voltmeters, and on repairing old batteries and solar panels.

You will probably find you need a soldering iron at some point, and the 12V immersion heater is related technology. What I think may be the most useful tip is how to run a washing machine. Of all the things that I like a short cut on it's washing my own clothes. You can't do a spin cycle, or warm water, but the latter isn't really a problem with modern detergents, even lower-impact ones suitable for greywater systems.

What I suspect may be beyond me is the construction of a bench power supply or a home-made regulator. I can read the circuit diagrams (these are the only electronic circuit diagrams in the entire book, which is otherwise written to be non-intimidating to the complete amateur), but I remember from prior experience that, even if I try to make such a thing it won't work for reasons I can never quite figure out.

In conclusion, this book is written to not be scary to someone like me, who is more interested in plants then in technology, but recognises the need, or at least the use, for the latter. It performs, in short, as advertised, which for a slim 120 pages with plenty of drawings, diagrams and tables is good going. I think I could actually do this.

What it lacks is the means of hooking up other forms of renewable energy, such as micro-hydro and micro-wind systems. You can make a wind generator from an old bicycle wheel, and it's possible to obtain electricity from a very small head of water in a stream. It might be a stronger volume as 12-volt Renewable Power, which would extend the period of electrical input, but this is certainly a book for the shelf, and I hope it will become a well-thumbed one.
Devon Olsen
Posts: 1066
Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
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Very detailed review thanks for putting the time into sharing it here on permies
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