Build Your Own Solar Power Generator for under $150.

Want to build your own portable solar power generator to take with you on camping trips or for use in an emergency? I’ll show you how below, it’s easier than you think. Goal Zero’s version of this cost over $400 and doesn’t include any solar panels! Depending on what you include yours will cost under $150 by buying inexpensive parts from Amazon.com.

main-solar-generator

How portable do you want your solar generator to be? Think about how heavy and large it should be? Are you going to use a hand truck to carry around a huge toolbox filled with batteries and a large solar panel or do you want a tiny one that will fit in your glove box? The wiring and concept will be the same for either size so the choice is yours. I wanted something in between that I could carry but still had some decent capacity to do some work.

Video showing components:

First I bought a case that would be a good jumping off point that I could fit a 10 watt solar panel on and in. Your case doesn’t have to fit your panel in but I thought it was convenient for me.


panel-off

Here you can see the 10 watt solar panel is removable and attached with velcro on metal strips. The velcro holds the solar panel very securely and it all fits inside the case to protect in during travel. I zip tied aluminum pieces to increase the surface area of the velcro but judging from how secure the industrial velcro is, they may not be necessary.

side-shot

Closeup on the main power switch. This switch totally disconnects the battery and all charging. Notice Marine 12 volt cigarette lighter in the lower corner of the box.

Solar Generator Diagram

Notice round switches to the right of the inverter and volt meter.

Solar Generator parts

 

portable solar generator wiring diagram

portable solar generator wiring diagram

 Below I show you what I used and suggest for building your own DIY portable solar generator.

How To Make Portable Solar Power Generator

Pistol Case
10 watt Solar Panel
10 watt mono crystalline Solar Panel – Normal Price
Switches for the Project (5 and 10 packs are cheap)

 

choose-charge-controller

Basic controller
Controller with voltmeter built-in

battery

18 Amp Hour Battery
18 Amp Hour Battery (recommended)
Don’t scrimp here, the battery is the foundation
of your whole system. This battery
easily fits into the Plano 4 pistol case.

 

chooseinverter

75 watt (small battery)
150 watt (large battery only)
200 watt (large battery only)

 

volt-meter

Volt Meter (optional) Back lit Volt Meter (optional) Full feature volt meter:
measures input and outputs
in amps & watts (optional)

choose-extras

Velcro for panel
Arm the nukes
Fuse holder



30 Comments

  1. Jeffrey W. Neal
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 01:47:44

    Nice job on your solar generator. Tell me, if you are using a 10 watt solar panel that gives you 0.5 amps with a 18 amp hour battery, how long will it take to charge the battery back to 100% if the batter is drain 50%? Will the 10 watt solar panel keep up with the demand, or I need a bigger watt solar panel for quicker recovery?

    Reply

    • Solar Burrito
      Apr 18, 2014 @ 14:32:04

      Hi Jeff, like most things, the easy answer would be “It depends”. How sunny it is, what is the drain, angle of panel etc. I”ll spare you and tell you my observations while using my for almost 2 years.

      Assuming you drained the battery to 50% (like you drew 1 amp for 9 hours) It would take all day to charge up to 100% on a sunny day. I mainly use mine in the summer. Annecdotally I can charge 2-3 tool batteries 30-45 mins each at 10-75 watts of drain/load while I have the panel in the sun and still have above 60% charge. Then I usually still have time in the day to recharge.

      My main other use it to charge the groups cell phones and run small stereo all day and into the night. Plenty of power for that.

      Reply

  2. aaliya
    Apr 14, 2014 @ 15:54:09

    Hi! U made it gud! I wanna make it too! I wanna know what is BUS and 12 V Amcc in this! Thanks!

    Reply

  3. fiston
    Apr 08, 2014 @ 13:40:32

    hi solar Burrito, please how can I get in touch with you for a solar project in africa. please contact me by my email so we can explain you the full project. thanks to comes back to me.

    fiston

    Reply

  4. Daniel
    Apr 04, 2014 @ 16:57:51

    Reply

  5. Daniel
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 14:03:05

    Hey Solar Burrito can you tell me if a poly-Crystalline Solar Panel is good for this project, here is the link- http://www.ebay.com/itm/10w-WATT-poly-crystalline-solar-panel-10W-PV-solar-module-for-battery-charger-/281251899506?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item417beb6872

    Reply

  6. Joel Colvos (@joelseattle)
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 06:48:48

    Love this and your blog! Thanks for putting it all out there for those of us that are just figuring it all out. One question, would it be possible to just skip the inverter if I wanted to build this kind of system to charge 12v power tools? It seems silly to convert 12v DC charge to 110v inverter and then plug in a battery charger that charges my 12v tools. I was thinking I could just try stripping off the plug and seeing if I could wire it directly into a 12v battery, but I have a feeling this won’t work. Any experience with this? thanks again!

    Reply

    • Solar Burrito
      Apr 03, 2014 @ 10:19:29

      Yes and No. Yes your right it’s inefficient to go DC to AC back to DC. Yes you could charge the batteries part way 12volts to 12 volts but I don’t think you could charge them fully. The batteries will reach equilibrium and current will stop flowing before your tool batteries are full. Picture a large bucket of water flowing into a smaller bucket of water via a tube half way up. As soon as the water level in the smaller bucket reaches the height in the larger bucket all flow will stop. That’s why 12 volt chargers charge at 14 volts to have “pressure” to push current into the 12 volt battery. Does that make sense?

