From a wind-powered 386 to solar-powered ThinkPad

In the current issue of PC Pro, which has just hit the newsstands, I’ve written a feature in which I document my attempt to leave the National Grid for a week and run my mobile phone, MP3 player and notebook on solar and wind power. If you want to know how I got on then you’ll have to go and buy an issue, but I’ve already received an email from one reader to let me know that he’s been investigating exactly this sort of thing for 16 years already.

Chris Dixon has been playing around with sustainable power for well over a decade, starting with a wind-powered 386, and has got more interested in solar power in recent years as the cost of panels has fallen. The image above is of two 15 Watt panels he has installed in his garden on top of his shower room.

“I set them up on a home built frame so they could be rotated and tilted to track the sun,” explains Chris. “This increases their output considerably but is a hassle! So now I point them due South and tilt them three times during the year to get an optimum sort of position.”

As well as these panels, which after three years have started to degrade slightly, he also has a mono crystalline panel, which is “far more resilient and more powerful for the same surface area”, and outputs 20 watts.

The electricity harvested from these panels is stored in a battery, but a regulator sits in-between to make sure that the battery doesn’t get overcharged.

“Over charging is a sure fire way of killing a battery so the reg box is essential. A deep cycle battery is best as it can stand being discharged more than, say, a car battery. The leisure batteries are cheaper but not as good,” says Chris.

Chris obviously has a great deal of experience with this sort of thing, and his set up can run his 1GHz ThinkPad for three to four hours a day. If anyone has any questions for him then please leave them in the comments - it would be a shame to waste his expertise.

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