Picture of D.I.Y. Solar Setup.
12volt Fridge.JPG
This instructable will tell you how I went about building a 12v Solar setup to run my Air Cooler during our hot Summer and a 12v 120 litre Fridge/Freezer during the cooler months.

It will include some of the things I got right and the things I got wrong while building my "Sun Suckers".

Please keep in mind that I am not qualified in this area and that my methods were based on a "research then trial and error" system.
Please use the ideas presented as a guide and improve on them wherever you can.

I won't be covering "in detail" panel building as such but will include helpful stuff (mostly discovered by the afore mentioned "trial and error' ) that wasn't covered in the many panel building Instructables and articles I read while doing my research.

Step 1: Learning. Think beyond today.

Picture of Learning. Think beyond today.
If you spend as much time as I did scouring the web for every bit of information available you'll probably get as confused as I did at first.
There's a lot of good info out there but there's a lot of rubbish too.
As a rule of thumb the greater the number of people say something, the more likely it is to be correct. Usually. But not always.

There are already some "Instructables" on panel building on this and other sites that contain credible and very useful information.

Very few of the articles etc. that I read, however, pointed out the life expectancy of the Solar Cells you'll be using versus the materials used in constructing the DIY panels.
The first Solar cells ever made still produce electricity and look likely to continue doing so for many years to come!
A piece of painted plywood used to mount your Cells on, on the other hand, will have a very limited lifespan under the hot conditions inside a panel.

Most articles I read are concerned with building panels "on the cheap" as I did.
I built more than 300 watts of panels, all on plywood.
I will eventually need to somehow remove the Cells from the plywood and rebuild the panels on something more substantial, not sure what ( or how ) yet....maybe aluminium or Tedlar? Not a job I'm looking forward to but all part of a fairly steep learning curve.

Think outside the square and make Google your friend. A search of "solar panel backing" returned 98000 results including this one.. http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/08/cotton-castor-beans-combined-solar-panel-bio-backsheet.php

My advice......research thoroughly then do it once and do it right.
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ppereira141 year ago

I was looking for a higher capacity Solar System (400W or more). I found a really nice instructable. Heres a linkhttp://www.instructables.com/id/Apartment-Solar-System/

Why pay a huge amount like $1000's for utilization of solar or wind power when you can have the opportunity to build your own home made solar system for less than $200. You can Learn more on http://inplix.com

Countryone2 years ago
Anyone with knowledge on off grid solar setups? Looking for quality 2,500 -3,000 watt range inverter.... PLEASE if know of one that's not thousands of dollars tell me! Thanks
Look at Xantrex ProWatt 2000. Mine has worked for years and was $340ish via West Marine.
Akmal2502 years ago
hi, thank you for your great information
i need to some details for solar system
first one
bulb -10
fans -04
Air conti-01

