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Low Cost Solar Powered Ham Radio Station

I’ve been able to solar-power a small ham radio station for about two hundred dollars. The radios in this setup have relatively modest power requirements:

  • Elecraft KX-1
  • Kenwood TH-F6A 2M/440 handheld

Here is a diagram of the station’s power supply:

LOw Cost Solar Powered Ham Radio Station

EcoDirect-VLS-20W-2TSolar Panel

The solar panel is a small 20W panel purchased from EcoDirect.com for $56.95 (Model VLS-20W). It is large enough to operate the KX-1 and charge the TH-F^A continuously (when there is sunshine) and keep the battery fully charged.

Morningstar-SunGuard-SG-4-2T-1Charge Controller

The charge controller is the Morningstar SG-4 PWM 4.5A Charge Controller. This is a PWM controller so it is less efficient than an MPPT controller but in this low-power application it will be just fine.  It also cost only $25.75.

12V_7.5AhBattery

The battery is a 7.5Ah Gel CEll.  I purchased mine from BatterySpace.com for $18.80, but these can be found anywhere. In this application, there is nothing magic about the capacity (7.5Ah). You’ll reliably and repeatedly get 4.5Ah out of this battery. (For an explanation of why 4.5 instead of 7.4 Ah, read this post.)  It contains enough charge to operate the KX-1 for about 6 hours.

Why didn’t I use a Lithium battery, you ask? Lithium batteries, preferably Lithium Phosphate (LiPo) are much smaller and lighter.  However, most charge controllers are intended for use with gel cell batteries. Lithium battery packs also need charge-balancing periodically.

wattmeter power analyzerPower Meter/Analyzer

The Power Meter/Analyzer is from Turnigy. I bought it from Powerworx.com (the ANderson PowerPole people) for $59.99.

Why a Wattmeter / Power Analyzer? The meter operating inline continuously allows me to keep tabs on the battery voltage. It is really important to avoid discharging the battery below about 11.9V (Click here to learn why). It is also useful for measuring the actual current draw of the radios (as well as the output fro the solar panel and charge controller). This particular meter comes with Anderson Powerpole connectors already installed.

PP15_medConnections

All connections use Anderson Powerpoles. The more I use them the better I like them.

Radios

The Elecraft KX-1 draws about 700mA on transmit and 30mA on receive.  For the Kenwood TH-F6A, I use its own internal batteries and recharge them from the 12V Gel Cell.  The TH-F6A draws about 300mA while charging.

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