Guest Post: Small scale off grid solar

Guest post from Kevin Holland from The Solar Shed and Solar nation

Having set up a solar energy business, from a 250 yr old ‘shed’ at the bottom of the garden and calling it The Solar Shed, I seem to get the quirky enquiries when it comes to solar. Google has a wonderful way of connecting people and I meet some wonderful people looking to ‘do the quirky’ with small scale off grid solar.   Predominately, we design grid tied solar systems for houses and commercial premises but due to the way the internet works, when people are searching for ‘solar for sheds’ we do seem to get our fair share of enquiries for small spaces, sheds, stables, out houses, beach huts and a whole host of other applications.

The most memorable was when the ITV program Love Your Garden hosted by Alan Titchmarsh were looking for solar for a shed where they were undertaking a garden project that had no access to main electricity so we duly attended and placed a small panel on the shed roof, wired into in to a regulator and wired that up into a battery.  A 12v battery like the one on your cars.  We ran a small lighting circuit and had two USB  sockets and 12v cigar lighter socket wired into a workbench so the owner could charge phones, have light, run a Bluetooth speaker and, all in all, enjoy the garden room in relative comfort.

Small scale off grid solar can be a minefield to some but it really is as simple as wiring up a 3 pin plug, except on the small scale systems, many don’t even earth the kit as it’s so low voltage and providing the screws and terminals are tight, the actual equipment has built-in over voltage and under voltage protections.  My advice is always to fuse the system,  but each to their own.

There’s some simple wiring diagrams if you’re looking to get some light down the allotment shed or looking for something that will help run a Dremel rotary tool or soldering iron, both of which use such a small amount of electricity, they are great solar starter kits to play with.  The best three off grid shops that I’ve used over the last 15 yrs or so are all on our Solar Directory  Just scroll down under the map and you’ll find links to Bimble Solar, Sunshine Solar and Photonic Universe.

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All are experts in what they do and have technical help and assistance for those new or unfamiliar with solar and low voltage electricity. 

Once you have your panel, regulator and battery in place, which is essentially the power station, it will then be time to create the circuit.  It could just be a few lights or a power supply for the trains et, but the more adventurous will need big boys (or girls) power.  Mian electricity.   That is created by attaching an inverter to the battery.  The inverter converts 12v dc energy that is contained in the battery into 230v ac which is what most power tools and appliances need to run. 

Here’s a simple wiring diagram of a 12v off grid system.  Note the two terminals on the controller that are not used.  That’s where your lighting and 12v circuit gets connected.

Whilst it is simple enough, there’s a few lessons you need to learn first.  You only learn these lessons once though.

Always connect the battery to the regulator prior to connecting the panel to the regulator.  If you connect the regulator to the panel first, the energy has nowhere to go and the regulator will spark and fizz and go pop. I know this to be true.

Always place cardboard or a thick blanket over your panel whilst connecting it.  Get rid of its ability to produce energy as if you make the schoolboy error of touching any live cables, you’ll only do it once!  Yes, this is from experience.

Never tighten the battery terminals with a bare metal spanner or wrench and allow that wrench to touch both terminals.  It hurts when you do that.  I know this to be true also, so please don’t do that.

Once you have your ‘power station’ you can get to work.  Lighting options in the 12v range are many and all three online shops I mentioned have a great range of lighting and appliances.

I had a customer once who had a small 12v panel to charge a battery that powered a small water pump.  The water from the horse’s trough was circulated through a hose that was laid on the ground and covered in horse muck.  This helped heat the water to stay above freezing so in winter the water was still at a comfortable temperature for the horse to drink.  Another, wanted to power a camping gas shower unit in her stables.  So she now has instant hot water powered by solar and gas, totally off grid.  Beach huts, glamping pods, sheds and small spaces can all benefit from solar where no mains is available.

We have placed a small solar system on a bus shelter and installed a clever timer so the light only came on 10 mins before the bus was due to arrive until 5 mins after it was due to leave.  Another to assist with the charging of a mobility scooter for a lady who’s garage had no power as it was in a block of garages away from the main dwelling.

And as for the amount of shed based model railway enthusiasts I’ve met over the years who now have a fully operational Beckenham Junction 00 Gauge powered by the Sun! 

There are so many applications where solar is the solution and once you have the three main components of Panel, regulator and battery, the only limit to what you can do is your imagination.

So do it yourself when looking for small scale solar and if looking for solar for your big shed, or House as they are more commonly known, then go to and find your local installer. 

#SolarLove in the #SolarNation

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