How to Build a Portable Solar Generator for $300

Solar power generator

A portable solar generator is an excellent energy backup option if you need to keep your lights on after a power outage or want to charge your phone on a hiking trip. Also, there are numerous advantages to using portable solar generators over traditional gas-powered generators. This article will explain how solar generators work, weigh their benefits and drawbacks, and help you decide whether a solar generator is a good investment for you.

What exactly is a portable solar generator?

The term solar generator typically refers to a device that combines portable solar panels, a rechargeable battery, a charger, and an inverter to capture, store, and distribute energy from the sun. 

Portable solar generators are popular for boating, RV trips, camping, and emergency backup power sources. 

Unlike a traditional generator, which uses diesel, gas, or propane and includes a fuel tank, engine, and alternator, a portable solar generator has no moving parts. They of four main elements: 

i) Portable Solar Panels– Captures solar energy.

ii) Rechargeable Battery– Stores the energy captured by solar panels.

iii) Solar Charge Controller– Controls how much energy enters the battery.  

iv) Solar Inverter– Converts sunlight energy into usable electricity. 

Hence, a solar generator is a portable battery with PV (photovoltaic) panels attached to absorb the sunlight energy. 

Let’s look at simple methods for building your portable solar generator with minimum cost expenditures.

How to build a portable solar generator

It is not difficult to build a portable generator independently, but you will need a step-by-step guide to avoid risking the system’s efficiency.

Follow these steps to build your portable solar generator.

1) Get yourself a small solar panel

For about $100, you can get a solar panel with 12 volts capacity or higher (16 volts) at an RV or marine supply store or from Greenbatteries store. 

2) Get yourself a rechargeable battery

We recommended eco-friendly rechargeable batteries from green companies such as Green Batteries store and Batteries.com. Get a deep-cycle 12-volt gel or lead-acid battery of any size. You must purchase a deep-cycle battery for designing a solar power generator. Please keep in mind that these batteries are different from automobile batteries. Look for deals; the cheapest ones may cost between $50 and $60. 

3) Purchase a battery box to put the system in it  

It’s essential to cover up all the exposed terminals if you have children in your house. Nevertheless, if you install a system in a cabin, pump shed, or boat, you can skip purchasing the battery box. Also, you will need to buy a 12- volt DC meter, which shouldn’t cost more than $25. 

4) Invest in a DC input

Many people prefer the triple inlet model because it is more convenient and can cost between $10 and $20. Also, it can easily power multiple DC appliances simultaneously, such as fans, hairdryers, one-pint water boilers, baby bottle warmers, lights, and vacuum cleaners. Many answering machines, cassette players, and other electrical devices are already equipped with DC systems and can be powered directly from the box with the proper cable. 

5) Purchase an inverter device

If you want to use AC appliances, you must purchase an inverter. It will convert the battery’s stored DC (Direct Current) power into AC (Alternating current) power for most of your household appliances. The type of inverter you will purchase depends on your power requirements. Calculate the number of watts you’ll be using (for example, if you have a small color television (=60 watts) and a VCR (=22 watts), you will need 82 watts). You can easily find low-cost inverters with capacities ranging from 100 to 3000 at various car products stores.

6) Connect the meter and the DC input

After you’ve assembled all the components for designing a portable solar generator, the next step is to connect the DC input and meter. Using a drill machine, attach the DC input and meter to the top of the box.

7) Connect the meter to the battery’s wingnut terminals with insulated wire

It is the most crucial step in building solar generators, so be sure to take precautionary measures when connecting various parts of the solar generator. First, you need to join the meter and battery’s positive ends, then the negative nodes together. After that, connect the DC inlet to the system battery and solar panels, respectively. 

8) Close the lid

In this last step, close the system lid with the help of a strong cord. Put the portable solar panels in the sun. It takes 5-8 hours to fully charge a dead battery and 1-3 hours to recharge a weak one. It will operate fans, radios, and small wattage lights all night or give you about 4.5 hours of continuous use at 120 volt AC or about one hour to boil water. Furthermore, you can expand this system with larger panels, batteries, and inverters.

Portable solar generators vs. traditional gas power generator

The benefits of solar generators

Investing in a solar power generator is an excellent way to reduce your environmental impact while also reaping numerous other benefits:

i) Portable

Solar generators are ideal for camping, outdoor events, emergencies, and other on-the-go activities because they are typically lighter than traditional gas-powered generators. Some of them even have a luggage-style pull handle to help with portability.

ii) Low maintenance requirements

Traditional emergency generators have moving parts that wear out, resulting in high maintenance costs. On the other hand, solar generators have no moving parts and do not use gas to generate electricity. This design reduces the need for costly repairs. 

iii) Clean energy

Solar generators generate clean, renewable energy that does not impact the environment. Nevertheless, traditional power plants use fossil fuels that contribute to air pollution and global warming. Another advantage of using solar generators is that you do not have to pay for expensive fossil fuels.

iv) Simple operating process

Solar power generators are easy to operate as they do not require fueling, oiling, starting, or maintenance. Just turn the generator on, plug in your devices, and draw energy from it. 