how many watt this want?
but this also 220V .
please tell me
Rob Patterson (author)  Akmal2502 years ago
Hi Akmal;
18 watt high efficiency light bulbs produce the equivalent to 60 watt incandescent so 10 of them = 180 watts.
My multi speed house fan uses 50 watts x 4 = 200 watts.
My 22 inch LCD TV uses 65 watts.
A refrigerator, when the compressor is running, uses between 200 and 500 watts depending on size and energy rating.
An air conditioner will use up to 6000 watts depending on its size. Have a look at my instructable "How I Use The Sun To Cool My House" for ideas on converting a 240 volt electricity guzzler to a 12 volt very efficient unit.
Please note that you will lose some of your panels output when running 12 volts through a 12v to 220v inverter.
I hope this is of some help Akmal.
Best regards.
I have researched over the internet and found a informative blog
where an American Engineer Explain everything about Solar Panel
Look through his Blog about DIY Solar Panels
eowens3 years ago
http://www.thebackshed.com/Windmill/articles/OzSolarPanels.asp This is the only site I have seen that shows how to build pro quality panels for the diy'er.
On line with your statements that the materials make the difference if the budget allows you should consider going to Anderson Powerpole gear for the power distribution. I use them on my ham radio gear (20+amp draw on full power) and set my father up when he wired his sailboat. They are low resistance and can handle more power and larger wires than your standard pc-molex connectors and are easier to insulate from the environment. They also have products such as a pre-made bus for linking multiple things into a single backbone. If I were building one of these for long term I would definitely look into these.
cararta3 years ago
A lot of interesting work. I need really detailed instructions. I'm setting up a website about Solar to help spread the word. We need to get off our duffs and get this done. Depending on unfriendly other countries for our energy is out. You can check it out at http://skippersbestbuy.com/ . Found a guy from Minnesota who is selling plans for solar and wind....says it cost him less than three months electric bill to quit paying an electric bill and have the electric company begin paying him....Cararta
Rob Patterson (author)  cararta3 years ago
Hi carata;
People make some unrealistic claims about how cheaply you can convert to solar power....like the "less than 3 months electricity bills" claim.
As for grid tied DIY solar....I'm not sure that would be possible. The safety issues would most likely prevent it. Nothing wrong with a "stand alone" setup like mine where the panels charge a bank of batteries. Independence is a nice thing, especially when the grid goes down and your air cooler is the only one working on a 45 C (108 Fahrenheit) day
Whatever the cost we Do need to get off our duffs and get it done regardless of where we live and who our fossil fuels come from.
Here in Aus there's a big stink at the moment because our government has done the right thing and put a price on carbon emissions as a step down the road to ending our reliance on fossil fuels and turning to clean, green energy sources.
Selfish people do tend to make the most noise.
Email me at heppycamper@dodo.com with any more inquiries.
Best regards.
caarntedd4 years ago
This is a good detailed instructable. I've been thinking about offsetting some of my power bill with a system that isn't tied to the grid and supplies the air con or fridge or hot water or something. I know there must be a better way than buying the commercial stuff. Thanks.

Where are you located in country NSW?
Rob Patterson (author)  caarntedd4 years ago
Hi caarntedd;
Thanks for your positive comment.
I'm in Bethungra, a little village in the Southwest slopes.
It is most satisfying building panels and supplying even a fraction of your own energy.
It becomes even more satisfying on a 45 deg C day when the power grid goes down and your aircon is the only one working!
Go for it.
If you're interested I have sets of cells for sale that will make nice 150 watt panels.
Best regards.
LVGene5 years ago
Credits from your supplier?  .. ummmm  You really need to KNOW what your LOCAL power company policies are. 

Personally I would ask for everything on paper.  No Telephone calls.

Rob Patterson (author)  LVGene5 years ago
Hi LVGene;
In my area of Australia the govt has set a price (60 cents) per unit (kilowatt hour) that the suppliers must pay you for the power you produce.
To the question of Grid tied or Battery.......
The answer is Both, if possible. It's quite satisfying to be sitting in the cool comfort of your "solar" aircon or grabbing a cold beer out of your "Solar" fridge during a blackout on a 45 deg C summer day. If you go solely grid tied you lose this flexibility and when the grid goes down so do you.
Good going Rob..  But as I wrote in the above message.  You need to check with your local power companies to see what is going on. 

Sounds like I need to live in AU.  Here in Las Vegas NV USA.. we are paying nearly the highest price for power in the US.  1.21 per KWH.  

Because of medical problems.. I have a very hard time with the HEAT.  Last years power for my home and A/C was over $500 USD a month!!   Inside we kept the temp around 77.


I bought my friend a Wind Turbine (missouriwindandsolar  -dot- com) for around $700.   It is a 1000 Watt (up to 1400 watt) Custom LOW WIND turbine. (how cool is that!)  Going to set it up on his Rural property and see how good it really is.  $700 is a very low price for such a turbine! 

If his performs well over the next 6 plus months.  I'll see about installing one on my home here in Vegas.   I live very NORTH here in the Valley.  We get a lot of wind up here.  So the investment = returns should be better than solar.  The only problem is maintenance.   Solar when grid tied is usually maintenance free.

Thanks for the reply.

cboz LVGene4 years ago
Hello LV Gene,

How has the wind turbine been performing? It been almost six months.

Any info would be appreciated
LVGene cboz4 years ago
Man.. so much for the Holidays. Sorry for the really late reply!

The wind turbine continues to work AOK.

