DIY Solar Generator For Home And Camping – Portable Solar Power

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Components of a solar generator for house use

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Can I build my own solar power system?

Basically, a solar generator is a small off-grid solar system. Yes, anyone can build one with a little careful planning. It’s important to know how much power you need from a solar generator – this is always the first thing to consider.

The power required determines the solar panel sizing, which in turn defines the sizing for the battery, solar charge controller and inverter.

DIY solar generator kit – easy solution?

Why not just buy a solar generator kit? A DIY solar power generator is a great option for a couple of reasons:

  1. Commercially available solar generator power kits are expensive, too expensive IMO!
  2. Many packages advertised as solar generator kits are not complete – batteries/inverter not included. These are essential, even if power DC camping/RV appliances.

Video – DIY Solar Generator Power Station Example

 

Let’s take a look at what you need to know to build your own solar generator for house use:

Components of a solar generator

A complete DIY solar generator needs parts for the following functions:

  • Energy conversion (solar panels)
  • Battery charging (charge controller)
  • Energy storage (lithium or lead-acid batteries)
  • DC to AC power conversion (inverter)

Best solar panels for solar generators

Before sizing your panels, you need to decide what type of solar panel you want to use. The options are:

  • Fixed standard panels (these are the heaviest)
  • Flexible (5 times lighter than fixed frame)
  • Folding portable (e.g. Dokio style)

It’s important to consider the weight of the completed solar generator. After all, it’s supposed to be a portable device and it needs to be as light as possible.

The table below gives some indication of the weight of various sized solar panels:

Table – Solar panels watts and dimensions compared

Rated Watts

Length (inches)

Width (inches)

Weight

50

29.9

27

6.6 lbs

100

39

26.4

17.6 lbs

160

58.3

26.4

22.9 lbs

200

52

39 

32 lbs

300

65

39

40.1 lbs

400

81.4

41.2 

56 lbs

There are only two real options – seperate flexible solar panels or a folding type of flexible such as those supplied by Dokio.

I use 100 watt flexibles for most applications, from pergola mounting to running a trolling motor on my inflatable canoe. The big thing is that they are about 5 times lighter than standard fixed solar panels.

On the downside, they tend not to last as long. I make a custom frame for them out of aluminium angle, which helps keep them rigid without adding too much extra weight.

Home-made aluminium frame for flexible solar panels

Flexible solar panels – perfect for building a DIY solar power generator

What does an inverter do?

An inverter takes the DC voltage produced by the solar panels (and stored in the battery) and turns it into the AC power we use in the home.

It’s an essential component of a solar generator and it pays to buy the best quality you can. There are two main types and both have pros and cons.

Both types chop up the direct current into seperate chunks, but they treat them electronically in different ways – this has an impact on their cost and usage.

As far as sizing goes, its best to choose an inverter about the same power rating as the solar panel. Inverters are most efficient when fully loaded.

Types of inverters for solar panels

There are two basic types on solar inverter – modified sine wave and pure sine wave. The difference is in the way the electronics work.

Table – Modified sine wave and pure sine wave inverters compared

Pure Sine Wave Inverter

Modified Sine Wave

Perfect sine wave output

Practically square wave

High quality electronics

Minimum electronic components

Low level hum

Can be noisy, can hear definite buzz

Does not interfere with other electronic gear

Can cause interference on TVs, cell phones

Safe for all appliances

Some appliances may overheat

90% to 95% efficient

75% to 85% efficient - wastes power

2 to 3 times more expensive than modified

Cheaper option

Modified sine wave inverters

This type of inverter produces a sine wave (smooth curve) that isn’t smooth at all. It’s made up of square blocks of voltage and the heights are modified electronically to form an approximate sine wave.

Pure sine wave vs modified sine wave inverter wave-forms

Pure sine wave inverters are better but are more expensive

You can see from the image above that the modified sine wave inverter output is made up of rectangular packets. The inverter output isn’t smooth AC power, but it approximates a smooth sine wave.

For most appliances this isn’t a problem, but for some motors and electronics it can cause stuttering (for motors), overheating and interference.

I use a 1000 watt modified sine wave inverter for general use (see image below) and it works great for most things. I can run a fridge on it, for example.

