Solar power is a great alternative energy source, but it has its limits. For example, obviously, the sun has to be shining for the solar cells to generate any electricity. In my area, the spring, summer and fall months generally see the most sunshine (okay, maybe not so much in the fall…) Coincidentally, this is also the time of year when I spend a lot of time outdoors doing chores – raking leaves, gardening, cutting the lawn, trimming hedges, etc.
So, the question I asked myself is…how can I combine my interest in alternative power (solar power) with making my yard chores easier?
The answer was obvious – harness solar power and use it to power my yard equipment. There are three pieces of equipment in my shed I use regularly that use some sort of energy: lawnmower (which uses gas), leaf blower (electricity), trimmer (electricity).
First, the lawnmower. It uses gas, so I had to either convert it to run on water or another alternative fuel, or perhaps get an electric one. Through Craigslist, I was able to trade my old gas lawnmower for an electric one, otherwise the electric one would cost $50. I prefer to buy it used rather than spend $300+ on a new one.
Now I hate cords, because I’m always afraid that I’m going to run the darn thing over. I love the freedom of just walking around without worrying. So I need another solution. I grabbed an inexpensive power inverter that was small enough to fit on the lawnmower, and rigged it on using screws. I connected the inverter to the power cord of the lawnmower using a 6ft medium duty 14 gauge extension cord. Now I just need a DC power source.
This is where the solar power comes in. I have a 2 panel solar array and a few sealed lead acid batteries. The solar array is connected to the batteries through a charge controller and diode array (so the batteries don’t lose their power when the solar array isn’t producing electricity). So I found a nice medium duty batter (used to be in a motorcycle) and connected it to the array. Within a sunny day or two, the battery was charged and I was ready to go.
I connected the batter to the inverter, and strapped it on using a bungee cord. I fired up the lawnmower and adjusted the inverter. Success! The lawnmower started and I can cut my lawn, about 1/4 acre, on solar power.
Now, the other two items. Well, I happen to have a second inverter near the solar battery panel. I took the inverter, connected it to the battery bank and fed it into a normal AC outlet that is laying in the garage. The other two pieces of equipment (trimmer and leaf blower) I don’t mind being corded, so I simply plug right into the outlet in the garage that is powered by solar power and presto!
I’ve managed to take 3 common pieces of yard equipment and “convert” them to run on solar power. You can do the same thing with walk lights, decorative fixtures, even security lights or ones on timers. All it takes is a little imagination, and a few sunny days!