Buying your own solar generator might feel like one of those things that you must do when getting started with solar-powered home systems, but the truth is that if you are dedicated, then you can build your own solar generator for a lot less.
The most interesting bit is that you would be able to build different types of solar generators, for your use and for powering up your appliances when you are off the grid, and all you need to do is to let your creativity shine. You, however, also need some technical skills to ensure that the generator you come up with actually works.
Below, we’ll look at how to create a powerful solar generator. Some components might be a little pricier, but that is only because we are looking at the process you could use to come up with a large, weatherproof solar generator, ideal for use for outdoorsy individuals and survivalists.
What do you need to get started and the steps for building an affordable solar generator?
- Testing components
- Mounting of the internal and the external components
- Wiring your solar generator
- Installing the Plexiglas cover
- Expansion of the solar panel and the battery bank (optional).
Note that you can adjust the components here, depending on your needs and budget.
Main components needed for building your solar generator
A rugged case (preferable one from a trusted brand like Pelican). Since you are building a portable solar generator, you’d need this rugged case because it is weatherproof and waterproof, it has sturdy hands, and the best part is that it comes with rolling wheels. With all these features, you can take the case and the generator anywhere because the case would be able to take on a significant amount of abuse.
AC Inverter (2000W/ 3000W/ or 6000W)
Get an inverter size that matches your needs. An inverter is necessary for the conversion of the direct current generated by the solar panels into the alternating current used by your appliances and other electric devices.
If you need an inverter to take camping or tailgating for more than a few days or weeks at a time, you must choose an inverter than allows you to run most, if not all, of your appliances fully and with ease.
For example, a 3000W inverter would easily power a 15Amp power outlet with ease. This inverter comes with a power switch that can be mounted remotely and to the side of the case. It also features the main fuse and the gauge battery cables.
The solar panel (100W) and the charger kit
Opt for a high-quality solar panel, preferably a monocrystalline solar panel, because it’s more efficient and durable. The solar panel comes with a solar charger (30A), as well as solar cables (MC4), that are quite easy to install.
Battery (Deep-Cycle Battery)
You need a deep-cycle battery because this battery discharges the battery power at night or on the short high power loads, and you won’t have to worry about the battery’s life being shortened. This type of battery is also advantageous because it has the standard top posts and the threaded posts, which allow for easy connection. And you can mount this battery in whichever orientation, lying down or in an upright position while in use.
Below are the steps you need to follow:
Testing your components
It is a good idea to check and confirm that all the electronic components purchased actually work and that they’d fit in your case. Counterchecking also makes sure that you don’t have any defective components in your system.
You need to check the solar panel, inverter, battery, charger kit, the onboard battery charger, the port plug, and the work lights.
Testing the solar panel and the charger controller – connect the + cable from the solar panel goes to the + on the controller (one showing the solar panel.
After hooking up these pigtails, next, hook temporary wires from the controller to the batteries by loosening up the next 2 ports then slide the red wire to the positive side the close/ tighten up the port.
Take the other end of the wire and snug it under the positive terminal of the battery. Repeat the connection for the black wires. If the connection is accurate, the green light will come on on the controller showing that the battery is charged.
Next, take the long leads on your panel, flip the panel allowing it to face the light then connect the panel’s pigtails to the charger controller’s pigtails. Again, make sure that positive cables go into the positive slot, and the negative goes to the negative slot. As long as there’s sunlight hitting the panel, another green light will light up next to the first, and this means that the panel is charging the battery.
Next up, time to test the inverter. For this, you need the inverter plus the 2 mounting cables. Take the plastic covers off the inverter’s terminals, then loosen the nuts using a wrench, and remove the nut and the washer, and repeat this on the other side.
Fix the red cable to the red terminal the put back the washer and the locknut for a good connection. Lock it back down snugly and put back the protective plastic cover.
Do the same for the opposite (negative) side, keeping the switch off. Connect the positive inverter cable to the positive side of the battery and the negative to the negative. If everything is working as it should, blue light should come on when you switch on the inverter. There should be another switch on the side, which will turn blue also, with a battery voltage display.
Then fix an appliance directly to one of the inverter’s outlets to determine if it’s working or not. The appliance should work as expected.
Don’t forget to test the remote switch – connect one end to the inverter and the other to the remote switch. It should have a green light, and the appliance should run.
Lastly, test the float charger for plugging into a standard AC power cord. Fix its pigtails to the battery – positive to positive, negative to negative, to the maintainer. It will be red if working. The red light shows that it’s charging, and if connected to the wall outlet and it has a green light, it shows that the systems are working well. Test the lights by connecting the wires to the battery.
Mounting the interior and exterior components
This requires a little more work, and you need to use masking tape to mark the initials without leaving permanent marks on your case. Trace all the components – most of these components come with a flange for easy mounting and waterproofing.
Some of the tools that you need to cut the right spots include a rotary cutting blade, a pneumatic die grinder for adjusting and trimming the holes, a plunge-cutting blade, and drill bits or hole saws for the rounder holes.
Once the holes are cut, test fit your LED floodlights, the 2 switches, voltage gauge pod/ 12V socket/ USB. Make sure that they are all fitting perfectly. Once they are all in, you need to put a small bead of the black RTV silicone sealant all around the edges of your components to help keep the sealant weatherproof. Let the silicone cure then place your components in their respective spots, one after the other. Note that the lights will be secured by the socket head bolts and the hardware the lights come with. Then the battery gauge will be secured by the 3 threaded collars that come with it.
For the toggle switches, just push them into the drilled holes and rotate them until they are in an upright position. They should stay in place from the built-in pressure clips. Add some hot glue for extra reinforcement.
Repeat these steps for all the other components. Don’t overtighten and make use of RTV sealant to secure in place the self-tapping screws for the inverter’s control panel. Note that overtightening may result in the crushing of the control panel’s edge.
To finally weatherproof the case, you need heavier machine bolts for the GFCI outlet and the cover. You need a hole for your AC outlet and for the GFCI receptacle to fit perfectly. So, drill your mounting holes at the metal tabs to go through the case. Widen the holes if necessary, pre-wire the whole system, then bolt everything together and install.
The wiring cables that would work well are the 12-3 standard electrical cables and the standard AC 3 prong male plugs on the other end to connect the inverter. You need about 4-5 inches of the wire to go beyond the GFCI outlet or more, depending on the placement of the inverter.
During the wiring process for the GFCI outlet, you need to ensure that you are attaching the ground wire (this is the solid copper or the green insulated wire) right to the screw located a the bottom edge/ green tint, and the white wires fixed to the place labeled Neutral/ silver-colored, then the black wire to the Hot-labeled screw/ brass-colored screw. Ignore the screws at the outlet, the ones with the warning sticker. And just like that, you are done with wiring. The only thing that remains is to thread your 2 #10-24 replacement bolts through the cover, outlet tables, and the holes on the pelican case. Secured the bolts on the inside with a washer and the spring-lock washer, plus the 10-24 nut. Make sure everything fits tight and snug, and the spring washer fitted snugly.
The next steps include mounting the solar panel and the high-current connector.
Finally, mount the solar generator’s battery in the case, at the back edge. Place the inverter at the front to balance off the weight. The battery sits in any orientation.
Once fixed, mount the inverter, the controller, and the battery maintainer.
Building the solar generator isn’t as complicated as it sounds, but be ready for some real hard work when it comes to handling the holes for the components. Don’t forget to countercheck the positioning of the components.