Wanna keep it green when the lights go out or find a way to bring some clean power on your next overland trip? Consider a solar generator. Whether you're installing a PV panel to the roof or you simply plan to tote it around on wheels, these simple parts and steps should help you get the job done.
Join MSO's Jamie L. as he recounts his recent DIY solar generator build. -
I like to think of myself as a handy guy with a do-it-youself attitude.
I decided that I wanted to build a solar generator and although I'm new to solar, this project seemed like a good place to start - it really didn't seem too difficult. With some fairly basic electrical skills and MSO's Jeremy S. to serve as a consultant, I was sure to get the job done.
NOTE: All parts were either ordered online of found locally at an auto parts store.
- Windy Nation 100 Watt Solar Panel Kit - PV panel, 40' wire, solar charge controller, mounting brackets and connectors
- EverStart Maxx Group Size 29 Deep Cycle Marine Battery
- Power on Board 500 watt DC-AC inverter
- Wagan Tech 4 way socket outlet 12V
- Dr. Car Auto Accessories Electric Voltage Meter
- Hopkins 2 flat extension
- 2' submersible marine pump wire
- Any toolbox with wheels
Once you have all the parts purchased it's fairly strait forward to put the pieces together.
First, I cut the plug off the 4 way socket and mounted it to the outside of the tool box with the double sided tape and screws that were included. Then, I drilled a hole through the tool box to run the wires and installed battery terminal connectors on wire ends so that they could be mounted to the battery posts.
I mounted the solar charge controller to the outside of the toolbox and drilled a hole to run the wires through box; I'd later hook these up to the battery. Using the marine pump wire and cutting back the third ground wire, I connected the controller to the battery. I installed connectors on the wire ends that attached to the battery posts and connected the positive and negative leads to the controller.
I ran a short piece of wire to the controller’s positive and negative terminals that would go to the PV panel. Then, I cut the Hopkins 2 flat extension in half and attached it to the end of the short wire that runs to the PV panel; positive to positive and negative to negative. I used wire nuts and electrical tape for now but will go back later and find a different type of connector to attach them. I repeated this process on the end of the PV panel wire so that I could hook up the panel to the controller and charge the battery. This would ensure that I had a quick disconnect so I don’t have to drag the PV panel around with the tool box.
I mounted the inverter into the tray that is in the top of the tool box. The inverter connects to the battery with two spring loaded jumper cable style clips. I used a couple of long bolts and nuts to attach it so that the connection is solid. I attached wires to the back of the inverter and ran the wires to the battery. I routed the wires through the hole in the bottom of the tray where the handle is and hooked them up to the battery.
Finally, I installed the other end of the Hopkins 2 flat extension on the PV panel wire ends, positive to positive and negative to negative. I fastened the MC4 connectors on the other wire ends and connected them to the panel. If you look at the ends of the wires you can figure out which one goes to positive and negative. Here's a tips - look at the back of the PV panel; the wires are labeled as positive and negative. This will help when putting on the MC4 connectors.
Currently, I've got the solar generator on my back porch. It faces southwest at about 238 degrees and it gets sun from about 11:00 am until sundown. This should be plenty with that 100 watt panel. For maximum solar gain, 180 degrees south will yield the best results.
If I build another solar generator or redo this one I'd probably opt for a different tool box; maybe something a little more rigid. The battery is heavy and the box I used doesn’t seem to handle the weight well.
Also, I'll probably hunt out some better connectors for all of my wiring. I used what I had laying around to get the project done.
The PV panel itself is great along with the parts I ordered.
All said, I spent less than $400 on everything; the panel, battery and inverter being the most expensive. Look for deals online, be patient and save the most money.
Amped to be using my new solar generator,