How to Build a Simple DIY Portable Solar Generator

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These days, everyone is looking to lower their bills. One of the best ways to save money on your electrical bill is to put together an affordable DIY solar generator. These generators only require a little effort and some minor preparation to yield extraordinary benefits.

Rather than buying an expensive, premade generator, you can put your own together for a fraction of the cost and still save power and money. It’s good for the environment and great for your wallet. What’s not to like?

In this guide, we’ll explain exactly how to make a DIY solar generator of your own.

Solar Power Generation Overview

Before we can explain how to build your own solar power generator, we have to explain exactly what we mean by that and some fundamental concepts moving forward.

What is a Solar Power Generator?

A solar power generator, put simply, uses energy from the sun to charge the battery. This energy is then used to power your home, appliances, and anything else that uses normal electrical powe​r. This alone makes it not only a good investment, but also a valuable home improvement project to take on.

Solar generators are environmentally friendly since they don’t emit any waste product besides that which is used to make the components of the generator itself. They are also energy-efficient since they require no energy to start, again beyond the energy used to make the generator parts.

They’re also great choices for power generation for the independent-minded. This is because the solar generators rely on no power grid, no government facilities or infrastructure, and no limited fuel supply. 

Close up of some solar panels

All they require is ingenuity, some tools and parts and the sun which can be counted on to rise each and every day.

They do have one major weakness: nighttime. Obviously, as soon as the sun goes down solar panels stop collecting energy.

This means that you must either collect enough energy during the day to sustain your power consumption for your lights and fixtures during the nighttime hours or supplement your solar generator with a more traditional power source.

How Does Solar Generation Work?

A solar power generator relies on something called the photovoltaic effect. Without getting into too much detail and bogging down this guide, the photovoltaic effect describes the transfer of electrons from atom to atom.

These electrons are transferred when they are exposed to high concentrations of photon energy, the kind which is emitted by the sun’s rays.

Once the electrons pass from atom to atom, electricity is created as a result.

Solar panels focus captured sunlight onto silicon solar cells that are typically colored black. This is because black is the color that absorbs the entire color spectrum of light, focusing more rays than panels that would be colored a different shade.

The photovoltaic effect happens automatically when the silicon panels are pointed towards the sun.

The energy gathered by the panels is then stored in a cell beneath the silicon plates, which can then be transferred to an appliance or any other power consumption device that you desire.

Solar generators usually have a built-in inverter that transforms direct current power or DC power into alternating current power or AC power for plugging appliances and other tools.

They do require some forms of maintenance but require no fuel and continue working so long as the parts are in good condition and the solar panel surfaces are periodically cleaned of dust and other debris.

How to Make Your Own DIY Solar Generator

Let’s get into the details for making your own solar generator. To begin with, you’ll need a few tools. Overall, however, this build is relatively simple and everything you need should be purchasable from a standard hardware supply store.

Tools Needed

These tools are required to connect the various parts of the generator together.

Once you’ve gathered these important DIY tools, you’ll also need certain components and other pieces of equipment.

Tools splayed out on the wooden floor

Equipment Needed

These are the major components of a DIY solar generator.

  • Battery. Your battery should be around 12 V in terms of its power output. This component is responsible for storing the collective solar power. You can go for a battery that has a higher voltage if you like, which means that it will be able to power more intense machinery and appliances.

The most important aspect of your battery is to make sure that it’s a deep cycle model. This means that it’s designed to be charged and drained over and over without losing its overall capacity. 

Since your solar generator is going to be designed to be charged and drained many times over its lifespan, this is an integral part of the battery you should choose. $50-$400.

  • Solar panels. The solar panels are the energy collecting apparatuses that go on top of the generator. The more solar panels you have, the wider the surface area possible for collecting sunlight. Thus, there is a direct correlation between more solar panels and more energy.

You want to try to find solar panels that have high wattage, since these charge the generator more quickly. At the same time, it may be necessary to purchase solar panels that are light enough to be moved from place to place. You may need to balance these factors when choosing your ideal panels. $50-$200

  • Power inverter. The power inverter takes the incoming DC current from the solar panels and transforms it into an AC current. This is important since most appliances and devices that you’ll use your solar generator with rely on AC current.

