How To Build a DIY Solar Generator (Complete guide)

Have you always wanted to build a DIY solar generator? Now may just be the best time to do it.

In 2021 solar energy is the cheapest, and most abundant source of energy. One of its main features is to be scalable from the smallest solar panel for domestic use to large solar fields to provide electricity for a city. Solar components are modular and safe to handle, therefore it is now possible for all to build a DIY solar generator.

In this article, we will guide you step by step through the process of building your DIY portable solar generator to get reliable and clean energy anywhere at any time:

  1. First we will first describe the purpose of a DIY portable solar generator.
  2. Then we will detail the major components of your solar kit.
  3. We then provide three cost estimations for your DIY solar power generator depending on your energy needs.
  4. Finally we will show you how to easily install the different parts in a 5 step process.

What is a DIY solar generator?

A solar generator is a device that converts sunlight into electricity usable by our appliances at any time.

DIY means Do It Yourself, this is the concept in which instead of buying a ready made product you assemble it yourself. Thanks to DIY, you can select the best parts and build your device accordingly to your needs while saving money! DIY helps you to better understand how things work, giving you more resilience and knowledge.

The DIY solar kit has three main functions:

  • Harvest solar energy
  • Store energy
  • Convert solar energy into usable electricity

It is portable, plug and play, durable and maintenance-free. Furthermore, it is scalable to any power and size.

Estimate your needs for a DIY solar generator

We love solar energy because it can be designed in all kinds of sizes for all types of applications, therefore it can even fit the lowest budget.

The first step to accurately select the components of your solar kit is to know your energy needs.

In this part, we will consider three real life applications to design three DIY solar generators:

Your energy needs for a Camping Trip

Appliances/Electronic devicesPowerHours of useTotal energy
4*Led Lights20W6120 W.h
2*Phones and tablets30W390 W.h
1*Drone and speaker30W260 W.h
1*Laptop60W3180 W.h
1*Mini Fan10W550 W.h
1*Mini cooler60W8300 W.h
TOTAL210W800 W.h

For a camping trip, you will need a total power of 210W, with a daily energy consumption of 800 W.h per day.

Your energy needs for a Campervan/RV

Appliances/Electronic devicesPowerHours of useTotal energy
6*Led Lights30W6180 W.h
3*Phones and tablets40W3120 W.h
1*Drone and speaker30W260 W.h
2*Laptop120W3360 W.h
1*Mini Fan10W550 W.h
1*Mini refrigerator60W24800 W.h
1*DC water pump50W2100 W.h
1*Led TV70W5350 W.h
TOTAL410W2,020 W.h

To power your RV electronics and small appliances you will need 410W and a total of 2kWh per day.

Your energy needs for a home back-up power

Appliances/Electronic devicesPowerHours of useTotal energy
10*Led Lights50W6300 W.h
3*Phones and tablets40W3120 W.h
2*Laptop120W3360 W.h
2* Fans120W5600 W.h
1* refrigerator120W241400 W.h
1*power tool600W1600 W.h
1*large Led TV150W5750 W.h
TOTAL1200W 4,130 W.h

For a 24h home emergency power backup you will need a total power of 1200W and more than 4kWh of energy.

The parts and components to build a DIY solar generator

Solar generators are simple machines, that need only 6 main components to function correctly.

Portable solar panels

The solar panel is an essential part of your DIY solar generator kit. It will convert sunlight into DC (Direct Current) electricity. Choose portable or foldable solar panels. They have a special compact and tough design, ready for the outdoors.

Please note
The components used to build a DIY solar generator are subject to price fluctuations.
Type of DIY solar generatorSolar panel powerOur best choicePrice
Camping trip200WLENSUN foldable solar blanket 399 USD
RV-Camper van2*220WDokio 220W foldable solar panels 480 USD
Home backup power4*200WRenogy 200W foldable solar suitcase1600 USD

Solar charge controller

To get the most of your solar panel you need a MPPT solar charge controller. It is the best at following the sun variable power and will deliver a reliable and clean output current to charge your battery.

Type of DIY solar generatorSolar charge controllerOur best choicePrice
Camping trip20Amps MPPTRenogy Rover 20 109.9 USD
RV-Camper van20Amps MPPTRenogy Rover 20 109.9 USD
Home back-up power40Amps MPPTRenogy Rover 40 169.9 USD

Battery

To enjoy power at anytime from your DIY solar generator, you need a battery. It will store your solar energy and release power on demand. There are two battery technologies available: the lead acid and the lithium-ion battery.

Lead acid batteries are found under the name GEL and AGM batteries. They are cheap to buy and maintenance free, however, we would highly recommend to get a lithium battery instead.

Lithium-Ion batteries are found under the name LiFePO4 and are far more superior to GEL or AGM batteries when it comes to storing solar energy. Their upfront cost is higher but their life duration, reliability and energy density (lightweight) is better than lead acid technology. You won’t regret your choice.