Unfortunately the way its wired up.. (there are solar panels on another circuit) I'm not able to see how much power it brings in.

I'd like to add that any owner would most likely have to:

Do a close visual inspection of the turbine. Make sure all the nuts are still tight. And re-grease it. At least once a year.

Our air conditioner finally died in November 2011. We got an incredible DEAL at only $6500 installed. Costco was hawking a place that wanted almost twice as much for less. Go Costco huh?

Since the replacement.. Our power bills have dropped to the lowest they have ever been. It isn't summer yet.. I'm sure that we will be nearly HALF of what it was last year. $$$$$ SAVE MONEY check your existing air conditioner.. etc.

I really want to move into an EARTHSHIP home. Check that out. earthship.com. No utility bills. Totally off grid.

If our finances come together.. me and the wife may do that. Get the hell out of Vegas and move to Taos NM.
Rob Patterson (author)  LVGene5 years ago
Hi Gene;
The wind turbine was a bargain and probably the best gift ever!
Is it up and running yet? I'd like to know how it performs.
I bought a 300-500 watt Chinese built one a year or so ago but failed to take into account the wind turbulence where I lived. It needs an even breeze to perform at its best.
I'll get it set up one day.... somewhere.
Cheers Gene.

Hi Rob, You might be interested in this VAWT Jaycar (Aus) now sell (cat MG-4570 $400), it's really meant for 4WD and camping but could work as a small home system. It's only 50W but being VAWT wind disturbances have little effect. I'm getting one when I save up a bit. : )

Man I am SO SORRY for not getting back to U sooner.  I've been either SICK.. laid up in bed for weeks.  Or crazy busy.  In fact I'm running out the door for a frantic 7 day business trip.

We did Indeed get the 1000 low wind turbine up and running.

It went up just as advertised.  The sellers are pretty unique.. AND their product is what it is.  In this case you DO get what you pay for.  That aside..  It is a very GOOD low wind generator!  It "Does the job" that much higher cost generators do.  I highly recommend it.. if you follow their (crummy) instructions to the letter.  Use their suggested Welding cable (remember I'm not a tech person) etc.

My friend who I gifted it to.. is going to replace the wire (he was trying to save money piecing together several wires.. now he is going to use ONE LONG wire).  Duh..  Trying to save a nickel cost us probably 10 hours of sweat!

To directly answer YOUR question.. This requires 6-8 MPH to get ANY power going.  Which compared to OTHER systems is fantastic.  Most won't even kick in until the turbine spins up to 25 - 30 mph. 

Missouriwinandsolar.com are the REAL deal.. and I suggest you give them a go.  But like I wrote above.. please PLEASE don't cut any corners.  Use the right wire.  Their choice for Pipe is a good one..  They bring a lot of direct experience to the table.. use it.

Take care.. got to run!


You are not suppose to scrape off that white stuff on cells. They say it is silver.
Rob Patterson (author)  James Doolen4 years ago
Thanks for your comment James;
The white stuff I was referring to was a light build up of corrosion, which covered the silver.
Thank you.
sbdesigns4 years ago
Dodgy Bros. Classic!
Rob Patterson (author)  sbdesigns4 years ago
Thank you...I think......And....Go the Doggies!
tbone564 years ago
Thanks for sharing this instructable.
I have a question about the solar tracking.
Generally, do the panels rotate on only 1 axis or do they need to move on 2?
Rob Patterson (author)  tbone564 years ago
G'day Tom;
A dual axis tracker will point the panels in exactly the optimum direction all day but cost became a limiting factor for me ( a 3 panel one sold on ebay a few days ago for $700 including freight, I could build a kilowatt of panels for that much :-) ).
I opted to build mine so that the day to day following of the sun is done by the tracker and the seasonal adjustment is done manually by me.
This probably loses me a small percentage of output but, them's the breaks.
Cheers Tom.

