I wanted a security camera at the front door of my house with two criteria: the camera needed to be wireless and it needed to be accessible for viewing from my computer. There are plenty of Webcams that transmit video over WiFi, but they all need AC power, so they aren't truly wireless. My front porch doesn't have a power outlet and there's no convenient way to tap into an available power source. Since I'm trying to be more energy conscious anyway, I decided to see if I could power a wireless camera using a solar panel with a battery for storing power to keep the security camera working overnight. It worked, taking the camera completely off the power grid and carbon neutral. Here are the steps showing you how you can add your own solar powered wireless security camera at your home or office. You can use any WiFi-enabled Webcam and expect to get similar results.
Building Your Own Solar Powered Wireless Security Camera
As you can see in the video, the only tool I used (other than a tape measure), is a cordless drill, so you don't need to be an expert handyman to produce a working result. You can use any configuration of wireless camera, solar panel and battery pack to fit the specific location you want to watch, the ones I used are provided here as a known working combination of parts. These items are all available off the shelf from Fry's stores on the West coat, or through numerous online retailers. The required parts for the exact configuration I used are below:
Video Tutorial of Solar Powered Wireless Security Camera
Wireless Camera: Linksys WVC200 Wireless PTZ Internet Camera with Audio.
I got this camera specifically because it had pan/tilt/zoom control and audio. Depending on where you put your camera, lowlight performance may be an issue - I may ultimately add a battery-powered motion detecting light to address this in the future. The PTZ camera allows me a broad viewing range from the sidewalk in front of my house to the area directly in front of my door. The MPEG-4 codec provides a clear picture for Web viewing, with the option of viewing remotely from your browser at work or anywhere else on the planet. You could pay for the dynamic DNS service bundled with a camera like this or you could simply configure your router to make a port available to access via your IP address. One downside to this type of camera is power consumption, because it uses more power to turn the camera, in addition to any power required for transmitting video and staying connected via WiFi.
Solar Panel: Sunforce Solar Battery Charger
One key to making this work is having a solar panel capable of recharging your batteries fast enough to collect more power during daylight hours than you actually consume. This way you recover any power used overnight while also powering the wireless camera using the solar panel during daylight hours. Without factoring power consumption into your plan from the beginning, you eventually run out of power and lose your security camera when there is no sun. If I were to swap out my current solar panel, it would be for one with more potential power collection like a 15 watt model.
Battery Pack: ICP Global Tech iSun BattPak
There are any number of battery packs you can choose to power your security camera, all the way up to something as powerful as a car battery. I chose the iSun BattPak because I'd previously used a similar model to provide additional power to a video camera at an on location shoot where no AC power sources were convenient. It has the added bonus of using rechargeable AA batteries, which are cheap to replace and readily available. Because the pack is also designed to charge off of solar, it is also readymade to prevent the solar panel from discharging power when there's not enough sun.
DC Converter: Regulated Mobile DC-DC Converter 3-6-9-12 volt DC Lighter adapter
This seemed to be the best DC Converter for the project based on what was available off the shelf from Fry's and the battery pack I selected. One convenient aspect of this converter was the set of interchangeable tips, which helped guarantee I'd have an end that matched the power connector on the wireless camera. This is one component that's likely to vary depending on your exact configuration as you need a connector with the right ends for your specific components.
Here's what the whole setup looks like all connected before mounting it on the house:
Once you have all the parts, the installation is straightforward. Choose a location for the various electronic components that's safe from rain, snow, or any other potentially damaging weather. In my case, I placed the camera under an overhang. The solar panel should be placed in an unobstructed south-facing location, giving you maximum sunlight collection at all times of year - keeping in mind that the cable from the solar panel needs to reach the battery pack.
Mounting requirements for all gear were simple - everything was mounted using weatherproof outdoor woodscrews, similar to what you might use for installing a deck. A 2-inch bracket from the plumbing department at Lowe's mounted the battery pack securely in place, while a 1-1/2-inch bracket was used to secure the DC converter. Refer to the video above for visual steps to mounting everything in place.
Additional Tips for Setting up the Camera
Configure the camera from a wired connection before mounting - that way it's ready to connect to your wireless network automatically when you switch to the solar power.
Fully charge your battery pack before switching to solar power.
Be sure to match the power draw of your camera to the supplied power.
I tested three specific power scenarios when combining the parts I used:
First, I tested to see that the battery pack had enough power to power the camera. Then, I checked to see that the solar panel supplied enough power to power the camera by itself. Finally, I tested that the solar panel supplied enough power to recharge the batteries.
If you don't have an unobstructed south-facing view with a convenient mounting surface near the camera's location, you can mount your solar panel on the roof, or purchase additional mounting gear (like a pole) to get the solar panel positioned properly. Most solar panel manufacturers provide additional mounting options if the packaged configuration doesn't fit your needs.