Type of DIY solar generatorBattery sizeOur best choicePrice
Camping trip500 W.hRenogy 12V, 50AH LFP battery 499.9 USD
RV-Camper van1000 W.hFLYPOWER 12V 100Ah Lifepo4 486.9 USD
Home back-up power2000 W.hKEPWORTH 24V 100Ah 2560Wh Lithium LiFePO4 Battery  987.70 USD

AC/DC Inverter

Your portable solar panel and battery storage system only provide DC power, however all our home appliances use AC power (Alternative Current). Therefore, the inverter will convert DC into AC(110V/220V, 60Hz). We recommend a pure sine wave inverter for an efficient power conversion and a clean electricity supply.

Type of DIY solar generatorInverter PowerOur best choicePrice
Camping trip1000 WKRIËGER 1100 Watt 12V Power Inverter Dual 110V AC Outlets 84.97 USD
RV-Camper van1000 WRenogy 1000W pure sine wave inverter189.99 USD
Home back-up power2000 WKRXNY 2000W 24V DC to 120V AC 60HZ Pure Sine Wave  235 USD

Case

Protecting your DIY solar generator from dust and humidity is important to ensure long life duration of your system. Furthermore, it unites all the components in one easy to carry casing to bring in all your trips. We have selected three quality cases from the smallest size for camping trip to the larger size for home back up systems.

The battery and inverter are the heaviest parts. On average the total weight of your DIY solar generator for camping trip will be less than 14kg (30.8 lbs), for RV less than 20kg (44 lbs) and for home back-up systems less than 30kg (66 lbs)

Type of DIY solar generatorOur best choicePrice
Camping tripMonoprice Weatherproof / Shockproof Hard Case 92.99 USD
RV-Camper vanDEWALT Tool Box Tough System, Extra Large  52.63 USD
Home back-up powerMonoprice Weatherproof / Shockproof Hard Case with Wheels 308.99 USD

Breakers and electrical wiring

Electrical wiring and breakers are essential parts to connect your different components and ensure a high level of safety for your DIY solar generator kit.

We recommend to use RENOGY products:

In addition, you will need an outdoor power outlet that could easily be mounted inside the case wall and a master switch for your whole system.

Total cost of your solar DIY generator

Let’s have an overlook at the total cost of your DIY solar generator including all the above components:

Type of DIY solar generatorPower and Energy storage capacityTotal cost
Camping1100 W / 500W.h1250 USD
RV – camper van1000 W / 1000W.h1400 USD
Home back-up system2000 W/ 2000W.h3300 USD

Note that some portable solar panel kits already include a solar charger, thus lowering the overall cost of the DIY solar generator.

Assemble your DIY solar generator step by step

Follow the 5 steps to easily build your solar generator kit.

Tools needed:

  • Driller with hole saw
  • Screw driver
  • Utility knife
  • Wire cutter
  • Electrical tape
  • Glue gun
  • Silicon sealant

Step 1: Prepare your case

The solar generator is plug and play, therefore, all the outlets should be accessible without opening the case.

Cut through the case with a hole saw and carefully insert the outlet plug, apply silicon around to seal it.

A second hole is needed for the solar panel connection to the solar charger. We recommend to use waterproof electrical connectors sealed with silicon.

Repeat the same process for other external components like inverter remote control panel, led lights and master switch.

Step 2: Install the battery

The battery is the largest part of your DIY solar generator kit, therefore it should be mounted first in your case. LiFePo4 batteries can work in all positions; but we recommend to place it in a corner of your case. It should be fixed onto the wall of the case with a battery strap.

Step 3: Install the solar charge controller

The solar charge controller must be glued inside your case make sure you have enough space for the wiring to the battery and the solar panels.

Step 4: Install the inverter

The inverter is the second largest component and could be placed on the wall near the outlet. We also recommend to use straps so you can easily remove it for maintenance purpose.

Be sure to allow enough space around the inverter for sufficient air flow.

Step 5: Wiring and fuse installation

Now that all your components are firmly installed in your case, it is time to wire your system.

Connect your outlet plug to the inverter. Use 12 gauge wire (12 AWG) to link your inverter to the battery and the battery to the solar charge controller.

Plug in the extension cable of your solar panel to the solar charger (12 AWG).

You will need three fuses, between the solar panel and the charge controller, between the charge controller and the battery, and between the battery and the inverter.

Follow the diagram below for proper wiring:

Wiring diagram of a DIY solar generator

Final thoughts

Your are now ready to produce green energy anywhere without noice or smoke. Your portable home made power station is compact, easy to handle, safe, maintenance free and will last for years.

To get the most out of your DIY solar generator we recommend you to expose your solar panels to full sun, and add a small ventilator inside the case for cooling purposes.

Dr Metaye has a PhD in chemistry from Ecole Polytechnique, France. He is a renewable energy expert with more than 10 years of experience within the research world. During his career, he supervised more than 150 projects on clean energy. Off-grid smart systems, solar energy, battery and the hydrogen economy are among his specialties.

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