PHOTO: Amy Grisak
Chickens are fairly hardy birds. But many of us want to give our egg-producing friends a few conveniences.
Light and ventilation remain key components to healthy, productive chickens. To power these perks, consider going off-grid with a solar-powered chicken coop.
Solar power intrigues me. So when Jennifer Bryce, an alternative-energy aficionado, showed me her alternative-powered coop for her guinea hens and chickens, I thought it was a great way to go.
Solar power generation can be simple or a technical fun fest. I must admit, while researching the options, my eyes crossed more than once as I tried to determine what I needed and how to best set up the system.
Simple kits can walk you through the process without having to calculate loads for the proper-sized wires, panels and many of the critical aspects of the system. Plus, there are plenty of a la carte options to customize your system once you have the basics under your belt.
For the most straightforward coop power system, a few necessary items can handle the small load requirements of an energy-efficient light and fan. Once you have a functional understanding of how solar power works—including what you can and can’t do with it—you’ll be more confident deciding how to add options.
Learn how you can use the power of the sun to heat your home’s water!
Choose the panel for your solar-powered chicken coop according to your needs. There are a mind-boggling number of photovoltaic (PV) panels on the market with an equally impressive range of prices. You can spend a relatively low amount—less than $300. Or you can invest more than $1,000 for a unit that can produce more power, even under less-than-ideal conditions.
The minimum size you’ll need is a 40-watt panel that produces a minimum of 12 volts. According to Bryce, bigger is better when it comes to panels. If you can afford a larger one that generates closer to 24 volts, go for it.
A standard deep-cycle 12-volt RV or marine battery will work for a simple light and fan. Before selecting something, keep in mind: The battery will run down quicker in cold temperatures. And it might not charge as well in extremely hot regions.
Position the PV panel to gather as much sunlight as possible—wherever that might be. Mount the panel on the south side of the structure, making sure there are no obstructions to the sunlight.
Positioning the angle can be a little more challenging because the sun moves across the sky at varying angles based on the season. A rule of thumb is to set the angle of the panels at roughly the angle of your latitude.
For example, here in Great Falls, Montana, our latitude is roughly 47 degrees north. So I can set the panel between 45 to 50 degrees.
Another option is to set the panel so the angle is adjustable. Increase the angle in the winter to capture as much sun as possible, as the sun is lower in the sky. Do the opposite in the summer.
Want more stories like this? Subscribe to the Hobby Farms email newsletter.
If you live in a windy area, it’s wise attach your panel to your chicken coop. Use brackets and hangers that will allow you to adjust the angle of the panel throughout the season while holding it in place.
In less-harsh regions—particularly if you have a mobile chicken coop and want to increase the light—use a portable frame for increased mobility.
A charge controller is necessary so you don’t overcharge and “cook” your battery.
Connect the charge controller between the panels and the battery so only a certain number of volts can flow into the battery (4a). If it overcharges, it can explode.
Charge controllers also provide protection from the current running backward to the solar panel. Keep the battery setup in a weather-resistant, but not airtight, container that protects against the majority of bad weather (4b).
You have two choices on your circuit to run the light or fan in your solar-powered chicken coop. Each has positive and negative attributes.
For a DC fan and light, direct current is a very simple setup.
Run a wire from the battery to the device and back to the battery to create a continuous circuit (5a). You can install a timer between the light or fan and the battery to turn them on or off as needed (5b).
The other nice thing about the DC option: It takes less power to run it because it won’t lose power as it travels through the inverter. This allows the light or fan to run longer off of the battery when the weather isn’t conducive to optimum solar charging.
For an AC fan and light: Someone moving from a standard power source to a solar option is usually already set up with an outlet for the coop.
For this scenario, it might be easier to stick with the standard AC (alternating current) configuration. This option requires a power inverter to convert the DC power to AC power. For solar operations, a tie-in clamps to the battery and has a female plug-in for the inverter. From there, you can plug in the appliances.
The drawback of using AC and an inverter is the loss of power through the system. This is magnified with an “el cheapo” inverter, as Bryce calls it, which will eat the battery power even when it’s not running a light or fan.
It’s common to lose 25 percent of the DC power as it converts to AC. Look for an inverter that has an efficiency rating of more than 90 percent. You’ll pay more but feel more satisfied in the end.
Whether you’re looking for a portable power source or want to step away from the traditional option, using a small generator in a solar-powered chicken coop is an excellent way to keep your hens happy.
Skill level: advanced; electrical knowledge required
Project time: 2 to 3 hours
This article appeared in Living Off the Grid, a 2019 specialty publication produced by the editors and writers of Hobby Farms magazine. Living Off the Grid includes stories on permaculture, growing plants without seeds and long-term produce storage. You can purchase this volume, Hobby Farms back issues as well as special editions such asBest of Hobby Farms and Urban Farm by following this link.