I’ve been charging my vape, my phone, and my computer using solar power for nearly a half year. It’s pointless for saving money because running these things only costs a few dollars, if that, over the year, but it’s fun to know that your phone, the thing that you carry around with you at all time, the little mini-computer in your pocket that can do anything, the games you play, and all the fancy stock-trading, money-making, email-checking, and social-media-browsing modern Swiss Army Knife of everything is being powered by the sun. Not powered by the sun in an abstract manner either (plants photosynthesizing millions of years ago, decomposing, turning to coal, being mined and burned, the heat flashing water into steam to turn a turbine to move electrons into your home via wires and transformers, to rearrange some chemicals in a lithium-ion battery) but directly. I’ve always wondered how people can be against solar power for this reason alone: it’s so damn simple and beautiful. The sun shines and makes electricity. Why complicate it?
Everyone not on the equator is well aware that the days are shorter in the winter due to the Earth’s axial tilt of roughly 23 degrees. In the summer the Earth is tilted towards the sun, and as you rotate around on a higher latitude, you get more sunlight. The opposite is true in the winter. Here in Northern Illinois (and for everyone around 45 degrees latitude; I also feel sorry for Europeans and Canadians being even higher up) we get about eight hours of good sunlight in the winter. Compare this to our summer daylight length of 15 hours; there’s twice the amount of daytime in the summer compared to the winter!
This sounds stupid, but I didn’t think winter would cause my two solar panels much difficulty. Since we’re not using the lawnmower anymore (you don’t need to mow the snow) I took the battery and hooked it up to the solar panels. I currently have five batteries storing the solar power and that should be plenty right? Six hours of direct sunlight can charge those bad boys up and I can charge my toys off that the rest of the day.
It doesn’t work that way when it’s cloudy for two weeks straight. I’ve never paid attention to how cloudy it usually is in the winter, especially when those clear and cold winter days are so vivid in my mind, but apparently it’s cloudy a lot. And when you get only a few hours to make power, the clouds really do fuck you over in a way that they don’t in the summer. The summer months always have dramatic and quickly changing weather, sun for half the day, hellish storms in the evening, and then a bit more sun right before sunset. Now, in January? Clouds all day, every day. Boring grey clouds that hang overhead like a depressing blanket and refuse to leave for literal weeks.
The sun was out a few days ago, but that was only enough to kick the batteries up from 11.8 Volts to 12.1. As soon as I’d plug my phone in the voltage would drop to 11.5 and not wanting to damage the batteries had no choice but to charge my phone via natural gas/nuclear electricity from the boring wall outlet. The streak was broken, and my phone, computer, and vape are now methane/uranium powered like everything else around here.
The clouds aren’t the only issue. It sometimes snows in winter (big surprise there huh?) and snow does a great job blocking the sun. While the clouds are an ever present and annoying problem there isn’t much I can do about them except wait. Snow is a problem I have to actually deal with. Weeks ago we had some shitty ice/snow storm and the next day I found my panels iced and snowed over. Using my Amazon Prime credit card (which is made out of metal, 5% cash back at Amazon by the way!) I scrapped the snow off so they could make power when the sun eventually came out. The sun never came out and it snowed two days later. I walked out, brushed them off, and waited for the sun which never came. And then it snowed about a week after that. I walked out, brushed them off, and waited for the sun. It snowed yesterday and I haven’t even went out to brush them off because the sun isn’t going to come out ever again.
Remember how I said that I don’t understand why people don’t like renewable energy because it’s so damn beautiful and simple? It’s not. Solar is fucking great and I love it, but during these shitty dark, cloudy, and snowy winter months it’s not ideal. Solar always relies on good energy storage and apparently five fucking massive lead-acid batteries can’t store enough power to survive the winter. I could always add more batteries, but at $50-100 per battery do I really want to spend the money to charge my phone? Naw. I’ll just wait I guess. The sun can’t stay hidden forever.
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