      BUT——— If you had your solar panels in full sun, you would be generating more voltage and you could in thereby charge your tool batteries directly. Try it out and monitor the voltage, if it’s above 14 volts you’re charging!

      Reply

  7. Jake
    Mar 26, 2014 @ 10:13:08

    Could you provide a link to the solar panel, or all of the parts you’ve used?

    Reply

  8. Brd workshop
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 18:41:28

    What kind of charger do you recon?

    Reply

  9. Anonymous
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 01:32:19

    […] […]

    Reply

  10. Tullyworkernick
    Feb 28, 2014 @ 18:06:20

    What do you use to recharge the battery besides the solar panels

    Reply

  11. ryanhopkins10
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 21:21:53

    do you have the wiring diagram to post??

    Reply

    • Solar Burrito
      Feb 26, 2014 @ 10:50:09

      Hi Ryan, I just posted a legit wiring diagram above! Hope that helps you complete your project. Let me know if I can help anymore.

      Reply

  12. James lozano
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 11:34:02

    Ok I think I got it. Will build it when I get home in April. Currently in the Middle East. Just want t have all the parts ready before I arrived.
    Thanks again for all your help. If this works out good I will try to make one that can run off of 220v
    Thanks

    Reply

  13. James
    Feb 18, 2014 @ 23:59:21

    Really liked your video. Im going to build one just like your next month. Just purchased the item from Amazon. the only difference is that I will be using a 400w inverter in my set up as you said you were going to do in your video. The question I have is what gauge wire are you using? You think I will ok using 10awg wire? what are you doing for ground?
    Thanks

    Reply

    • Solar Burrito
      Feb 19, 2014 @ 08:26:27

      Use the same gauge as the wires your inverter will come with. I’m sure 10awg will be fine though especially at these short lengths. I’ve done some experiments with adding a switch to the fan in the inverter to save power. It works but I haven’t done much testing. Get one that only runs the fan under load and keep in mind the 18ah battery won’t last long at 400 watts. Less than an hour I’d say but for short big loads in the sun, it could be useful.

      Reply

      • James lozano
        Feb 19, 2014 @ 09:54:19

        Thanks for the info. I purchased basically everything you did exemp for the inverter. What my plans for this project is to have enought power to charge up a couple of phones and a laptop. Not on the same time. Or maybe a couple of temporary lights or a speaker for my phone to play music. You think I should be better off purchasing a smaller inverter? I found some brass bus bars at work that I will be using as we’ll. I can always use the 400watt inverter on a big scale solar project. Thanks

        Reply

        • Solar Burrito
          Feb 19, 2014 @ 10:07:31

          If you got the 18ah battery check out this 200 watt inverter. It has several high power USBs. It would be perfect for your needs. ( I just added above) http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00EY6RJKA/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00EY6RJKA&linkCode=as2&tag=solarstereos-20

          Reply

          • James lozano
            Feb 19, 2014 @ 10:36:46

            Thanks for your recommendation. I just bought it. So quick question and first I want to apologize to you for asking so many question. I know people are busy and this is helping me out a lot. So how can I connect the inverter to the battery? Do I connect the inverter to another lighter socket outlet and connect it to the battery? And on the 110v house receptacle, can I get a small pigtail and cut the female end and connect the power, ground and neutral to the receptacle? Do you have a wiring diagram for this set up I was trying to figure it out by myself but want to double check before I blow something up.
            Thanks again

          • Solar Burrito
            Feb 19, 2014 @ 10:55:14

            Hi James, No problem. I’d cut off the cigarette plugs on this inverter then wire one side to your main power bus then the other side to a switch. Then you could shut off the inverter individually and it would be shut off when you shut off all power. Possibly overkill but that’s how I did it. If the inverter has it’s own switch then leave it on when you add another switch.

            Your right about the AC pig tail, easy peasy just plug it in. Don’t worry nothing will blow up but make sure you have the polarity right before you power up inverter. It will blow a fuse otherwise and sometimes the fuses are internal on those.

            No diagram yet. Haven’t had a chance.

  14. Tullyworkernick
    Feb 16, 2014 @ 10:08:25

    Amazon all of a sudden stopped selling these 10w panels. I wanted to build a cheap solar generator but now I have to spend $50+ dollars on a panel. Do you suggest any other panels?

    Reply

    • Joe
      Feb 16, 2014 @ 13:45:57

      Dang those were a steal! 2 5 watts wired in parallel would be the same, size maybe an issue you’ll have to measure.

      Reply

  15. Gene
    Feb 16, 2014 @ 06:41:33

    Nice job, I am going to build one, thanks…

    Reply

  16. Solar Burrito
    Feb 06, 2014 @ 16:56:59

    Ann – Why would you want to power an electric heater with any battery powered system? Electric heat is a huge energy drain compared to how much heat you get. In a emergency I’d recommend propane or even better wood heat since it’s free, renewable, and you can find wood nearly everywhere. Off grid homes don’t have electric heat.

    How much this unit can power is really irrelevant since this is totally scalable all the way up to a system that fills a shed with batteries and is no longer portable. Portability is the key here. Good luck with your system, if you’re willing to pay for lithium batteries then you probably could power a heater!

    Reply

    • Ann Straus
      Feb 16, 2014 @ 10:11:18

      I would want to be able to draw 120 watts to run an electric blanket throw for two days. I have gas heat backup and one small propane. Will add another propane this year. Still, what will the system put out and for how long? I have the inverter 400 watt, and the charge controller. Also one small solar panel that I think is a 60 watt, but not sure on that. The portability is fine, but what does it run for how long is the important question combo.

      Reply

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