Solar powered networking and CCTV
Back in 2016 I decided that it would be useful to put a webcam inside our pig farrowing ark, so that we could keep a close watch on expectant sows. Our pig paddocks are 250m away from the house with a lane in between so running cables was going to be difficult. I came up with this solution that needs no mains electricity or data cables, it just needs a clear line of sight between the two points to be connected.
I also wanted to power an electric fence energiser so that I wouldn’t have to keep carrying batteries back and forwards for charging.
You could easily modify my layout for different uses, more cameras, alarms, temperature or humidity sensors, 4g modems or whatever you need. I will show you how I set mine up for my needs. There is a shopping list below with links to all the components you would need.
As a power source I used 2 standard solar panels, the same type you find on the roofs of houses or in large solar farms. They are mounted using purpose made brackets onto a post and rail frame.
Solar panels can’t be connected directly to the batteries, you need a charge controller to provide the right output voltage and monitor the battery health. The controller also monitors the output power and will automatically switch off your equipment if the battery charge gets too low.
The charge controller has 6 connections, +/- from the panels, +/- to the batteries and +/- to the load. The load is all the devices you need to provide power to.
The charge controller is one of the things it is best not to skimp on, a good controller means you can spend a lot less on panels and batteries.
The batteries need to be leisure batteries rather than the more common car type, car batteries are designed to provide a very high cranking current for a few seconds when you start the engine and then be recharged immediately. Leisure batteries are designed to provide a lower output over a long period of time, they can cope with being left partially discharged for long periods that would ruin a car battery.
Quick release battery terminal clamps make it much easier to disconnect the batteries if you ever need to later on.
I took the +/- from the load terminals of the charge controller via an inline fuse to a set of terminal blocks with link wires, this makes it easy later to connect new devices. I used three sets of terminal blocks as my devices don’t all need a 12v supply. The negative block is common to both supplies, there are separate positive blocks for +12v and +24v which is needed for the WiFi unit. A 10A inline fuse provides some protection for the expensive charge controller.
The 12v devices that need power are:
1x Fence energiser
1x 12-24v step-up convertor
2x IP cameras
The ENS500 WiFi unit is the only device that needs 24v.
The input side of the voltage converter is connected to the negative terminal block and the +12v block. The output side is connected to the negative block and the +24v block.
The cameras and the WiFi unit are designed to be powered using something called “power over ethernet” or PoE. This means is that we only have to run one cable to each device instead of separate power and video cables.
Using standard Cat5e network cable we connect one end to the device and the other end to a PoE injector. The injector has 2x RJ45 ethernet sockets and 1x power input socket.
The RJ45 socket marked LAN is a standard network connection, the PoE socket does all the normal networks stuff but also carries power at whatever voltage you plug into the power socket. You need to be fairly careful with PoE as devices are easily damaged by plugging into the wrong voltage supply and we are dealing with two different voltages here.
One of the ENS500 units is fitted to the house, I put mine on top of the chimney facing towards the pig paddock.
This gets plugged into the mains PoE adaptor that comes in the box with the ENS500 and that gets plugged into your home router. Be careful to get these the right way round or you may destroy your router!
The second ENS500 is fitted to a fence post facing the house and is plugged into the second PoE injector which is connected to the 24v supply.
Configuring the ENS500 units is the hardest part of the whole project, you may need to read the instructions several times over. Once they are set up properly these provide a invisible link between the two points, the cameras will register on your home network and will appear to be directly connected by cable.
For the fence energiser I connected two M10 nuts and bolts to the 12v terminal blocks and connected the energiser to these rather than direct to a battery. This gives the charge controller the ability to disconnect the energiser if the battery charge gets too low and will greatly extend the life of the batteries.
I connected the PTZ camera and the ENS500 via a pair of rocker switches so that I have the option to switch them off in midwinter when there isn’t much sunlight to keep the batteries topped up. This allows me to prioritise the fence energiser.
Here is a shopping list of the products you’d need to build a setup like mine. You may be able to find the items cheaper elsewhere, but if you buy from Amazon using the links below I will make a small commission on each sale, the choice is yours.
1x Plastic crate
1x Inline fuse holder
1x Pack of rocker switches
1x Pack of power plugs
1x Network cable tool kit
1x 50m reel of Cat5e cable
1x PTZ camera
1x Fixed outdoor camera
2x Leisure batteries
1x Battery cable set
2x Pairs quick release battery clamps
1x Pair solar cable Y pieces
1x 30ft solar cable pair
1x Solar panel bracket set
2x Solar panels
1x Solar charge controller
1x Voltage converter
2x PoE injectors
The only other parts required are basics like some ply or MDF to mount it all on, a fuse and odds and ends of wire.
I accept no liability for your use of this information, I’m a heating engineer and smallholder not a networking specialist. If you blow something up or spend your hard earned money without success please don’t blame me.
If you get stuck I will try and help. firstname.lastname@example.org
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