Our fisheries research often takes us to areas with little to no onsite electricity, so we have become adept at making our own power. Past successes with technologies like the thermoelectric generator we used last year in one of our telemetry studies encourage us to incorporate different types of power generation in our research. But when it comes to most of our ongoing projects, we rely almost exclusively on our expertise in solar power. We have been using our custom designed solar energy collecting systems for years to provide reliable and efficient power to fish monitoring equipment like our Riverwatchers, PIT tag antennas, and acoustic hydrophone receivers.
With just a few solar panels and a bank of batteries providing power, our talented field crew makes it seem like a quick and easy process to design a solar energy collecting system to operate our field equipment. But the process is far from simple and requires a collaborative effort by our planners, electrician, fabricators and field technicians to calculate our power needs, adjust for weather and light conditions, and fabricate custom mounting frames and metal cabinets for the solar panels and monitoring equipment.
The solar panels themselves are made of a collection of individual silicon cells that generate electricity directly from sunlight. Photons, or packets of light, produce an electrical current as they strike the surface of a thin wafer of silicon cells. One solar cell by itself produces only about half a volt. However, a standard 12-volt solar panel contains 36 cells and can produce about 17 volts at peak output, and solar panels can be configured in series to produce a 24-volt output (as was needed for our first Vaki Riverwatcher). Solar panels can also be wired in parallel to generate more power to charge additional batteries or run equipment with higher energy demands. The bank of batteries we use allows our systems to provide constant power under low light, such as during heavy cloud cover or at night. In addition to providing reliable power for our fisheries research, solar energy has enabled us to minimize our impacts on the environment, reduce our carbon footprint, and develop a greater independence from the wired electric infrastructure grid. So it appears solar power is here to stay at FISHBIO.