Maplin Solar Lighting Kit N63FU

I purchased this item on promo at my local Maplin store Electronics for £49.99 (reduced from £79.99). The kit contains a 13 watt solar panel, a charging regulator, a 12V sealed lead-acid battery and two LED lamps.

The charging regulator has screw terminal connections for the solar panel (there are actually two screws labelled “solar panel +”, so it appears to be able to support two panels — although this is not mentioned in the instructions), a pair of crocodile clip leads for the battery and a 12V cigarette lighter socket; two 3.5mm. jacks providing 3V and 6V DC (an appliance lead with a multi-way spider plug is included, but there is no polarity reversing connector — you’re stuck on positive tip), and a pair of 6.3mm. jacks for the supplied LED lights. There is also a 4A automotive-type fuse (which is a rare value) and a master ON/OFF switch.

The LED lights have industrial-style, screw-fit bases, plastic diffusers and contain two dozen white LEDs each. A pair of lampholders, pre-wired to 6.3mm jack plugs, are included in the kit; these can be screwed to a wall, and a knock-out section is provided to route the cable out along the surface. There are no switches except the master one. The lamps are very bright. (Note to self: build candle-power meter.)

The regulator isn’t that wonderful a device, simply disconnecting the solar panel from the battery when the output voltage rises above a set threshhold. Still, it’s better than nothing, and the fact that it does rise this high at all indicates that the panel is well up to the job of charging the battery.

To sum up, this isn’t bad at the promotional price. It could be better; a proper SMPS charging regulator would have been nice (I’ll be designing my own soon: watch this space), and it wouldn’t have hurt to have provided switched lampholders and a reversing socket in the spider plug lead. But these are minor niggles. The kit is an excellent starting point for tinkering, and it was not so expensive as to make me cringe at the thought of modifying it.

Which I fully intend to be doing, and blogging about …..

12 Responses to “Maplin Solar Lighting Kit N63FU”

  1. [...] the lamps in the kitare fine in their own way (once equipped with inline switches; 1.19 from Wilko, and extension [...]

  2. Richard says:

    I bought one of these units, I am looking to buy the lamps seperatly, any ideas, ??

  3. AJS says:

    I haven’t seen anything like them anywhere else, I’m afraid. The best I can suggest is to get some white LEDs (places like Maplin and Farnell are riduculously expensive, but try eBay; also, look in pound stores for any gadget with white LEDs on it which you can rehome) and make your own. Remember white LEDs have a higher forward voltage drop than other colours (but you should be able to run a string of three in series from 12V with a suitable resistor).

    And watch this space to see how my own project using “pound store” LEDs went …..

  4. Xander says:

    I bought one of these sets for my shed and agree with the review, The PV panel is more than up for the job and the LED lights are surprisingly bright, however the regulator lets the kit down.

    The build quality of the electronics is poor and one of the regulator case screws can short against internal components. I also noticed that the regulator will only allow the PV panel to charge the battery when the regulator is switched on. As this also then powers the secondary 12, 6 and 3V linear regulators (even if not used) this wastes energy.

  5. AJS says:

    So you’ve actually had a peek inside the regulator, then? I stopped shy of opening it up, since I wasn’t confident it would ever go back together again; but the philosophy of “design down to a price” is evident — hence the lack of on/off switches in the lamps and a 2-pin, polarity-reversing connector in the appliance lead.

    I’m currently learning about switched-mode power supplies and intend to build a superior replacement for the regulator supplied (and document it here, of course).

    A linear regulator should only be drawing a few milliamps (just enough to send the zener diode into constant-voltage, plus the rated output current divided by a conservative estimate of the hFE of the transistor) when unloaded. Still, they’re a few milliamps you can’t be using for anything else.

  6. Ashlyn says:

    Good words.

  7. Ashlyn says:

    Hey!. Your post Maplin Solar Lighting Kit N63FU is very interesting for me. My written English is not so good so I write in German: “Lieber den Spatz in der Hand, als die Taube auf dem Dach.” Yours sincerely Friday Ashlyn

  8. Solar Photovoltaic says:

    Solar photovoltaic systems are by far the most cost efficient systems for heating available

  9. AJS says:

    Solar photovoltaic systems are by far the most cost efficient systems for heating available

    Er, you wouldn’t want to use solar PV for heating, though! You get about 1kW.m-2 of radiant energy from the sun, and all of that can be turned into heat by shining it on something black. You get a lot less electricity out of a solar panel.

    PV power would be good for circulating the water in a solar thermal water heater ….. since you only need the pump to be running when the sun is shining ….. but definitely not for heating!

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