To many people, the idea of solar power being produced from a generator is futuristic. We know the technology exists and we may even know a few individuals and families that live completely off the grid using self-produced solar power.
Solar generators seem more of a thing of the future because many of us perceive them being both difficult and very expensive to set up and operate. Some solar generators can be, but not the kind that we’re going to talk about in this article. Believe it or not, it is perfectly possible to build and produce power from an actual solar system that you can build yourself for only around three hundred dollars.
Why You Need a Solar Generator
It’s hard to be motivated to make a solar generator in the first place when you don’t know why you need one. Well, there are actually quite a few very good benefits of solar power. Not only can it save you thousands of dollars in electric bills over a lifetime, but it can power anything in your house and give you the option to go completely off the grid if needed.
Besides that, there are few things as frustrating as running out of power. We use it so often on a daily basis that practically all of us take it for granted.
When it suddenly goes out, you can no longer pump water, keep your fridge and the contents inside cool, cook food with your electric stove, or power your electronic gadgets like your tablet or computer.
You could always use a gasoline powered generator as a backup, but this will only last you around eight to ten hours with a full tank. Having gas on hand and refilling a generator tank becomes an inconvenience in an extended power out situation.
With only some spare batteries and sunlight, and a couple accessories, you can have a generator with a renewable energy source. This makes a solar generator not only a necessity if you ever do want to go off the grid, but a practical convenience for daily use as well.
What Do You Need To Make A Solar Generator?
Now that you understand why a solar generator is important, let’s demystify how one is built. We estimate it will cost you approximately $300 to make a solar generator. This money is put into purchasing the required materials, which are:
1. Solar Panel(s)
The solar panel is what collects the energy from the sun. The wattage that your solar panels deliver is dependent on the energy that is collected from the sun. For this reason, the solar panel is the heart of your solar generator.
Solar panels can be purchased for around one hundred to one hundred and fifty dollars at most home improvement stores. We recommend that you purchase one rated between twelve and twenty volts.
You will need a battery or several, but not just any battery. Get one made specifically for a solar panel, rated at least twelve volts in power.
Disclosure: This post has links to 3rd party websites, so I may get a commission if you buy through those links. See my full disclosure for more.
Batteries are designed for different functions, for instance, some are designed to disperse energy while others are designed to collect it. Ultimately, a battery for your solar generator like this one, shouldn’t cost you a fortune.
3. Battery Storage Device
Not everybody includes this with their DIY solar generators, but it is still highly recommended that you do.
A battery storage device keeps your battery housed and protected, and only costs around twenty to thirty dollars at most electrical supply stores. Here you will find a solar battery and the storage device sold together as a kit.
4. Mounting Stand
Regardless of whether you build your own or buy one from the store, you will need a mounting stand in order for your solar panel to work adequately.
Most solar power mounting stands are relatively inexpensive and shouldn’t cost you more than fifty dollars.
5. Charge Controller
The charge controller contains both negative and positive leads from the solar panel, that then go to the battery. We recommend that your charge controller be rated to handle over four hundred watts. Charge controllers typically can be found in the fifty to seventy-dollar price range.
6. Power Inverter
You will need a power inverter as long as you plan on charging and powering your AC current devices. All of the appliances in your house, such as the washing machine run using AC current and therefore require a power inverter to be powered by your solar generator as well.
Power inverters can be bought at most appliance stores. In a survival or emergency situation, it can hook directly to a lamp or a car battery. It’s not exactly practical for everyday use, but it does work. For this project, you can use a power inverter in the one-hundred-dollar range like this one.
Putting Your Solar Generator Together
Once you’re done shopping, it’s time to put the pieces all together. Follow these steps:
- Mount the panel. You will need to choose a location where it will receive plenty of sunlight. Common choices include the roof or your backyard, so long as the location has little to no light obstruction and plenty of protection.
