How to Make a Solar Power Generator for less than $300
Using parts easily available from the internet and your local stores, you can make a small solar power generator for $250 to $300. Great for rolling blackouts, life outside the power grid, or the coming zombie apocalypse. Power your computer, modem, dvd, tv, cameras, lights, fans, or DC appliances anywhere you go. Use in cabins, boats, tents, archaeological digs, or while travelling throughout the third world. Have one in the office store room in case of power failures in your highrise. I keep mine in my bedroom where it powers my music, lights, dvd player, laptop, and (ahem) a back massager. I run a line out the window to an 8" x 24" panel on the roof. This is the smallest simplist set-up practical for daily use. It saves me about five dollars a month off my electric bill. It also saves the environment. (Do you know that most of the electricity coming out of your wall socket is generated by coal? ) All of the parts you need can be bought from Amazon.com or the merchants linked to this page for your convenience.
1. Buy (or make) yourself a small solar panel. For about $100 you should be able to get one rated at 12 volts or better (look for 16 volts) at an RV or marine supplies store or from Earthtech or Solar Sphere.
2. Buy yourself a battery. We recommend rechargeable batteries from this green company: Greenbatteries Store. Get any size deep cycle 12 volt lead/acid or gel battery. You need the deep cycle battery for continuous use. The kind in your car is a cranking battery--just for starting an engine. Look for bargains. The more amps, the more expensive. Figure out how many amps you need (see FAQ'S). Twenty amps is a good estimate of what a one-room home with a family of five would need. The cheapest ones should cost about $50-60. Schools and health care facilities would need amps in the hundreds.
3. Get a battery box to put it in for $10. (This is good for covering up the exposed terminals in case there are children about If you going to install the system in a pump shed, cabin, or boat, skip this.)
3. Buy a 12 volt DC meter This will help you monitor the charge in your battery. Discharging it below 50% can damage it. Overcharging it can damage it. Keeping it at about 80%-90% charge will keep your battery well for a long time.
4. Buy a DC input. I like the triple inlet model which you can find at a car parts store in the cigarette lighter parts section for about $10. This is enough to power DC appliances, and there are many commercially available, like fans, one-pint water boilers, lights, hair dryers, baby bottle warmers, and vacuum cleaners. Many cassette players, answering machines, and other electrical appliances are DC already and with the right cable will run straight off the box.
5. But if you want to run AC appliances, you will have to invest in an inverter. This will convert the stored DC power in the battery into AC power for most of your household appliances. I bought a 115 volt 140 watt inverter for $50 fifteen years ago--it still works. The prices have actually dropped on inverters. Count up the number of watts you'll be using (e.g., a small color television(=60 watts) with a VCR(=22 watts), you'll need 82 watts. Cheap inverters of many sizes can be had online.
6. Use a drill to attach the meter and DC input to the top of the box.
7. Use insulated wire to attach the meter to the wingnut terminals on the battery. Connect the negative (-) pole first. Only handle one wire at a time. Connect the DC inlet to the battery in the same way. Connect the solar panel to the battery in the same way.
8. Close the lid (I use a bungee cord to keep it tight). Put the solar panel in the sun. It takes 5-8 hours to charge a dead battery; 1-3 hours to top off a weak one. It will run radios, fans, and small wattage lights all night, or give you about 5 hours of continuous use at 115 volt AC, or about an hour boiling water. This system may be added on to with larger panels, inverters, and batteries.
Options: A pop-up circuit breaker may be added between the positive terminal and the volt meter. Some of you will want an ampmeter as well. The panels I recommend have built-in bypass diodes, but I recommend charge controllers for people who have panels without diodes. Another option is a voltage regulator, which is not necessary for a system this small, but a larger system would require one.
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