Farmers haven’t exactly been slow to take to solar energy; in fact, you don’t need to go far to see a tennis court-sized bank of photo-voltaic panels on a barn roof.
But finding decently-made smaller-scale PV panels that can power lights, tools and other equipment is trickier.
One of the few companies targeting this market is Shropshire solar power and battery specialist AceOn. It offers three models of its SolarSDS portable generator that use a fold-out PV panel to charge a fairly substantial battery. That power can then be used in DC form for lights and lower-drain equipment and in AC form for power tools and other mains-powered kit.
There are three models (the 300W SDS300, 500W SDS500 and 1,000W SDS1000), but we tried the biggest unit. This uses a strongly-made (14kg) 835×1,100mm solar panel rated at 120W, with a stout fold-out strut that lets you position the panel towards the sun.
A plug-in cable connects it to the main unit, with a series of lights telling you whether the PV panel is producing power.
This will charge the two 14Ah batteries in four to six hours, giving you a store of power that can be used in either AC or DC form for anything from power tools, lights and music while you work (it even has an iPod docking point).
Where and why would you use it? Outlying farm buildings that lack mains power are an obvious candidate and any tool rated up to 1,000W can be used. So there’s no worry about cordless drills or grinders pegging out just before you finish the job. Equally, it will keep your phone or laptop charged and (whisper it quiet) you can keep the music going for hours.
The other thing this unit can do well is provide lighting. We had just one strip to play with, but it was extremely bright for its size. With a full complement of five LED strip lights on at the same time, you’d have no problem doing serious tractor maintenance or fitting out a remote shed.
It’s a pretty versatile piece of kit, too, with lots of input/output plugs and sockets and of course it’s also gloriously silent and fume-free.
Drawbacks? The 17kg main unit is pretty heavy thanks to its substantial lead-acid batteries, but then you’re not likely to be perching it on your shoulder like a 1980s boogie box.
What if the sun doesn’t shine? Britain being Britain, this will happen, of course, but if all fails you can still charge the batteries from the mains, giving you a decent source of DC and AC power.
You can also add battery packs to give a longer-lasting power source. With a full-on 128Ah battery supply, for instance, you should get 20 hours’ use of a 100W light or five hours of a 400W one.
With a price-tag of £599, you’d presumably be wanting this model for serious tasks, but there are smaller and cheaper units for lighter duties. All models can be bought direct from AceOn or via MachineMart.