The start of April marked 2 years running fully on solar panels for my kit - neat! It's become fairly routine now, although the routine (and the garden) has been helped a lot by being at home every day 😐 and being able to quickly adjust angles, or not worry so much about rain.
I thought I'd celebrate by getting in some new solar panels - more on this to come, but after some browsing (and noticing that panels seem to have short production runs, and seem to be a bit pricier?) I've gone for some slightly generic 60W MathRose panels, as my last 60W set have been so influential. The new aim is to try running a laptop from the extra set and the big battery that's sitting around. Also, those MathRose ones are cheap.
What have I learnt in those 2 years then? Was it worth it? Here's some quick thoughts on it all.
- I've learned a lot about electrics and battery life, of course. Once you dig a little into measuring anything, you rapidly work out what all the symbols like V, A and Wh mean. With a bit more digging (not too much), you figure out how they relate to each other, and then what you can say based on the numbers you have. It's like learning a new foreign language.
For instance, I can 'comprehend' all batteries much more easily now - the difference between capacity and oomph, for want of a better (read 'scientifically emotional') word. When you're browsing what to get and you're just looking at price, you have no idea what that price means. Now it takes me days to try to figure out what rechargeable AAs to get...
- I'm more savvy about what I want to use my phone for. I'm more protective about the apps and data on it. I'm constantly checking battery level and there's a continual voice at the back of my head that questions if I really need to do that thing. Apps get one, maybe two goes at preserving battery but they're straight out if they're too hungry. I mean, I still use my phone probably more than I want to ultimately, but I have 3-4 apps I use regularly, a few background apps to get data on/off, and various apps I either need for life, or which are utility for those handy times I can just get something done quickly. But I know why I want those apps there.
- I actually really enjoy setting up the panels and batteries, and taking them down again. It gets me out into the fresh air, even if just for a few moments, and connects me to the birdsong in the morning, and the moon and stars at night. Sometimes I kick myself for forgetting to taken them in, but I also love walking out in the dark.
- Snail trails are really bad for panel surfaces. 😧
- Harvesting energy, and storing it locally, is a feasible way of running tech. The energy demands of a single device aren't huge, and things like file storage and local networking are pretty feasible. Projects like Low Tech's solar-powered site and the Solar Protocol distributed nodes project keep me hooked on this idea that tech is made to be incredibly efficient, ad-hoc, and opportunistic - based on energy available, rather than making energy to keep things running constantly. We don't need things on all the time - we just started taking it all for granted because it was easier.
And probably lots more too. And not enough. I'll try to follow up with what I didn't learn that I would still like to. And get on the case with details about the MathRose panels. (Spoiler: Early results are good.)