I was thrilled to get a quick mention on BBC's Digital Planet program this week, in the 'e-mails' section. The presenter, Gareth Mitchell had been talking on Twitter about Solar Powered WiFi. I dropped him a very quick message to say that I'd been powering my amateur radio station from solar power for over a year. He was kind enough to express interest and asked if he could use the details on the programme, which of course, I was delighted for him to do.
We haven't mentioned the solar experiment here, for a while. But all through the summer, all the VHF and UHF contacts that I have made from home have been on the solar powered rig. That includes some long distance contacts on 50MHz, including Puerto Rico as well as all around Europe.
Though I can readily power one of the shortwave (HF) rigs from the solar charged batteries, I've tended not to do that - just owing to where the HF rig is physically located! But a few nights of experimentation with the HF rig running a maximum of 50 watts resulted in contacts spread over Europe, Asia, Africa as well as North and South America. I'm sure if I was on at the right time, we could make it with Oceania too. I should really have a bit more of play with the HF / Solar setup.
One of the reasons that I started playing with solar power and radio was that I thought it was a fun way of proving what was possible with simple solar gear. There's also a rather nice, smug sense of self-sufficiency from using power that you've generated yourself. I also wanted to see if it was possible to use a solar powered station in the UK. Clearly in sunnier climes there should be no problem at all - but in the UK?
The answer has been unquestionably yes! Despite using a small solar panel, I've managed to keep the batteries topped up to cope with medium radio usage. With a larger panel, I could no doubt operate for longer and run higher power! In the winter months, the batteries DO run down noticeably quicker and I supplement them with a mains charge about once a month.
If you have a VHF or even HF rig that runs low to medium power, or another 12v project, why not think about running it from solar power? I'm sure you'll be glad you did.