You should try to match the voltage of your power inverter with the voltage of your battery, of course. $30-$100

  • Charge controller. The charge controller measures and regulates the power flowing in and out of the solar battery. This prevents your battery from overcharging or overloading your inverter and any connected appliances or power consuming devices. $10-$30
  • Wires. The wires you use connect all the various components together. Make sure that you get negative and positive wires to facilitate both types of connections. You’ll also need a handful of wire connectors. $10
  • Voltmeter. The voltmeter isn’t it a totally necessary component, but it is very helpful. This check spoke how much battery charges left in the solar generator and measures the voltage coming in and out of the battery. This is particularly useful when testing your solar generator for the first time and for trying to gauge whether or not you have enough power to last through the night. $15-$50
  • Case. Finally, the case. This case holds all of the delicate electrical components and wiring and leaves only the solar panels exposed to the outside world. You can make the case out of almost anything large enough. Some suggestions might be a cooler or ice chest or any other large container that can fit everything. Your drill should be powerful enough to punch holes in whatever material your case is made out of.

The key is that the case needs to be solid and not in danger of heating up quickly when exposed to direct sunlight. Cases with an abundance of fabric should be avoided for this purpose. It should also have a flat top to balance the solar panels on. $30.

The Process

Now that you’ve collected all the necessary components and tools, let’s get into the build itself.

Step 1: Power Inverter Location

To begin, decide where the power inverter will go on top of your case so that you can access it easily. The inverter can be thought of as the control panel or readout monitor for the entire generator. It needs to be accessible and visible without having to strain.

Drill a hole below the inverter location so that you can feed wire from the battery inside the case to the inverter itself. Then, use Velcro above the wire hole to stick the power inverter on.

Step 2: Voltmeter Location

In addition, do the exact same thing for a voltmeter if you purchase one. It’s a good idea to place this is close to the inverter as possible so you can make quick adjustments if necessary.

Step 3: Connect the Battery

Connect the battery to the power inverter using your wires. The negative post or end of the wire should go first followed by the positive. Once you connect the inverter in the battery, put the battery in the corner of your case and use Velcro to secure it to both the bottom of the container and the wall.

This will eliminate any chance of it shaking disruptively during movement.

Electrical wiring attached to a main outlet

Step 4: Connect the Controller to the Battery

Next, find another suitable spot for your charge controller and drill a hole beneath its set location. The top of your case is a good location for this component or the same side as your inverter and voltmeter. Use Velcro to connect the charge controller.

Connect the controller to the battery once you’ve attached the controller and drilled a hole beneath it. Depending on your model, you may need to drill a hole in the side of your controller itself to run the solar panel cord into.

Some models may have a port already built into their chassis or casing, but this is variable.

Either way, there must be a way for the controller to connect to the solar panel itself. This is because the controller will have some control over the panels and needs this wired connection to function properly.

Step 5: Connect the Controller to the Solar Panel

Finally, set the solar panels into a position so that they face the sun for the most hours of the day. This usually works out to a spot where there isn’t a lot of shadow or mountain coverage since mountains reduce direct sunlight exposure towards the beginning and end of the day. 

Connect the charge controller to the solar panel using another wire and let the battery charge to at least 50% before you start to make use of the collected energy. It’s preferable to let the battery charge all the way to 100% just to make sure that everything is functioning properly.

There you have it! Once your battery is charged, you can then connect appliances to the power inverter and take advantage of the free energy you’ve gathered from the sun.

Maintenance

Maintaining your homemade solar generator doesn’t take much effort and only needs to be performed a few times a year. DIY solar generators are vulnerable to inclement weather and dust damage over long stretches of time.

You should check your solar panels every few months and wash them two to four times per year with water. Dust directly stops sunlight from hitting the silicon panels, which means that the panels collect less energy and produce less power for you to use.

Therefore, preventing this dust from building up over time is key to keeping your generator working properly.

It’s also a bad idea to leave your solar generator outside in wet or cold weather since the components will not last long under that kind of stress. The electrical components, especially, are vulnerable to water damage.

Solar panels out in a field

During storms or rainy seasons, be ready to move your solar generator inside as the weather turns from sunny to cloudy. However, if your container is strong enough/watertight, this may not be necessary.

The solar panels will not be affected by water or stormy weather, but the electrical components inside your case might be. Take care when deciding whether or not to leave your generator outdoors.

Follow these practices and your solar generator will last for a long time.

Conclusion

A DIY solar generator is both easy to make and extremely useful. Although it requires a little cost upfront, you’ll end up saving much more on your electrical bill from all of the solar power you end up accumulating. This is particularly true if you live in a sunny climate already.

Remember to maintain your solar generator and good luck!