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Solar generators offer a way to provide power for numerous devices and appliances without depending on a grid, standard batteries, or other external power sources. This can be useful in several scenarios, including loss of power during an outage in your area.
While there are countless solar generators currently available on the market, it’s not very hard to make your own DIY solar generator. With just a handful of tools and a few pieces of equipment, you can be well on your way to having a cost-effective way to provide power to a broad range of electrical devices and items.
Before learning how to make a solar generator, it’s helpful to know what you’re making in the first place.
Solar power operates on a very simple concept known as the photovoltaic effect. The sun’s rays supply photon energy. When photon energy is contained with electrons in orbit, it knocks those electrons from their orbit, and creates electricity. This electricity can then be sent to either an electrical device or battery to be stored or used.
Solar panels contain silicon solar cells that facilitate this effect. Simply point a solar panel towards the sun, and the photovoltaic effect occurs in the panel when left unobstructed.
Solar generators are a system of components that work together to store, process, and emit electricity gathered from this process. These generators vary in size and portability, but all use the same general concept.
Solar power is an excellent energy source due to the fact that it is completely renewable, and also has a little-to-no carbon footprint in most applications. Power grids may fail, and batteries may run out, but solar power will always be there for you as long as we have the sun – which isn’t going away anytime soon.
Very few tools are needed for making a DIY generator, as most of it involves connecting pieces of equipment together. You will need a few things, however: A pair of wire cutters, some velcro, and a power drill with various drill bits.
Now for the real important part. A solar generator is a combination of a few pieces of equipment working together to harness, convert, store, and provide the electrical power to your devices.
This is where it all starts. Your solar panels are what you are going to use to actually capture the solar energy in the first place. Solar panels can usually be used in conjunction with each other, so feel free to get more than one if it is chainable to another.
The higher the wattage of the panel, the faster it will charge your generator. Companies such as Goal Zero make powerful solar panels that are also highly portable, such as the Nomad 20.
Price: Expect to spend anywhere from $50 to $400 on your panels.
The battery of your generator is what stores the charge from your solar panels. The higher the capacity, the more your battery will store. Deep cycle batteries such as RV/Marine batteries are perfect for solar generators, as they are designed to be charged and drained multiple times, unlike a car battery.
AGM batteries are recommended due to their fast charging capabilities, as well as their lack of a need for a large amount of ventilation. If you have room, you can connect two batteries for double the capacity.
Price: These batteries can run you $50-$200 depending on capacity and output.
Electricity generated from solar panels is direct current power. Power inverters convert the DC current into an AC current so that you can use it for standard plug-in applications. They also limit the amount of wattage coming from the battery.
Oh, and your power inverter will also have your outlet ports, so that’s pretty important. Look for an inverter with multiple ports, such as USB, 12v, and AC outlets.
Price: $30-$100 depending on wattage capabilities.
The charge controller is what helps to regulate the amount of charge that is going into or out from your battery. Without a charge controller, your battery is in danger of overcharging or sending a harmful charge to your inverter.
These are what you will use to connect everything together. You will need a combination of negative and positive wires, along with wire connectors.
Volt meters can be used to gauge the amount of voltage coming in and out, as well as battery charge remaining. Not required, but certainly helpful.
You’re going to need something to put all of this in. There are a slew of options available, but the easiest one might be a large cooler or ice chest that has back wheels to roll on, as well as an extendable handle. Simple place all the items inside, hook them up, and you’re ready to roll, literally.
Now that you have all of your equipment and tools, it’s time to learn how to make a solar generator.
Lay all of your components out. On top of your cooler, find a spot you’d like to place your inverter for easy access. Once you have chosen your spot, drill a hole below the inverter, run your wire through the hole and into the cooler, and lay down velcro just above that spot to hold your inverter in place.
If you have a voltage meter, make space for it as well, and do the same, preferably next to the inverter.
Then, connect your battery to your power inverter. Connect the negative post first, followed by the positive. Place battery in the cooler in the corner, and velcro down.
Drill another hole in the top of your cooler by your other components, and lay down velcro for your charge controller. Run the outgoing wires through the hole, and connect to the battery using the above directions. Drill a hole on the side of controller to run the solar panel’s cord into.
Find a spot for your solar panel to be set up. Position the panel towards the sun, and connect the cord to the charge controller inside your “unit.” Allow the battery to charge to at least 50%. You are now ready to use the generator for power via the inverter.
Congratulations! You’ve made your own portable solar generator. Happy charging.
(Note, it might go without saying but don’t leave this unit in the rain. Direct sunlight isn’t good for the components either, so keep it out of the sun when charging. This can be easily done by purchasing a longer cord for the solar panel if needed.)
I'm a Mechanical Engineer who's obsessed with solar energy and sustainable living.