If you have the time, money and a bit of knowledge and experience in electronics, it is possible to build a DIY solar generator.
The main reasons to consider going the DIY route is because it's a fun challenge (hobby) and you can build a highly customized power station.
In this post, we discuss how to build your own solar generator and whether it’s worth it in the first place.
Planning Your DIY Solar Generator
The first step is planning the size and specs of your solar generator.
Do you want to build a small portable power station for camping and the outdoors or do you prefer something bigger you can use as power backup at home?
Keep in mind that the bigger the solar generator - in terms of power output and energy capacity - the heavier it’s going to be and the more it’ll cost you to build it.
If you are on a budget or this is your first time building a solar generator, it’s a good idea to keep it small.
For the purpose of this article, we will try to replicate the Jackery Explorer 500. It’s a relatively small power station, so it’s manageable even on a budget. But it’s still big enough to power small appliances.
Building A DIY Solar Generator: What You Need
Here is the list of components you need to put together a solar generator roughly similar in size to the Jackery 500.
The battery is the most important, and most expensive, part of the solar generator.
The Jackery 500 contains a 518Wh lithium-ion battery. The closest standalone battery we could find is the Scream Power 12V 40Ah LiFePO4 battery with a capacity of 480Wh.
If you want to go smaller, I recommend the 256Wh 12V 20Ah Lion Safari UT 250.
By the way, all these batteries come with a battery management system (BMS) already built-in, so you don't need to worry about that.
To be able to charge your solar generator with solar panels, you’ll need a solar charge controller.
It goes between the solar panel input and the battery. The controller regulates power going into the battery to prevent overcharging.
An MPPT charge controller is the best choice and it’s the kind used in the Jackery 500 as well as most solar generators today.
To choose the right charge controller, check the battery’s max continuous charging current. For the Renogy and Scream Power batteries, it’s 50Ah and for the Lion Safari UT 250, it’s 20A.
We’ll connect a 20A MPPT charge controller to the Scream Power battery. That will allow a solar input of up to 192W while leaving a 25% safety margin to protect the charge controller.
We’ll go with the Renogy Rover 20A 12V/24V MPPT charge controller.
The last major component is the inverter that will convert the DC power stored in the battery to AC power that we can access via AC outlets.
The Jackery Explorer 500 has a 500W inverter with a 1000W surge rating.
We’ve picked the highly rated Bestek 500W Power Inverter. It already comes with integrated AC outlets and a couple of USB ports, so you don't need to add those separately.
The other components you need to complete your setup include wires, connectors, fuses, cooling fans and anything else you may need such as zip ties to hold up some of the components, soldering accessories and so on.
Don't forget to add an energy monitor with a clear display. It’ll make it easy to track battery status as well as incoming and outgoing power.
The Renogy 500A battery monitor will do for our project.
You may also want to add a couple of DC outlets, since the inverter only has AC and USB ports.
There are two ways to set up your DIY solar generator. You can have everything separate and mounted on the wall.
This is ideal for a permanent setup in a shed, house, RV or van.
But if you want the easy portability of name brand solar generators, you’ll need a tough and sturdy box. A large tool box is perfect for this.
Wiring & Assembly
Here’s where you’ll need some expertise in electricity and wiring.
Basically, you’ll need to connect the charge controller and the inverter to the battery. You also need to wire the charge controller to a connector (such as XT60 or MC4) where you can plug in a solar charging cable.
If you have DC ports, wire them to the battery with in-line fuses.
Note that this is a very simplified guide. Do your research before you wire anything.
If you are putting everything in a box, plan where each component will go. You’ll need to make cutouts for the energy monitor, inverter outlets, fans, and DC ports.
Once assembly is complete, check the monitor to see whether everything is working properly. Run tests by plugging in an appliance and connecting solar panels.
How To Build A Solar Generator From Scratch
Looking for an even bigger challenge?
Instead of buying a ready lithium battery complete with a BMS built-in, how about building your own battery?
You’ll need to buy lithium cells and an external BMS and connect them to create a battery.
I’m no engineer so I can’t give you a step by step guide. But here’s an excellent video of someone who built a 3.5kWh solar generator from scratch.
Is Building Your Own Solar Generator Worth It?
The biggest question you might be asking is, how much does it cost to build a DIY solar generator and is it cheaper than buying one?
I added up costs for the components we used in our imaginary solar generator above. With just the battery, charge controller and inverter, the total cost was about the same as the price of the Jackery 500.
Add in the wires, fuses, connectors, energy monitor and other components and our DIY power station is more expensive than buying a new similar size power station.
Companies like Jackery and Goal Zero have perfected economies of scale. They can make tons of solar generators for cheaper than you can make a single DIY solar generator at home.
In terms of the money, it’s usually not worth it to build your own solar generator. You’ll save money not to mention time and effort by buying a brand new solar generator.
Store-bought solar generators also include extra features that you may not be able to add to your own build like fast charging, dual charging and remote monitoring.
That said, if you are looking for a fun electrical project, then building your own solar generator is totally worth it.
Pros & Cons of DIY Solar Generators
The Best Solar Generators
Not a fan of wiring together your own solar generator?
The good news is that there are lots of great solar generators in the market at all price levels.
ShopSolarKits.com sells a wide range of solar generator brands as well as preconfigured solar generator kits that include solar panels, extra battery packs and other components.
Pros & Cons of All-In-One Solar Generators
Whether you need a small solar generator to keep your devices charged or a huge solar generator kit to power your RV, there are all sorts of options available in the market. You don't need to build your own solar generator, unless you want to.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do I need to make my own solar generator?
You’ll need an inverter, a battery, and a solar charge controller to build your own solar generator. You’ll also need extra components like wires, connectors, adapters, fuses, and an energy monitor.
Is a DIY solar generator worth it?
In most cases, a DIY solar generator is not worth it. By the time you are buying all the components, you’ll have likely spent more money than you would have buying a solar generator with similar capacity and power output.
Unless you are looking for a fun challenge, you are better off buying a new solar generator.
Can I use a lead acid battery to make a solar generator?
Yes, you can use a lead acid battery in your DIY solar generator. But lithium batteries are so much better.
They may be more expensive but they last longer, they are lighter, they take up less space, and you can discharge them to 80% or more compared to 50% for lead-acid batteries.
What do I need to make a 2000W solar generator?
You’ll need an inverter with a continuous power output of 2000W. Pair it with a large battery that can support high consumption without draining too quickly. I recommend a minimum 2000Wh battery.
Next, get a solar charge controller large enough (40A minimum) to support high solar input. This will let you use more solar panels to charge the battery in less time.
Can I make a whole house solar generator?
You can make a large solar generator that can power several appliances in your home. But you cannot make a solar generator that will power your entire home.
If you want to power everything in your home with solar, get a solar kit instead with a battery bank, roof mounted panels and a large inverter.
ShopSolarKits.com has a wide range of solar system kits to choose from.