So with the vertical growing system I am developing, I have one version that uses a very small pump to circulate water through the system. To charge the battery and keep the system running, I have a small solar system I put together on the cheap. And it further will run the automation side of my vertical garden, telling me all kinds of neat stuff like water levels, temperatures, soil moisture, you name it.
Here's what I have:
This setup is composed of two, 7 Amp Hour, 12 Volt AGM batteries, an off the shelf small scale solar regulator (charge controller) and a 12 Volt, 20 Watt solar panel.
All total, (I got the batteries for free) it cost me less than $39 US, with free shipping from Amazon.
The solar cell is fully encased in resin and it spent all Spring, Summer and Fall up here in North Dakota outside. Lightning storms, high winds, sideways rain, heavy sun. Nothing phased it. It's a super tough little guy, let me tell you. Bird poop, it got knocked off a seven foot stand, just really rough treatment. You could not ask for a better solar panel to my mind and you would have to work seriously hard to hurt it.
Here's the solar panel, still available for $28.99 with a long cord and clamps.
And when paired with this simple charge controller, this was one fine machine. It too was exposed all Spring, Summer and Fall, same winds and rains, etc and it ran like a champ.
This charge controller pretty much keeps you from doing anything stupid. For instance, it's a smart charger. It won't just push current to the batteries and overcharge them. It has short circuit protection, albeit that's hard wired in. It can be replaced if you know how to solder, but even if you don't know how to solder, you would be out $10 US. It also will save your batteries from total discharge. No, that's not another Schwarzenegger sequel. It's when you drain your batteries so low that they become damaged. Not a fun situation. Essentially, it will simply say "No soup for you!" if it senses danger to the battery or batteries. It does that by detecting the discharge voltage from the battery or batteries. When that reaches the bottom safe level, it cuts off the load. And it's a battery saver, let me tell you! I am conducting a series of tests with this setup to see if AGM battery life can be extended by doing maintenance on "maintenance free" batteries. That's a separate post over here: https://permies.com/t/84240/Maintaining-Maintenance-Free-Sealed-Lead
And it could not be easier to use. Everything is labeled with solar panel, battery and output connections clearly visible. And it's smart enough to know when you did something silly too- and stop you from doing it.
Here's a picture of the charge controller.
Also, I don't make any money off this. I am not affiliated with a web store or Amazon or any other source I quote, save for my own device.
Which since you asked, is a vertical gardening system I use to produce a bunch of food in just a bit more than a square foot of floor space! If you want to see how I am doing that, go to HTTPS://VerticalFarmMechanics.com
I am giving away free production models of the system to folks that want to try them out. No Jedi mind tricks, just a full system shipped to your door! All I ask in return is that you tell me what you think, how it can be made better, etc.
Here's the folks I bought both the awesome solar panel from and the awesome solar charge controller.
What could you use this for, besides charging and running one of my vertical gardens? Charge a small bank of batteries, your smart phone, your laptop and just about anything else you can think of. If you have a way to charge from your car cigarette lighter, than you can use this system. Certainly worth having around for less than $40 US!
This is an effort to educate people that you don't have to spend big money to tinker with solar and DC systems. These ideas of mine are easy ways to start getting involved with alternative energy. If your... physical body systems cinch up when you look at the cost of large scale alternative energy, you are not alone. This lets you play with small scale alternative energy, make small scale mistakes and learn from them big time.