Homepower your stereo

gadget-lover with hi-fi

When it comes to renewables, you’ve got to be realistic. Trying to power the whole house with solar if you live in less-than-sunny climes probably isn’t going to work but you can start small. Take one solar panel and think: what can I power with this?

That’s the question Richard Rogers asked himself, and his answer a home-power hi-fi. Music-lovers anywhere can re-create his design using some basic equipment and a little electronics know-how.

Solar panels produce electricity in 12 volt DC form (the same voltage as a car battery), but converting that 12 volts to the standard mains power that runs most things (240 volt AC) wastes a whole lot of energy.

After mulling in the local pub I worked out that in theory, stereo amplifiers use very little power – in essence all your average Hi-Fi does is push some paper cones in your speakers,” explains Richard. “I set out to see if I could find a decent Hi-Fi that ran off 12v …. and more by luck than judgement stumbled upon the ‘T-Amp’, a cheap (15 at the time) tacky little battery-powered iPod amplifier that had surprisingly won much favour in the Hi-Fi buff world. I ordered one from the US right away and that was the start of the project.

Here are the four main components that home-power the system:

– a Photo Voltaic (PV) solar panel to harvest power from the sun
– a Deep Cycle Battery to store the power (Deep Cycle just means the battery is better suited to fully discharging, so more suitable for this purpose)
– a Charge Controller to regulate the charge and help prolong the useful life of the battery – this is wired in between the solar panel and the battery
– a Fuse Box to keep things safe from fire if the Hi-Fi equipment fails and short circuits, you can make your own out of car and caravan electrics

For the Hi-Fi itself Richard used:

– an iPod – the ubiquitous player
– the T-Amp, 15 wonder amp that thinkgeek.com says “trounces other amps that cost ten times as much
– a T-Preamp – you only need this if you want to connect other things (like a CD Player, Laptop, TV/DVD etc.)
– a pair of used speakers

The most expensive part of the design are the high quality ‘sensitive’ (less than 90 dB) hi-fi speakers. Richard used some old 88 bB Rogers Hi-Fi LS type speakers a bargain at 100, and that’s after some hunting.

You also need to swat up on some basic electronics, like beginner Richard:

So that I didn’t kill myself or burn the house down, I had to start out by learning the basics of electricity – that was by far the most boring bit for me. I struggled through the first few chapters of ‘teach yourself electrics’ and ‘solar projects’ books and still had big gaps in my understanding. The saving grace was the ‘It’s not easy being green’ website forum (website of the TV show of the same name) where I could ask dumb questions and get most helpful replies.

For his next project, Richard is hoping to expand his system to power his Apple laptop PC.

You can check out photos of Richard’s design here, and visit the soon to be finished Do Good Advertising site that’s currently under construction for more pictures and information.

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