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How to power your garden shed off-grid in three steps

4th October 2016

Taking your shed off grid won’t save the planet or turn you into a self-sufficient green guru, but powering your garden retreat from the sun or wind is a flexible and sustainable heat, light and power solution. And in the long run, it can save you money too.

To help you find a green power solution for your storage shed, workshop or home office, here’s our quick guide to installing an off-grid power system.

Step 1: Work out how much power you need

Do you just need a couple of lights for occasional use, or do you plan to run broadband, a computer, heating, or a host of power tools?

work from home laptop
Image source: shutterstock
Shedworking...

 The amount of power you require dictates the type of system you install, so calculating your power requirements is key to setting up a system that works for you.

Photonic Universe provide a useful chart that matches the power consumption of electrical items you intend to use in your shed, to the power rating required from your inverter, which we’ll discuss in the next section.

For example, a 5W mobile phone charger will require an inverter with a continuous power rating of at least 150W, whereas a 400W desktop computer would require at least 600W. To work out the power rating of your inverter, simply add up the required wattage of all the equipment you’ll be using. If you need to plug in a computer and mobile phone, the inverter would need a continuous power rating of 150W + 600W = 750W.

Step 2: Familiarise yourself with the equipment

solar energy domestic setup diagram
Image source: shutterstock
Find out what goes where...

Battery:

accumulator battery
Image source: shutterstock
Power storage

Once you have captured the energy from the sun or wind, you need to store it for later use by feeding it into a ‘deep cycle battery’ or a ‘deep discharge battery’. The electrical current stored in the battery is usually 12V and is DC. You can install a bank of more than one battery to increase the available power store.

Inverter:

inverter for solar panels
Image source: shutterstock
Convert DC into AC

Household items, like computers, washing machines, phones etc., require a 240V AC power supply. To convert the 12V DC current from your battery bank, you need to route the electricity from the battery through an inverter, which converts the power to AC.

Cables:

xantrex inverter cables attached
Image source: KB Ranch
Check your connections

Installing cables of the correct rating is essential. Overload your circuit and it will overheat and could catch fire; go for too high a rating and you’re just wasting money.

To help you get it right, Solar-Wind provide a handy tool to help you work out which cable rating is right for your needs. If in doubt, contact them directly for advice.

Charge Controller:

solar kit charge controller
Image source: shutterstock
Stay in control

Positioned between the power source and the battery, a charge controller stops your battery over-charging by regulating the amount of power channeled to it.

Run / Stop switch:

Fitted to a wind turbine system, a run / stop switch enables you to temporarily slow down and/or stop the turbine from operating should you wish to, for example, to reposition it.

To simplify the process of powering your shed, there are kits available with all the parts you need included. Midsummer supply a range of kits for solar power, and Wind and sun have some good offerings for wind power. There are plenty of options to choose from out there – the key is to make sure that the kit you buy matches your power needs now and in the future.

Step 3: Decide on a power source

Solar power

shed with solar panels
Image source: Bigstock
The power of nature
“The basic premise behind most solar panel technology is that the panels collect the UV energy from sunlight and transfer it to a battery which charges up with electrical energy to be used later by whatever solar shed light system you have installed,”

explains John Coupe from ‘Secrets of Shed Building’. Simple. These panels can be sited either on the ground nearby, or on the shed roof itself.

Pros:

  • Panels fitted to a roof can be neat and unobtrusive, unlike the more obvious presence of a wind turbine.
  • According to Eco-shed of the Year winner, Kevin Holland, fitting a solar panel to a battery is no more difficult than wiring a plug.

Cons:

  • A UK based solar system could suffer from a lack of available sunshine, particularly in the winter months.
  • If your shed is located in a very shady position, then the lack of sunshine even on bright days could limit the amount of electricity generated.

Wind power

wind  turbine for renewable energy
Image source: Bigstock
Let the wind do the hard work

Wind turbines rely on a steady breeze to keep the blades turning, so good positioning is paramount. As Wind & Sun explain:

The power in the wind is proportional to the cube of its speed; twice the wind speed gives eight times the power. Small differences in average windspeed cause large differences in available wind energy. So, for optimum performance, it is important to find a site which offers the highest overall wind speeds.

Wind turbines can be roof mounted or pole mounted. According to Which, while “micro roof-mounted wind turbines are cheaper, they’re also less efficient and will produce a lot less electricity than pole-mounted ones”. On the other hand, the cable that runs between the power source and the battery is expensive and may limit how far away from your shed you can install a pole mounted turbine.

Pros:

  • Can be a good source of power during the windy, sun-restricted, winter months.
  • If your turbine is positioned in the right location, a large amount of electricity can be generated quickly.

Cons:

  • Correct positioning is very important but is not always easy to achieve, particularly when the cost of the cable limits where you can site your turbine.
  • In the same way that solar-generated electricity is reduced in wintertime, during the summer, lighter winds can limit the amount of power available from wind turbines.

If you can afford it, a combination of both wind and solar power gives you the best of both worlds.

Taking your shed off-grid is simple to achieve, good for the environment, and could save money in the long-term. What are you waiting for?

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