Solar inverter types - solar generator for house

Modified sine wave inverters are not as efficient and tend to ‘buzz’.

However, there’s a definite audible buzz when it’s fully loaded which is a bit annoying when you’re close to it.

The other con is that this type of inverter is only about 85% efficient, meaning you lose 15 watts out of every 100 watts of load.

Pure sine wave solar inverter

Pure sine wave inverters can be 3 times more costly than modified sine wave and in some cases it might not be worth it. Many ordinary appliances run quite well with this type.

The sine wave output is very smooth, simply because they have more and better quality electronics (MOSFETS) for converting DC to AC.

It depends on the needs of the load. In general, a pure sine wave inverter covers all the bases.

Which battery is best for a solar generator for house use?

Lithium iron phosphate battery vs lead acid batteries

lithium or lead acid best for diy solar generator for house use?

What is the best battery to use for a portable solar generator?

I use both types of batteries, a 30Ah LiFeP04 (lithium iron phosphate) and a 100Ah lead-acid deep-cycle, sometimes called a leisure battery.

A regular auto battery shouldn’t be used for energy storage in a solar generator as its maximum recommended Depth of Discharge (DoD) is only about 15%. Discharge any further and the battery will be damaged.

This means you only get to use 7.5Ah of a 50Ah car battery, which severely limits the use of the generator.

I use the 100Ah deep-cycle for emergency power backup at home, as it stays in one place. These batteries are very heavy – this 100Ah lead-acid battery weighs 30kg!

Clearly, a large capacity lead-acid battery isn’t a good option for a portable solar generator, which leaves lithium technology as the obvious choice.

Why are lithium iron phosphate better than lead-acid batteries?

LiFeP04 batteries have two major advantages over lead-acid IMO:

  • They are much lighter than lead-acid
  • They are inherently deep-cycle

The 30Ah battery I use in my home-made DIY solar generator weighs just 4kg and can be discharged regularly up to 95% of its capacity. It’s a great choice.

The only real down-side is the price. They can be 3 times more expensive than lead-acid, but they have a much longer life if treated well.

Table – Lithium iron phosphate ve lead-acid deep-cycle batteries

Lithium Phosphate

Lead Acid

Number charge/discharge cycles

2000 (100% DOD)
5000 (80% DOD)

500 (50% DOD)

Weight

If LF = 10 kg ...

Lead-acid = 30 Kg

Deep cycle?

Inherently deep cycle

Special battery construction

Cost comparision (life-time)

If LF battery = $100 ...

Lead -acid battery = $233

What solar controller do I need for a portable solar generator?

A good solar panel size for a portable solar power generator is 200 watt, either using a ready made kit (see Dokio option below) or individual flexible solar panels.

Folding solar panel kits come with their own solar charge controller, normally PWM, so if using individual panels you need to choose the right solar charge controller.

200 watt solar panel how many amps?

Charge controllers are rated by current, so you need to know how many amps a 200 watt solar system will generate.

Current is determined by panel voltage and most 200 watt solar panels operate at Voc about 30 volts and a voltage of 24V when passing maximum current of around 8 amps.

So for this 200 watt solar generator, a 10 amp solar charger would be adequate.

Caution: It’s always prudent to choose a solar charge controller bigger than you need, just in case you upgrade the system later. I would use a 20 amp charge controller in this case.

Difference between MPPT and PWM charge controller

Whcih solar charge controller - MPPT vs PWM?

MPPT and PWM are the two main types of battery charge controllers

Solar power generators have a limited amount of solar panels power available so charge controller efficiency can be important.

PWM are very cheap but not as efficient as MPPT. I would go for MPPT option, as this type can give you 30% more power – very important when you need to maximize generation and storage.

Read about the difference between MPPT and PWM charge controllers here.

How to make a DIY solar generator – the folding option

What solar panels best for DIY solar gnerator?

Flexible portable folding solar panels for DIY solar generators

A DIY portable solar generator needs to be light and flexible solar panels are the best option. The Dokio kit shown has its own solar charge controller, so just needs a battery and an inverter adding.

I have an 80 watt model I use for camping, but they also sell a 200 watt folding solar panel which is perfect for a DIY generator build.

