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Last Updated on March 4, 2021
The sun rises every morning. Even when there’s thick clouds, heavy rain, or snow blizzards, the sun is still rising each day, casting light onto the Earth. It is one of the few certainties in life. It’s also not going anywhere, or at least, not during our lifetimes, or those of the next thousand generations after us.
The light it casts down on us is unlimited. It is not going to just run out while we wait for it to re-charge, we can’t use it all up, and it doesn’t belong to anyone. The sun is just there, every day. Trying to use the sun’s rays to generate energy for the people on our planet makes infinite sense.
It is natural. After all, it is what plants have been using for millenia. So why shouldn’t we join in? The part that can seem more tricky is knowing how to use that energy. That’s where we come in. We’ve put together this guide so that you can learn how to build a solar generator. Don’t worry, it’s not as tricky as it sounds. As long as you prepare yourself well before you start, there’s no reason why you can’t build your own generator.
We’re going to take you through all the basics that you need to know for your solar generator, from basic safety information, to the parts you need to buy, to how to put it together. But first off, let’s take a look at why you should build a solar generator in the first place, and how it actually works.
Why build a solar generator?
As we’ve already mentioned above, solar power is a constant source of energy, that is both free and reliable. Okay, so it’s not reliable on a day-to-day basis for a lot of places, particularly the northern states, but it is reliable in terms of how it is never going to run out.
This is distinctly different to the fossil fuel energies that are still so prevalent in our society. Fossil fuels are having to be dug up from deeper and deeper underground, because we have already used up all the easy-to-use fuel sources. They are also all owned by huge corporations who have no interest in providing free energy.
In contrast, a solar powered generator should last for years, we’re talking decades. They recoup the energy required to make them in around a year, and then they don’t emit any greenhouse gases. And the only fuel source you need will be up in the sky from morning to night.
Plus it’s safer than gas-powered energy, if you are looking to have a generator nearby. But if you’re reading this article then you probably know a lot of the benefits of solar power.
So why build your own generator? Firstly, it is a great chance to understand how it works. This means that you can easily fix any repairs, making it an even more long-term investment. It’s also fun to build, and can be a great activity for the whole family to join in with, especially if kids want to learn more about science and energy.
Plus, the sense of satisfaction from building your own energy supply is pretty immense. But if that’s not enough reasons for you, we’ve got some more concrete ones.
When you purchase a ready-made solar generator, you have to take what you can get. And it can be pretty pricey too. But when you make your own solar generator, you get to customise it for your own needs.
This means that you can make it far more powerful, you can have all the different outputs you need, and you can choose the parts yourself, so it doesn’t need to be over-priced either. Plus you can check the quality of each part when you are buying it, so you can make sure that you’ll have a top-notch generator at the end.
How do solar-powered generators work?
Solar power converts sunlight into electricity. The sunlight is a form of electromagnetic radiation that arrives at Earth full of energy potential. Solar panels act as semiconductors, which become less resistive as they heat up. When the sunlight hits the panels, the photovoltaic effect occurs, which converts the light into electricity.
This conversion is known as Photovoltaic, or PV. However, as it is not sunny every day, and we often need power at night time too, you need to be able to store the energy too. That is where the generator comes into play.
It means that the sunlight sort of charges up the generator, so that you can use it whenever you need, and in safe quantities. This might all sound very technical, and in a way it is almost like magic the way sunlight can turn into a phone charger, but luckily, building the generator is a much simpler process. So, let’s take a look at the building process.
How to build a solar generator – DIY
Building a solar generator is not as difficult as you might fear. However, it is still a serious task and should be treated responsibly. That’s why we will first take you through some basic safety points, before looking at what your needs are, the equipment you’ll need to purchase, the preparatory sizing you’ll need to do, and then how to put it all together.
Basic safety points
As we mentioned above, building a solar-powered generator is a serious business. You will be handling dangerous tools, and need to make sure that you take all the proper precautions. These precautions include, but are not limited to, the following:
Firstly, wear protective equipment. This includes safety glasses and earplugs. You also need to make sure that you are not wearing any jewelry or loose clothing that could get caught in the tool.
Secondly, make sure that all your tools are in good working order. You need to make sure that you have the right tools for each task, or you could end up hurting yourself, and make sure that you have read the manual so that you know how to use them too.
