The demand for solar-powered generators has never been higher. With ongoing climate and energy crises worldwide, there’s never been a better time to switch to solar. Solar adoption is skyrocketing because so many people want to save money on their utility bills and achieve energy independence using clean, renewable power.
Solar power can provide electricity when off-grid, camping, or during outages. You can even use it to power your whole home. Most people purchase solar generators off-the-shelf, but some positives come with putting a solar-powered generator together yourself, particularly if you’re interested in learning more about how solar power works.
What Is a DIY Solar Generator?
A DIY solar generator lets you power many appliances, gadgets, and tech in your home while working 100% off-grid.
A solar generator requires solar panels to harness energy from the sun — and numerous other essential components to convert solar power into usable electricity.
There’s a limit to how DIY you can get when constructing your own solar power system. DIY solar doesn’t mean you’ll be making your own circuit boards. Instead, you assemble ready-made components from the manufacturers of your choice.
Making a solar generator yourself requires substantial research and hard work to ensure your system is functional in the end.
Anyone considering a DIY solar-powered generator project should invest extensive time researching and preparing for the build. Otherwise, you could end up with a costly lawn ornament rather than a functional alternative energy source.
Benefits of Building Your Own Solar Generator
- No running costs. Once you’ve invested in the components and assembled them correctly, the price of solar energy is zero (aside from system maintenance).
- Greener Than Fuel Generators. Solar power is an excellent source of renewable clean energy.
- Can a solar generator power a house? Yes, a solar generator can power your entire home if you’re savvy about your energy consumption. You would require a system that stores large amounts of power to keep you going. Whole-home solar is not a good place to start with your first DIY project.
- DIY gives you a sense of achievement. A predominant reason why people find DIY projects fulfilling is their sense of accomplishment at the end.
- Less expensive than ready-made solar generators. We will explore this in more detail later, but the labor that goes into manufacturing and assembly can make pre-made solar generators more expensive. That is, if you consider your own time to be free.
- You can repair them easily. Solar generators are generally easy to maintain. It’s vital to keep components — especially the solar panels — clean, which will be most of your maintenance.
- Safer than gas generators. Gas generators produce potentially deadly carbon monoxide, and the fuel required to run them harms our climate.
How Do I Build My Own Solar Generator?
Building a DIY solar-powered generator is a multi-step process. We recommend watching the beginner-friendly step-by-step video and following the guide below to ensure a successful build.
List of Parts and Components You’ll Need:
- Solar Battery—Without a solar battery, you won’t be able to store the energy harvested by your solar panels. Batteries come in all different shapes, sizes, and compositions. All of this factors into their storage capacity and energy efficiency.
- Casing—You will need a case to house and protect your battery and other components. Good cases will be weather resistant and even better if they have a pair of rolling wheels to make transportation easy.
- Solar Power Inverter—Solar panels collect direct current (DC) power. The inverter transforms this into alternating current (AC) to provide standard household electricity.
- Solar Panels—Your solar panel will be the most exposed element of the whole kit, so make sure your choice is durable. Because they are exposed to the elements by nature, virtually all solar panels will offer some level of environmental protection, but it can vary greatly, as can the panels’ lifespan.
- Solar Charge Controller—This equipment prevents voltage and current levels from overpowering your battery. It regulates the voltage coming from the panels. Buy a weatherproof controller if you plan on using the equipment outside.
- Battery Maintainer—Battery maintainers keep your main battery active. If batteries are inactive for long periods, it can harm their lifespan and efficiency. The battery maintainer is an additional small charger that supplies the main battery with bursts of power.
- DC Input—DC power plugs connect the equipment to your power supply. Make sure you purchase one that is right for your needs without requiring modifications to the wiring.
Beginner Friendly Video
1. Estimating Your Off-Grid Solar Power Needs
Another prerequisite for purchasing equipment that’s right for you is calculating your required power. First, you need to estimate your energy usage. Look at all the appliances you want to run with your generator. From there, you can calculate your energy usage in watt-hours.
For example, if you want to calculate how much a small fridge consumes each day, you need to multiply the watts by the number of hours of usage. Here is the formula: watts x hrs = watt-hours (Wh).
When calculating your energy needs, you need to determine the amount of power required to run your appliances and the power needed to start them. Some appliances require three times the general running watts to start them up. We call this surge power or surge watts.
With solar generators, surge power refers to the maximum amount of electricity the system can provide to an appliance in one burst. Make sure the wattage you build for takes into account surge watt requirements. Otherwise, many of your more power-hungry appliances won’t turn on when plugged into your generator.
Of course, your energy needs also will change depending on the setting where you’re most likely to run the solar generator. Consider the following:
Your Energy Needs for a Camping Trip
If you’re taking a mini-fridge, lights, battery chargers, and mobile devices, a 2000-watt generator should be sufficient.
Of course, you might not need that much even, especially if you go camping to unplug. But it’s always better to have too much power than too little.
