Palmetto Clean Energy News & Solar Energy Blog

Student Uses Solar Energy To Power Personal Devices

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Jacob Wilmoth, mechanical and aerospace engineering senior, bought two solar panels and a battery this past summer. “I wanted to play around with solar panels and batteries, so I started off with a solar panel kit off of Amazon,” Wilmoth said.

Wilmoth is from Moore and during tornado season, he said it was nice to have a battery backup during storms to keep his room powered and his devices charged. “I liked the idea of having battery backup power as opposed to a loud, gas powered generator,” Wilmoth said.

Wilmoth is a self-described electric vehicle enthusiast. “I can’t afford an electric vehicle at the moment,” Wilmoth said. “So, to show my enthusiasm for EVs and a greener future, I looked into making my own little solar power plant.” Wilmoth isn’t using his solar panels to save money. He’s using them to tell other people about solar energy and to prove that it works, even with a small setup. “My little solar power plant starts off with two 200-watt solar panels for a total of 400-watts when the sun is at its optimal position in the sky and there are no clouds,” he said.

The power runs into a solar charge controller which is connected to the batteries. The controller’s job is to make the solar panels output safe for charging the batteries.

Wilmoth uses 12-volt, deep-cycle lead acid batteries, similar to batteries used for Barbie Jeeps and Power Wheels cars for children. Connected to those batteries is the 1500-watt inverter. The inverter turns the 12-volt DC power into usable power for Wilmoth’s lamps, computers and phone chargers, which is 120-volt AC.

All of these items, except the panels, are held inside a plastic container to keep the equipment from getting weathered or damaged. Wilmoth added ventilation to the container to help the batteries stay cool in the summer.

“The solar panels are mounted to the outside of the rail on my balcony using a plethora of zip-ties and some wooden stakes that are counter-balanced with the heavy batteries,” Wilmoth said. “It is vital that the solar panels be mounted on the outside of the balcony so that they could gather all the sun they could without any columns or roofs in their way.”

With his current setup, Wilmoth saves about 2800-watt hours.

“On a clear day the solar panels would take a full 400-watts for about 5 hours, and then they would take in less power for the remainder of the day as the sun rose and set,” Wilmoth said. “I am not using the power during the day, so the batteries charge to full and then the rest of day’s sun energy isn’t collected. 

“For how small my setup is, I’m really not saving any money, but that is besides the point,” Wilmoth said. “I receive joy from telling people that my phone, or watch, or computer, or battery brick, is charged from the sun.”

The only drawbacks from this experience is the maintenance it takes for the batteries charge to not drop too low.

“If there is a long period, like three days or more, of cloudy, rainy weather, I might have to switch off the inverter so the batteries don’t drain too low,” Wilmoth said. “This would mean I would have to plug my things into a wall outlet.

“It makes me more aware of my power usage though. I have to remember to turn my monitor off when I leave so it’s not wasting energy.”

Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and Space X, is Wilmoth’s inspiration behind the solar panels.

“He built an entire car company to make the world a better place, not to make money,” he said. “When everyone asks about my solar panels, they ask how much money I am saving, and I never care for that because that’s not the point.

“The point is that I am able to power my devices with the sun.

Article - Maddy Jones, Staff Reporter, news.ed@ocolly.com

Image -  Jacob Wilmoth's solar energy device that is set up on his balcony. Maddy Jones/O'Colly