Having the right tools includes having a clear and clean workspace too. Keep the wires away from where they can be tripped on, and make sure you have sufficient space to do the task at hand. And make sure that you are not overloading any power outlets.
Whenever you are working with the solar panel itself, make sure that it is covered up. You wouldn’t work on a power source with it still being switched on, so make sure that the panel can’t get its power from the sun either. It sounds simple but you need to be careful.
Also, you need to consider the safety of the solar panel itself. Given that it will be running off sunlight, there is a good chance that the panel will often be in a hot environment or placed in direct sunlight. This means that it will be heating up and will probably need a battery cooling system to be built in too, to prevent the generator from overheating.
Work out the power requirements
Okay, so one of the main things that you need to work out before you start, is what you will be using your solar generator for. Will you be using it for power in case of outages, like we’ve just seen in Texas? Will you be using it for tailgating? Or will it be going out with you and the RV or your boat?
From there, you’ll be able to think about what sort of appliances you want to run off the energy. They can be wildly different. For instance, recharging your smartphone takes around 6W, or playing a radio will be around 5W.
Then you’ve got things like a fan, that will be 10-50W, or a TV that will be about 150W. In contrast, a coffee machine is going to need around 1000W, and a toaster or fridge will require around 1200W.
So if you start to think about when you will be using it, you can start to work out what sort of appliances you will be running, and how much energy you need it to provide. Bear in mind that a higher wattage should help it to store energy faster too, but it will become heavier and more expensive too.
Buy the components
Okay, so the next step is to buy all the components that you’ll need to construct the solar powered generator. As we highlighted above, you can pick the components that will best meet your needs, so that your generator can work for you. But here are some of the basics that you’ll need:
Firstly, as we mentioned in the safety section, you’ll need to have the right tools. This includes an automatic wire stripper with the cutter, a set of screwdrivers, a hot glue gun, a cordless drill, a utility knife and files.
In terms of the components to build it, the main thing you’ll need, of course, is a solar panel. It’s worth keeping in mind how you’ll want to use your generator as if you’ll want it to be portable, a larger panel might not be suitable, or you might want to consider a foldable panel.
Next up, you’ll need a battery for storing solar energy. For this, you need to make sure that it can cope with absorbing and releasing energy on a daily basis.
Not all batteries are suitable for this type of daily use. You also need to make sure that it has a long-life, with a warranty of at least ten years. That should really help to increase the longevity of your solar-powered generator.
Other items that you’ll need to purchase include a solar charge controller, a deep-cycle lead-acid with a long life-span, a battery maintainer, an AC power inlet with an extension cord, a power inverter (with multiple outlet ports for all your devices), and a container.
You’ll probably want to make sure that the container has wheels, to make sure that your generator is portable, and that it is weather resistant, so that it can withstand the heat and in case it gets left out in the rain.
Then you need to test all the parts before you get started, to make sure that it all works before it is put together.
Building the generator
Okay so this is the part where you need to put it all together. It will be worth you checking a number of different manuals, to find the guide that best suits you and the specifications that you’ve gone for. But whichever guide you go for, the first step will be to mark and cut the pieces.
You can use masking tape when you are marking it, so that you don’t leave marks on the actual generator. This should help you to work out the spacing and placements, as well as the waterproofing and mounting. Once you have it all marked out, you can begin to make the cuts. And remember, if in doubt, always cut the holes smaller than you might think, so that you can then file them to the size you need.
Next up, you’ll need to mount all the different parts together using hot glue. It is best to do this pragmatically. As the battery is the heaviest component, it will need to go on the bottom, and it is best to make it closer to the case wheels. Make sure that it is well supported in all directions, and it will remain portable. Remember that lithium batteries contract and expand when they charge and release, so you need to compensate for that with foam pads.
Once you have it all correctly assembled, the only thing left is for you to put it in a sunny spot and start generating your own sustainable power supply. You’ll be able to start charging and running your appliances in no time. It really is better to be safe than sorry, and this way you’ll always have a power supply to hand. This is the energy of the future.
Editor’s Note: If you don’t have time to DIY a solar generator or want one with more power, we recommend you get a new one from a trusted brand. Check out our Best Solar Generator Review & Buying Guide to learn more!