You can determine your estimated energy needs and use that to decide what capacity solar generator and battery you require.
Your Energy Needs for Home Back-Up Power
In 2021, the US Energy Information Administration revealed that the typical American household uses 886KWh per month. If we break this down to daily usage, you’re looking at an estimated 30KWh per day.
Your energy consumption may differ drastically from the average. For instance, if you lived alone compared to a family, this would likely be much less. Also, you can easily lower your power consumption during a blackout by only using the essentials.
2. Purchase a Solar Panel
Once you’re clear on how much energy you need to generate and store, you can start researching which solar panels will be the best fit. There are many factors to consider when making this decision, including
- Composition: Monocrystalline, polycrystalline, or thin film?
- Construction: Portable, rigid, or flexible?
- Rated power: How much energy do you need your solar panels to generate during peak sun hours to meet your needs?
3. Get a Small Battery with a Battery Box
The most common battery types are lithium-ion and deep-cycle lead-acid. Lithium-ion options are highly efficient and lightweight but also pricier. Lead-acid batteries are cheaper but contain toxic chemicals, have shorter lifespans, and are far less efficient.
Your battery box will keep the battery safe and transportable.
4. Buy a DC Input
You need a DC input so the system can transmit the DC from the solar panels into your solar power system.
5. Invest in an Inverter
The inverter converts the DC power captured by solar panels into AC household electricity.
6. Attach Meter and DC Input
Here, you can use a drill to attach the meter and DC input to the top of the box.
7. Mount Your Components
Get everything into position, ready to be wired.
8. Wire Everything Together
Connect negative poles first and make sure only to handle one wire at a time to be safe. Next, connect the DC inlet to the battery just as you did with the first wire. Finally, connect the solar panel to the battery.
9. Test the Parts
Is everything in working order?
10. Choose Your Supplies Carefully
Research is so important. Ensure you have chosen quality items that promise durability and efficiency.
Build Your Own Solar Generator with Portable Solar Panels
If the process of building a solar generator from the ground up — including wiring all the components, buying compatible hardware, and testing everything — sounds too complicated, you can still create a DIY setup, but in fewer steps. All you need to do is purchase a portable power station and portable solar panels.
This customizable solar generator setup is easier to build since all you need to do is plug and play. Look for a portable power station and solar panels sufficient for your energy needs. You can find power stations in varying capacities from 288Wh to 25kWh, and solar panels in varying designs, including portable, rigid, and flexible solar panels. EcoFlow solar panels are compatible with most third-party systems and EcoFlow portable power stations.
A more robust alternative to the complicated solar system construction process is EcoFlow modular power kits. Power kits are expandable to suit your needs and suitable for permanent installation. Some DIY skill is still necessary to mount and connect the power hub, LFP battery, and cable pack, but it’s nowhere near as complicated or time-consuming as a complete DIY solar generator build.
Cost of Buying vs. Building Your Solar-Powered Generator
The overall cost of a completely DIY solar system or an option like EcoFlow’s solar generators depends on how much power you need and how you plan to use it. You may need to pay for an installation (or take on a much more complicated and dangerous DIY project) if you want rooftop solar panels as a permanent fixture in your home. Installation can impact price too.
Building your own system will likely cost you less on paper — if it works.
Most DIY projects can be scoped up to cost you less than a professional installation or a plug-and-play portable solar power system. However, once you factor in compatibility and quality issues and your own valuable time, the most compelling reason to go the DIY route is love, not money.
The costs of labor, equipment, installation, repairs, and replacement of incompatible parts can make purchasing an EcoFlow solar-powered generator more cost-effective in the long run.
With this option, you get a generator that’s ready to use and portable solar panels that you attach yourself. There is no need for installation as the solar panels are portable. You can buy the components separately and mix and match them. Plus, you can rest assured of compatibility and ease of set-up. It’s as simple as connecting your solar panels and flipping a switch!
Frequently Asked Questions
The short answer is yes, you can, but it requires research and patience. Solar-powered systems require multiple components and technical knowledge that the average DIY builder might not have.
Alternatively, you can look for a trusted brand like EcoFlow and customize your own solar power system to your requirements without worrying about compatibility or quality.
The number of solar panels required depends on your battery storage capacity and how much energy you typically consume. Solar panels also come with different rated power wattages. You may want to purchase multiple smaller panels to create your desired solar array or buy one or two larger panels, depending on where you’re planning to install them.
An inverter and a solar battery are essential parts of a solar generator. EcoFlow’s solar generators also include the charge controller and everything else you need just to plug and play, all in one sleek, compact package.
There are numerous pros and cons to attempting a DIY solar power generator build. You can decide to build a solar generator yourself or take the easy route by customizing your setup with a portable power station and solar panels that suit your needs.
Either way, you’re investing in your energy independence and helping to make a positive change for our planet.
Whatever route you decide to take, solar power is a compelling alternative to conventional utility providers and aging infrastructure.