Friday, August 27, 2010

In praise of LEDs

Lately I've been getting back into electronics again, something I messed around with a lot as a child but didn't really understand (I thought like an artist, not an engineer) but now am having great fun with.

I started back into this in order to build a little microprocessor-based controller for my refrigerator, which would measure voltage and then shut off the refrigerator when the sun isn't shining and batteries aren't charging, so as not to run down my batteries. The refrigerator is a TEC, and it uses 4A, and has no thermostat built in, so this is important.

But, also, I discovered that many basic facts of electronics and electricity weren't in my grasp. I'd skipped over them, thinking the stuff was "magic". Now that I've purged magical thinking from my life, I can approach this with a new mind, an open one, and realize that it's all just electrons flowing and they obey basic laws (Ohm's, Kirchener's, etc.). So I'm re-learning all the basics of DC circuits, from scratch.

Along the way I discovered I needed more light in here to work on electronics projects. In keeping with trying to reduce my electricity usage, and to test my understanding of the laws of DC circuits, I decided to build myself LED lights.

I love these things. I recommend them to any and every vandweller. They are cheap, and easy to build. You just buy the raw white LEDs online or from your local electronics store, solder them together, and you've got light. Thanks to the Internet, you don't even have to understand Ohm's law in order to design your own lights, just use this: You can run them off of 12v easily.

LED lights are very bright, and they use very, very little electricity: less than a watt for even a decent-sized array.

After destroying two flourescent lights (flourescents don't seem to like working off of a Cobra "modified sine wave" inverter, sadly), I'm hooked on LEDs. Let there be light!

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