Build your own solar generator with flexible solar panels

Flexible panels have basically the same power output as a fixed solar panel, but they are much lighter. For a 100 watt panel the difference is 2kg compared to 8kg.

They are very easy to use and connect, but your geographic location can have a considerable impact on the power output.

How much power does a solar panel produce?

When sizing solar panels professional installer use an average value of the sun’s energy called peak-sun-hours. The average value for the US is 4 peak-sun-hours.

The daily energy in Wh that 200 watts of solar can produce is found by:

200 watts solar energy per day = 200 watts x 4 peak-sun-hours = 800 watt-hours (Wh)

DIY Solar Generator Home Build Connection Diagram

Connecting all the components of a solar generator is quite easy.

The solar panels connect through the solar charger controller to the battery terminals, and the inverter connects directly onto the battery terminals – see diagram below:

How to connect components of a DIY solar generator

Solar generator components connected ready for use

It just remains to pack the components into a carrying case or onto a trolley for easy transport and it’s ready to generate power.

What is the cost of a 200 watt DIY solar power generator?

  • Flexible solar panels (2 x 100 watts) – $120
  • 20 amp MPPT solar charge controller – $80
  • 200 watt inverter – $89
  • 50Ah LiFeP04 battery – $500 (Battleborn, US) $175 (Alibaba, China)
  • Trolley, wiring and accessories – $40

So if you source everything in the US the total build cost would be approximately $800, which represents at least 50% saving on commercial solar generators.

What can a 500 watt solar generator run?

What will a 500W solar generator run?

How many appliances will a 500 watt solar generator power?

Appliance

Rating (watts)

Ceiling Fan

60

Dehumidifier

240

Electric Can Opener

170

Rice Cooker

200

Slow Cooker

160

Vacuum Cleaner

200

Desktop Computer

100

Home Sound System

95

Television

230

Electric Blanket

200

Paper Shredder

220

Projector

270

Corn Popper

275

Crockpot

250

VCR

100

Electric Fence (25 miles)

250

Laptop Charger

125

Food Processor/Blender

360

Monitor

250

Electric Hedge Trimmer

300

Can a 100 watt solar panel run a refrigerator?

See post on this site – Solar fridge

Related Questions found on Google:

How do you make a portable solar generator?

You need 4 components to make a portable solar generator:

  1. Fixed or flexible folding solar panels (up to 200 watts preferred)
  2. 30Ah to 100Ah light-weight battery (lithium iron phosphate)
  3. 20 amp rated MPPT solar charge controller
  4. 200 watt pure sine-wave inverter (or the same rating as the solar panels)

Can I make a solar powered generator?

Yes, anyone can make a solar powered generator. It doesn’t take a lot of technical know-how. The components connect together very simply in the following way:

  • Connect the positive and negative solar panel cables to the solar charger inputs
  • Connect the solar charger outputs to the right terminals on the battery
  • The inverter input also connects to the battery terminals

The only things to watch are that the cable polarities are matched, the solar charger PV input voltage is suitable for the panel output voltage and that the inverter is correctly sized.

Try to match the inverter rating to the soalr panels rating, as an inverter is at maximum efficiency when fully loaded.

How much power can a solar generator produce?

How much power can be produced by a DIY solar generator is determined by the solar panel rating in watts and the irradiance (sun’s energy) falling onto the panel’s surface.

An average value for irradiance is 4 peak-sun-hours/day and the energy that can be generated by a 200 watt solar panel can be found by:

200 watts x 4 peak-sun-hours = 800 watt-hours

Are portable solar generators worth it?

Yes, solar generators are worth it. A powerful DIY solar generator can cost just 50% of the cost of a  commercial model – see average compont pricing below:

  • 200 watts of folding solar panels (Dokio – includes charge controller) = $250
  • 200 watt pure sine wave inverter = $60
  • 50Ah lithium iron phosphate battery = $400

Resources relating to DIY solar generators:

200 watt solar panels specifications

Choosing a solar charge controller

Which inverter?

Lithium vs lead-acid

Solar generator for house – Renogy


Renogy solar products


RENOGY are fast becoming the preferred source for solar panels, kits, batteries and solar control accessories. Based in the US, where the products are manufactured, they are widely known and respected for innovation and quality.

Browse RENOGY products




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