Random strange shed project. Day 1

Publishing this in the middle of IFA is just insane really. If I was one of those click-bait websites, I’d add this to the site at some point in the next couple of weeks, but..

Nah, can’t be bothered.


So, off the back of my rather epic ultra-cheap office / exercise bike feature, I’ve started something else a bit random. In all honesty, I’ve no idea why you would want to do what I’m doing, but perhaps we’ll find some sort of application along the way.

Some history first though and today, I went to work. I do have a job. Sadly this whole blogging thing doesn’t pay the bills. I wish it did. Perhaps I should start doing make-up tutorials on YouTube. That seems to pay well.

Sadly though, on top of all this content, I have a full-time job doing very geeky stuff.

Today one of my colleagues got one of these things for about £7 off eBay…

It’s called a Solar Panel Power Charge Controller. From what I can make out (and we had quite an interesting chat over coffee this morning), if you’re heavily into solar power, you whack your big-ass solar panel into one port, then you stick a big car battery into another port, then you whack an LED lamp or, maybe something else through an inverter, into the final port. What it’ll do, if I’ve got this right, is ensure that there’s no overcharging and, when the battery voltage is too low, output to the inverter or LED lights simply cuts out. An inverter, by the way, is a gadget which turns the 12V car-battery output into a 230V electrical output.

Again, you can get one of these things on eBay relatively cheaply. You can even get ones that plug directly into the power outlet / cigarette lighter in your car. Sure, they won’t power your beer fridge or a Dyson vacuum, but you can get up to 300W out so you can charge a laptop or something quite easily.

Anyhow, back to the story. The long and short of this is that it’s all rather clever. You can get a solar panel, some garden lights perhaps, a charge controller and you can have your garden lights on every night for free. You can perhaps, with the aid of inverter, power your internet router, charge your laptop, perhaps even charge your smartphone.

That last bit got me thinking because, although I don’t have a big-ass solar panel or a charge controller, an inverter or a car battery, I do have this Archeer foldable solar charger. It doesn’t seem to be available on Amazon any longer, but they’re still kicking around eBay and there’s a lot of very similar things on Amazon. This one is 21 Watts and has two USB ports.

So I began to hatch a plan. OK, so it wasn’t a very well thought-out plan, but it was still a plan.

Every smartphone in the world has, in effect, got a charge controller. If you leave your phone on charge it’ll naturally stop at 100%. It won’t explode… not unless it’s a Galaxy Note 7. Then, when it’s flat it’ll power down. Simple.

Here in the UK the nights are beginning to lengthen, but I wanted to see whether there was still enough daylight and enough sunshine to keep a smartphone powered up just with the power of the sun. If I could do that, and rely on it never to go flat, I can effectively get the phone to do some clever stuff for me. Perhaps act as a web server. As a Plex server. As a web cam. Something else maybe? Ideas. Give me ideas. Post your comments. Hit me.

Basically I’m trying to get away from the “home server”, which sits in the garage drinking power all day. Instead I’d like to make use of an old phone. Make it useful, make it serve a purpose and power it for free. In theory I can connect it to my WiFi and leave it in the shed.

This is day one, so today I’ve dug out a smartphone – a fairly bomb-proof Leagoo M5 Plus. You can get one from Gearbest for about £85. It’s got a fairly “meh” Mediatek quad core 1.3GHz CPU and 2GB RAM but it’s as tough as old boots and it should survive in my shed (with the slugs and spiders) for a bit. Hmm.. I might need to create something to protect it from the elements a little more though.

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Today is day one. So I’m concentrating on mounting the solar panel so that it’s up against the window in the shed. Sadly I’m going to miss the direct sunshine for part of the day but I guess this is a good test to see how it’ll perform.

With a couple of nails, a hammer and my wife in the background shouting, “Stop messing in the shed when you should be getting the washing in”, I’ve got it hanging in front of the window. Now, to setup the phone.. :)

Stay tuned for day two!

HTC launch the U12 life. Great specs, equally great price.
Jump on my USB-powered hot seat.