- Prepare your mounting stand. Like we said, you can either make a stand your own, or you can purchase one from the store. Either way, you will need to tilt the stand such that the panel receives the most sunlight.
- Start by placing the stand so that it faces south and marking the leg position when you do so.
- Prepare the concrete. You can do this by taking gravel, cement, and water in order to make the mix very thick. Pour this mixture at every leg of your stand. The thicker the concrete is, the stronger it will be. This is an important but sometimes overlooked aspect of setting up a solar generator.
- Mount the panels to the stand. The back sides of your solar panel will have holes that were pre-drilled in order to mount to the stand properly. Match up the holes in the back of the solar panel to the platform and stand holes and then screw them in very tightly.
- Wiring up the solar panel, is the ‘fun’ part if you will. The back sides of the solar panel should have a junction box. It’s small, but you should find it and see negative and positive signs on it. These signs represent polarity.
- Once you have located the junction box, you will need to connect it to the external wires (assuming that you have a small solar panel, a large solar panel has terminal wires along with an MC4 connector). It is generally recommended that you use red and black wires to represent the positive and negative terminal connections respectively.
- Calculate your battery capacity and the rating of your solar panel. In most cases, the size of your solar panel and your battery will not be available in single units, so you will have to add smaller batteries or solar panels and use series connections and parallel connections to match the requirement of your system.
- In order to wire nearly any kind of appliance, you will have to connect one device’s positive terminal to the negative terminal of another. In this case, the two devices to be connected are the solar panel and battery.
When it comes to series connection, let’s say that you have four batteries each with twelve volts, and are connected in a series. This means the connection produces forty-eight volts in total (12 x 4 = 48). So in the series combination, the current would be the same, or the series circuit would be a total of forty-eight volts.
- When it comes to a parallel connection, you need to connect the positive terminal on the first device to the positive terminal on the second device, and then the negative terminal on the first device to the negative terminal on the second. The voltage will be the same, but the rating of the circuit is the sum of each of the devices put together.
- Now, at the back of your power inverter, make a hole just behind the fan. This will allow fresh air to suction out from the outside.
- Mount the charge controller on the part of the inverter stand with the inclined plane. A few small holes will need to be made in order to insert the wires from the solar panel and to charge the inverter, for the charge controller to the battery, and to send the AC out to each of your appliances.
In most panels, at least three holes will already be made horizontally for ventilation purposes. A glass window should also be made on the front side so that you can few the different indications from the inverter. You can make your own energy meter in the future if desired as well.
- The charge controller is also going to be the first component that we wire. At the bottom of your charge controller, you should see three separate signs.
- The far left sign is intended to be connected to the solar panel. It should have plus and minus indicators.
- The second sign next to it should have plus and minus indicators as well, and is intended to be wired to the battery.
- The third and final sign is made to be connected to the DC lights.
- After locating the signs, proceed with the wiring. Always follow the instructions in the manual for your charge controller, but connect the charge controller to the second sign (the battery) before the other two. This is because when it is connected to the battery first, the charge controller will become collaborated. Using black wires for negative and red for positive (and in that order), connect the controller to the battery bank.
- After you have connected the battery to the charge controller, you should see the indicator light up next to the battery level indicator. This means you’re doing it right.
- Next, you have to connect the charge controller to the actual solar panel. On the back side of your solar panel, locate the junction box with two wires with the positive and negative signs.
- The terminal wires will be shorter. You will need an MC4 connector to connect the wires to the charge controller. After you have done so, and assuming that at least some sunlight is present, the light on the charge controller will go green.
As a safety precaution, when connecting the solar panel to the charge controller, face the panel in the opposite direction of the sun (or at least cover it up) so that you reduce risk of shock by voltage between the solar panel and the charge controller.
Well, there you have it! That’s basics of building your solar panel and getting it running. Whether to reduce electricity bills, provide an alternate power source in a grid down situation, or to provide you with a way to live off grid while fully powered, consider installing a solar generator. It’s not as complex as you think.