Living in one of the best areas for solar power in the entire country you would think I’d have better luck with said technology. But no, that’s not the case. Shortly after Amy and I moved into our new house we bought a set of solar path lights using one of the many gift cards we got from our wedding. They were fairly cheap, made of plastic, and having just a single amber LED in each they don’t give off much light. It only took a week or two for me to replace them with a set of traditional 12v lights. But the LED lights still worked so I didn’t want to just discard them.
So rather than write them off I moved them to our far back patio. That’s where I setup the dartboard for parties, and the rest of the time it’s a nice secluded and quiet part of the yard. The soft glow of the solar lights worked well out there.
And they did seem to work quite well for a few months. Yeah, they weren’t all that bright…but that’s not because they didn’t charge well. They were just cheap lights. However a month or so ago once the summer sun really started to do it’s job I noticed that instead of lasting longer through the night the lights actually seemed to be having bigger problems – some had stopped coming on at all. Assuming that the cheap nicad batteries in them had failed I brought one in and checked it out. Nope, good full charge on on the battery…in fact a little higher than I normally would have expected from a nicad. Checked the output of the charge circuit and it looked good too.
Doing any more digging would require disassembly of the light so I left it in my office, with the solar cell down against my desk until I could be bothered to go out into the oven, er I mean shed, and get the right sized screwdriver to disassemble it. So there it sat for a week…or three…ok maybe a month.
Then a day or two I noticed something unusual. When I shut off the lights in my office that day the light came on! It didn’t do it again after that…but I assumed by then the battery had to be low, when I checked it today sure enough it was almost dead. So I took the light back outside this afternoon and shoved it back into the ground.
I just went out and checked…and sure enough it’s working again! Though it seems even more of the ones that had been working previously are now dark.
My theory is they’re simply getting TOO MUCH sun. The batteries are getting overcharged and somehow preventing the circuit from kicking into drain mode at night. I figure tomorrow I’ll round them all up and bring them to the dark for a few weeks for the batteries to drain then put them back out to start fresh.
I had been warned that it was possible to fry solar panels out here due to our overly abundant daylight…but figured these were out of the direct sun enough to deal with it. I guess not. Maybe more expensive solar lights would have smarter charge/drain circuity and could deal with it more gracefully. But I guess until I can afford such lights I’ll just have to take these into the dark for a week or so every month until fall or winter.
And one of these days I still want to get some real panels up on our RV shade with a bank of batteries in the utility area behind my office. I figure I could put the pump for our drinking water tank, the outside landscape lights, and my radios – maybe even some of my computer stuff on solar since they all run on 12v. Just have to keep my eyes open for some deals, it’s not uncommon to find some older technology solar panels when snowbirds upgrade their RV’s. And with sun like this I don’t need the newest most efficient panels to keep things topped up!