Some preppers and off-gridders will opt for a solar generator to produce electricity for their homes, but they may have trouble putting one and one together if they don’t buy a ready-to-use kit. If you want to buy the components and build your own solar generator, this article will help you figure out the basics.
Solar versus internal-combustion generators
When it comes to creating electrical power for preppers, a silent solar generator is always better than a quiet non-solar generator. The noise produced by an internal combustion engine-powered generator announces that you have power and fuel, whereas the majority of others do not.
So, in addition to being free of the need for fossil fuels, silence is a compelling argument to consider a solar generator.
I write from personal experience as the owner of both power generation technologies. And if you’re not mechanically or electrically inclined, the following article may be especially useful for you.
You might buy a complete solar generator, but making your own provides several advantages. The process of selecting and assembling components gives hands-on maintenance expertise that demystifies the finished product and allows you to acquire just what you want.
Although you will need to become acquainted with certain technical information, the actual construction of a system is not as difficult as you may have imagined. Of course, if you don’t live in an area that gets enough sun exposure, this may not be a practical choice, and you might consider using an internal-combustion generator.
The system’s requirements are determined by its usage
It is pretty simple to determine your need for a generator’s power output.
Make a list of the lights, devices, and appliances you use frequently. It should be noted that some appliances, such as refrigerators, demand more watts at startup than they do during normal use.
Take this into consideration during your evaluation. Each gadget will have a label specifying the number of watts it consumes or its voltage and amperage requirements, which can be used to calculate the wattage.
Add the wattages together to get your generator’s rating. You probably don’t run all of these things at the same time, so pay attention to those you do and take note of the combination with the highest demand.
The components you choose will be determined by their intended application; therefore be conservative when assessing your requirements. You’ll need one type of solar generator to charge your laptop and another to provide whole-house backup power.
Consider the following examples to determine your electrical power requirements.
Power consumption of various household devices
Manufacturers specify the output power rating of a conventional or solar generator in watts, as shown below:
- 250 watts or less: This solar generator is ideal for small domestic appliances, personal gadgets, battery chargers, televisions, DVD players, PCs, and small office equipment, as well as LED lights. A 12-volt plug is used to connect several devices.
- 500 watts: This power rating is appropriate for bigger household items such as large stereos, countertop cooking appliances, and power tools. For powering gadgets, most feature two grounded receptacles.
- 1,500 watts: This solar generator is suitable for most home appliances, bigger power tools, and incandescent lighting. Some systems have wheels, which greatly increases their portability and adaptability.
- 3,000 watts: Suitable for various household and workplace appliances. These generators typically have enormous battery banks as well as several grounded receptacles.
Understanding the electrical terms
Understanding generator specifications will be easier if you are familiar with a few electrical terms.
AC: AC is an electric current that, at regular intervals, reverses direction in a circuit. AC electricity that flips direction 60 times per second is generally supplied through household receptacles.
Ampere (amp): A standard unit of measurement for electrical current in a conductor. One amp represents the passage of approximately 6 billion electrons per second.
DC: The continuous flow of electricity in one direction through a conductor is referred to as direct current. DC is used in batteries and vehicles.
Volt: A unit of measurement for electric potential. In most American homes, standard outlets are wired to produce 110 to 120 volts. Most electric dryers, stoves, and other appliances require 220 to 240 volts.
Watt: An electrical power unit. As a quick example, incandescent light bulbs are rated by watts to specify their brightness. Watts are calculated by multiplying voltage and amperage.
Learning about the components
Solar generators, like traditional internal combustion engine-powered generators, have components that work as a system. Except for the panels, my system is housed in a tough polymer case with wheels that allows it to be moved as needed.
A device that converts direct current (DC) from a photovoltaic panel (12-, 24-, or 48-volts DC) to alternating current (120- or 240-volts AC) to be used in powering household appliances and tools.
A good inverter is at least 90% efficient. Inverters that are more expensive produce real sine wave electricity, but most generators produce modified sine wave electricity.
When there is insufficient sunshine for the photovoltaic panels to power an appliance or circuit, one or more batteries (12-, 24-, or 48-volts DC) store and give power. Look for a generator that can charge both the battery and power a device, tool, or appliance.
Batteries range from low-cost lead-acid (automotive type) through low-maintenance AGM (absorbed glass mat) to newer and more expensive LiFePo4 batteries (lithium-ferro-phosphate).
In addition to employing photovoltaic (PV) panels to charge the batteries, hooking the generator into a 120V AC household socket and using a battery charger are two more ways to charge the battery when the sun isn’t shining.
Note: Do not use lead-acid battery conventional chargers with LiFePo4 batteries and vice versa.
Determine whether the battery is regular or deep-cycle when replacing it. The former is a regular vehicle battery, whereas the latter is heavy-duty (like those used in golf carts and larger US military trucks) and can tolerate more charge-discharge cycles.
This equipment monitors and directs the direct current voltage (DC voltage) from the photovoltaic panel(s) to charge the batteries or power a device or appliance plugged into a generator receptacle.
The controller protects the batteries from being overcharged, which can shorten or destroy the life of your batteries.
Photovoltaic (PV) panels transform sunlight into direct current to charge the batteries. These come in a variety of sizes and shapes, ranging from small flexible units to big, ground- or roof-mounted panels. It goes without saying that the more panels you have, the more power you can produce.
Additional features to consider
When you decide to buy a solar generator system or the components to make your own, there are additional features you might want to consider for your system.
Do you require the be able to relocate your system to another location or perhaps move it to multiple locations?
Do you want to carry it, roll it like carry-on luggage, or pull it behind your car?
If that’s the case and you need your solar generator to be portable, weight and bulk become crucial issues you need to consider.
When comparing generators and costs, make sure that if you want to purchase a complete system, it contains all four components. With solar generators prices varying from $100 for a foldable camping solar generator to $10,000 or more for complete systems with multiple PV panels. You will need to study the market and check various components or turnkey systems to make the best decision.
Before you decide on certain systems or various components, you should also learn a thing or two about the efficiency of off-grid systems to help clear the way. In those rare times when I get to speak with people on the subject of renewable energy, questions about system efficiency always come up. To figure out how efficient solar generators actually are, I advise you to read this article:
It’s good to have options
There are options to power 12- or 24-volt DC devices with automotive-type auxiliary power plugs, conventional household plugs to power 120- or 240-volt AC devices, or USB-friendly connectors.
Putting the system together
Because component terminals are labeled for easier identification, connecting the system pieces is a simple and straightforward process.
If you purchase all of the components from the same source, a customer care specialist will answer your questions and help you through the process. Go online to find and research solar-generator components and turnkey systems vendors.
Stephen Harris has written this article for Prepper’s Will.
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