We're grassroots Heathrow residents proving that communities less dependent on oil can be more resilient, stronger and happier. We take direct action on climate change and shrinking supplies of cheap energy by transitioning to a post-oil, community-led future for the Heathrow villages.

Making Solar Panels

Posted: October 20th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Energy, Events | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

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Guest blog by, Rachael Anne Roberts, workshop participant and volunteer at Grow Heathrow

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Grow Heathrow, a place of beautiful greenery and a worthy cause to fight for, not to mention to friendly residents who happen to have immense cooking skills! And if that all wasn’t reason enough, there was a certain workshop drawing me to the site: Learning How to Build Your Own Solar Panel, run by Demand Energy Equality.

I was unsure what to expect from the workshop. Before visiting the Grow Heathrow website and seeing the list of workshops, I was unaware that it was even something that could be done by hand.

The workshop was put on by a lovely lady called Emily Donavan from Demand Energy Equality. She taught us the science behind how solar panels work as well as how to actually build them, a process that I was soon to learn was a lot simpler than I had expected! Fun science fact that I was reminded of: Power = Voltage x Current!

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We were making fairly small, 18 watts solar panels, enough to charge a phone but not quite a house. Which makes it the perfect, simple, and not to mention handy, accessory to any home. The material of the solar cells that we used to build our solar panel was made out of thin silicone and if held too tightly, would crumble in your hands. Cautiously soldering the metal strip over each solar cell to attach the current to each, there were a few cracks and mishaps, but Emily’s patience and light hearted attitude never faltered. And she had expected this and brought plenty of spares!

Next came the gluing the solar cells to the glass and placing another glass panel over the top of it, using more silicone glue to seal around it, keeping the glass panels in place together. Making a solar panel was so much fun, but requires a steady, gentle hand. I began to feel guilty of the amount of solar cells that was being wasted when cracked. However after a few breakages, we started to get into the rhythm of solder, solder, glue, glue and the whole process of making a solar panel became far less complicated than I had previously imagined.

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The whole process took a lot longer than previously expected but we were all having so much fun, it was not an issue, in fact we were al more than happy to stay at Grow Heathrow for longer. Although a fiddly process, making a solar panel by hand is rewarding not just in the sense of a unique achievement, but also that you now have free, renewable energy which you were able to achieve by yourself – saving more money and is even better for the environment!

My home made solar panel turned out a lot better than I had expected. I decided to donate it to Grow Heathrow, since I figured that they may make a better use out it then I will. I had such an amazing weekend at Grow Heathrow that I have been to visit again since the solar panel workshop and will most definitely be going again soon. After all, I need to see how my home made solar panel has been put to such a good use!

 

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Learning to live off-grid

Posted: October 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Energy | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments »

One of the many challenges facing those who commit to low-impact living is how far they should compromise when it comes to the use of modern conveniences. We may reject the excesses of our consumerist society, but at the same time we aren’t about turning back the clock to a less-connected, less-aware age. How many transitionistas do you know who aren’t engaged in a close personal relationship with their laptops or smart phones?

At Grow Heathrow, we live without a TV, microwave or fridge, so going off-grid seemed like a perfectly reasonable decision to take. Being able to generate our own energy would allow us to meet our modest electrical needs without contributing to the problems associated with large scale centralised energy generation from nuclear or fossil fuels, and would future-proof us from rising energy costs.

We decided to install a relatively small solar system. This compromised four 190 Watt solar panels connected to four 120 Amp hour deep cycle batteries, with a charge controller and inverter to manage the inputs and outputs. Scouring the internet for good deals kept the price low, but without compromising on quality. If we’d decided to install a grid-tied system, the installation would have required a professional electrician, but because our system is entirely off-grid, our basic knowledge of electrics was enough to set the whole thing up ourselves, which meant we could avoid the kind of hefty installation costs you see on most domestic solar systems.

The technical challenges of solar power are, as we’ve been discovering, minor compared to the necessary adjustments in attitude and behaviour that anyone choosing to go off-grid will face. Since our panels went up, barely a day goes by without someone checking the weather report for the next few days. Because our supply of energy is dependant on the amount of sunlight hitting the solar cells, we are having to adapt our usage patterns. Sunny days mean we can crank up the volume on the stereo, get out our power tools, and keep the lights burning well into the early morning. But a string of grey overcast skies means having to ration our use to the barest of essentials – rapid bursts of internet usage and a solitary string of LED bulbs in the living space after sunset.

The days where power is in short supply are becoming more common as the days grow shorter. As a group, we’re having to make decisions about how to share the power out between us, which can sometimes be difficult. It’s interesting to see how visitors to the site react when they’re told that there isn’t enough power to charge up their ipod because Joe needs to finish writing his fortnightly blog for the Transition Network, but that’s all part of building resilience and learning to plan ahead.

Ideally, we wouldn’t be so reliant on a single source for our electrical needs. Diversification would reduce our exposure to energy droughts. Right now the wind is rattling the panes in the greenhouse around me, and my thoughts keep turning to the power that could be charging up our batteries with a small wind turbine spinning in the air above.

But our change in attitude isn’t just about the way our energy is generated, it’s also about the way it gets used. Out go the kettles, toasters and electric showers, and instead we burn wood to cook our food, heat our living spaces and provide us with hot water. Any electrical appliances we still use tend to be small and efficient. We still manage to keep ourselves clean, comfortable, well connected and well fed, and our voyages in off-grid living are only just beginning.