zipknitter5 years ago
This looks like a great project. We were given about 50 of the small solar panels that are used on electric fence chargers and have put a couple of them to use as radio chargers for the big boombox radios I like, but have a lot that we just couldn't figure out how to use. Would like to wire them in series, but everything we've read says that it would be foolish to use such low powered panels. Do you think we could use them in a project like this or would we just be wasting our time? We have 43 of them that some local ranchers gave us when they upgraded.
Rob Patterson (author)  zipknitter5 years ago
G'day zipknitter; Thank you very much for your question. As you know if you wire your cells in series you will multiply the voltage output and your amperage will remain the same. Using your Multimeter test your cells in full sun to determine the output in volts and then in amperes. Multiply those figures to determine the potential output in Watts. Say for example your cells average a reading of 0.5 volts and 0.5 amps (500ma). Using the best 36 of the cells your panel could achieve a potential 9 watts at 18 volts. Nice for charging a 12 volt battery. I strongly recommend that, whatever the numbers, you go ahead and build a panel with your cells. It might not cure the worlds energy needs but it Will produce energy and it Will be a great training run for you to go on to build bigger and better panels. I hope this answer is helpful and please don't hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further assistance. All the very best. Rob.
feweeks5 years ago
 Medium Density Overlay (MDO) might work as an alternative to plywood. It's used in making highway signs and is available at home stores.
Medium Density Overlay IS plywood, with a paper face overlaid on the plywood substrate with an exterior grade adhesive to make it paintable.
StuNutt5 years ago
We're not supposed to use Tin/Lead solder these days - the lead is toxic. However, I can never get decent joints with this "new-fangled" alloy, and the tube for hte tin/lead solder is a bonza idea!
Rob Patterson (author)  StuNutt5 years ago
G'day StuNutt; Thanks for your comment. Lead is indeed toxic and it is also a cumulative poison and should be treated as such. All possible care should be taken when handling the stuff. I'm stoked you like my way of overcoming the handling issue, sometimes simple is good :-). I struggle with the lead free solder and have achieved my best results using more heat, 300 to 330 deg C, and heating the metal to be soldered then applying the solder directly to it. As opposed to applying the heat to the metal and solder at the same time. Cheers. Rob.
Even using a small gas torch I have trouble soldering copper with the lead-free. As I'm over 60 now (!) I think I'll stay with Tin/Lead and just take a few sensible precautions. During my life so far I've probably been exposed to far more poisons already! Thanks.
As I understand it lead/tin solder is only illegal for use in consumer products for sale. Used for personal projects and repairs it is just fine, and if used in a well ventilated area as any type of solder should be, it posses no significant hazard. I have enough of the stuff that I will probably never have to switch to the lead free solder for my projects.
Rob Patterson (author)  MadCobbler5 years ago
G'day MadCobbler; Thanks for your comment. I agree with what you say. As far as we know Lead based solder should be safe if used as you say and not handled without protection. The lessons learned from Mawsons Antarctic expedition, where the canned food supply was contaminated by the kead solder used in the manufacture of the cans, are a stark reminder of the danger that lead can pose. Cheers. Rob.
Rob Patterson (author) 5 years ago
Hi everybody; I'd like to send a big thank you to all who have taken the time to read my instructables. When I wrote them I never anticipated that they would share more than 100,000 hits in the first year. I'd also like to thank "Instructables" for providing the site which allows me, and thousands like me, to share our experiences with you. I hope I have inspired at least a few of you to build your own systems. Cheers. Rob.
gwaligorski5 years ago
What are you using as your battery charger?
Rob Patterson (author)  gwaligorski5 years ago
Hi PRO gwaligorski; If I'm understanding your question correctly you will find the information you seek in steps 8 and 9 of the instructible. A full description of how I built the solar panels is here --- http://diysolarpanels.blogspot.com/ --- on the Blog I wrote about the experience. The posts are best read bottom one first to get the order of events right. Cheers. Rob.
Skai5 years ago
Hey, I'm really happy that you are so commited to this and have gone through a real journey. This is something I, and a lot of people, dream of doing, and honestly a lot of people are scared and need the experience of someone like you. I have come across this and I'm starting to learn a lot more about solar energy and I really really want to add solar power to where I live as soon as I can. I have a question - you say that tedlar can enable you to create a "professional" grade solar panel, but I'm wondering exactly what that means for the average person out there. Do you have any idea how much energy or efficiency you would get out of tedlar? Would you mind comparing it to the cheaper materials you have mentioned? Thank you very much duke
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