Costing just a few dollars each, garden solar lights are a low-cost solution to night-time illumination – and they might just give you a useful piece of equipment for completing a tech project.
Whether you’re looking for a rechargeable battery, an LED or even the solar panel itself, these devices contain a wealth of components that can be repurposed. You might be looking for a way of powering a clock, collecting energy for a different type of light or even planning to simply recharge batteries using sunlight.
With one or more solar lights you can achieve all of these, but note that the wattage on these devices is too low to recharge a mobile phone or tablet.
Advantages Of Solar Power
There are clear advantages to solar power; even when the sun is behind light clouds there is some conversion of energy taking place (although thicker clouds heralding rain will put an end to any energy generation). Solar power has become increasingly popular over the years as a means of powering central heating, running street lights and signs and there are various industrial sized solar power installations across North America and Europe. Satellites often rely on solar panels to power their equipment (although some military satellites in orbit use other power supplies).
As a clean method of generating electricity and heat, solar power has proved extremely popular as an alternative to fossil fuels. Its only real drawback is the unreliability of the weather!
Stripping Down a Garden Solar Lamp
In order to get your hands on the components inside a garden solar lamp, you will need:
- Flat-head screwdriver.
- Wire cutters.
- digital/analog multimeter (for testing).
- Optional handheld drill/cutter/sander such as those produced by Dremel.
Taking apart a solar lamp and breaking it down into its constituent parts should reveal an LED, a rechargeable battery (usually AAA), some wires and a photo resistor on a circuit.
This standard lamp can be opened up initially by twisting the upper portion and pulling.
With the stand discarded, the components you will need can be found inside.
Before opening, remove the rechargeable battery. Note that there may not be a door on your lamp; the battery might be sealed inside.
The screws should be undone in order to open the lamp.
Here you should find the LED, wiring, a small circuit board and the photo-resistor.
Next, you will require a Dremel-type device to cut open the housing for the solar panel. Be careful not to damage the panel as this can be used for a variety of purposes.
Finally, you should test the components using the multimeter.
How The Lamp Works
The lamp – and any projects derived from it – works by collecting solar power through the panel and converting this to electricity.
The electricity is stored in the rechargeable battery, where it sits waiting to be used. Whether or not energy from the battery is used depends on the photo-resistor, which will enable the flow of electricity to the LED when darkness falls, thereby illuminating your garden! As a result, around three hours of energy should be collected for every one hour the panel is in sunlight.
Using the solar panel and battery you can construct various low-power projects that might otherwise require the use of shop-bought batteries.
Tech Project Suggestions
There are various projects that you might attempt that can make use of parts from your solar powered garden lamp.
Solar Powered Clock
Keeping an eye on the time outdoors or in is often a case of checking your wristwatch or smartphone. However, there are wallclocks up and down the country that are sitting with the wrong time displayed simply because the battery didn’t get changed. Using parts from your solar lamp you can put an end to this problem for good!
Repurposed Solar Powered Lamp/Torch
The manufacturers of these solar lights are certainly onto something, so why not take advantage of the entire principle but repurpose it for a torch? Again, as long as it is kept in sunlight long enough to charge, you should find that you don’t ever run out of light again.
Solar Powered Radio
Probably the only multimedia application for this grade of solar panel (more expensive panels will yield better results) is charging a radio. This has excellent possibilities for keeping you entertained and in touch while in remote places.
Embrace The Possibilities Of Solar Power!
Stripping down your solar power garden light is only the tip of the iceberg.
You can take advantage of the components for a variety of interesting projects, saving money on batteries and cutting down on your use of mains electricity for recharging.
Whether you’re interested purely in the mechanics of the lamp or you wish to spend time playing with the solar panel and the possibilities it brings to powering small electrical items, remember to take care when using power tools.