The drawbacks of portable solar generators

There are some drawbacks to using solar generators that you should be aware of before making a purchase:

i) Higher initial investment

Portable solar generators typically require significant upfront costs than traditional generators. However, the operational expenses are lower than conventional generators, so you’ll save money in the long run. 

ii) Reduce energy storage

Solar generators aren’t an excellent option if your power needs are excessively high. For example, during blackouts, your generator may not be able to power all of your home’s devices and appliances. In most situations, they are best for running multiple machines at once, such as a television, lighting, or a refrigerator.

iii) Slower energy production

Solar generators are not a great supplement to instantaneous power than traditional gas-powered generators. If your system’s battery runs out of power, you will need to wait for it to recharge before using your devices and appliances. The time your battery takes to charge completely depends on the weather conditions, and in partially cloudy weather, you will probably be unable to recharge it. In contrast, traditional portable generators require more fuel to produce additional energy or power.

The benefits of traditional generators

Generators powered by fossil fuels have several advantages, including:

i) Portability

Traditional options come in a wide range of sizes, and some are designed specifically for traveling purposes. Also, conventional generators are not as portable as solar generators because they run on fossil fuels.

ii) Familiar technology

Traditional generators have been around for a long time and are widely regarded as a convenient option. However, technological advancements remained insignificant due to a lack of competition. 

iii) On-demand power supply

Traditional generators produce electricity when they receive fuel, whereas solar generators produce electricity only when fully charged. Therefore, gas-powered generators are more convenient when you need immediate power. 

The drawbacks of traditional generators

Despite their widespread popularity, traditional generators have some flaws. Below are the reasons why people are abandoning them:

i) Fuel prices:

Traditional generators use expensive fossil fuels, which raises their long-term costs beyond the initial purchase price. You may also need to pay more to get that fuel if you’re not near a gas station or other fuel source.

ii) Toxic greenhouse gases:

Traditional power plants are notorious for polluting the environment.

Each gallon of diesel contains around 20.35 pounds of CO2 (carbon dioxide), and the average camping generator release about 1-2 pounds of CO2 per hour, even when operating at 1/4 of the maximum rated load.

Aside from carbon dioxide, traditional generators can emit other harmful gases into the air, including nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide, and sulfur oxides.

iii) Noisy operation

As we have all seen, traditional generators produce a lot of noise that indirectly impacts you and your environment. According to research studies, prolonged exposure to these types of noise causes anxiety and deafness. Thus, solar generators are a more efficient power source than traditional generators.

iv) Ongoing upkeep

The generator requires regular maintenance because it uses moving parts to convert fossil fuels into electricity, and those moving parts must be oiled, cleaned, and replaced over time. 

Furthermore, fuel turns black if left unused for an extended period. These ongoing expenses significantly impact the overall cost of owning a traditional gas generator.

What is the best portable solar generator?  

One of the most important things to consider when purchasing a portable solar generator is the battery capacity (or the amount of energy the battery can store). It’s essential because it will help you determine whether or not the generator will address your power requirements. Typically, it’s expressed in watt-hours (Wh). 

The larger the battery’s capacity, the longer it will last. For example, a 1,000 Wh solar generator can power a 70-watt lightbulb for nearly 15 hours! 

The following are some of the best solar generators available on the market:

BrandCapacity in watt-hours (Wh)Price
Goal Zero Yeti 1500, 100-watt Solar Kit1,516 Wh$2,199.95
Point Zero Titan*2,000 Wh$2,995.00
Jackery Explorer*1,002 Wh$999.99
Renogy Phoenix 300 Power Station*337 Wh$399.99

Note: *Solar panels are not included

Most portable solar generators have all the necessary equipment in the battery pack, including charge controllers, inverters, etc. On the other hand, solar panels aren’t standard equipment in all solar generators. Typically, these generators will only include an inverter and a battery. 

Final Verdict

Before purchasing a portable solar generator, be sure to compare the key features of various brands to select one that will match your power needs. Brands such as Goal Zero Yeti, Jackery, and Bluetti produce a wide variety of solar generators to meet your needs. If you’re looking for backup power options, our experts can assist you in understanding the long-term solutions that are best for your electricity needs and system requirements. Get started today with FreeSolarPowerQuotes and contact our professionals to help you calculate your power requirements.  

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