Introduction: Home Built Solar Power System

Picture of Home Built Solar Power System

Hi. I've been interested in renewables for a while now. Our society can't continue to work on oil, and with rising gas prices and more frequent power outages, solar energy seems to be the way to go. The main problem that inspired me to make this system comes from my love of technology. When my iPhone and laptop run out of juice, my life becomes very primitive. With the goal of keeping all my electronics up and running no matter what the weather and grid status is the main reason I made this system and instructable. This is my system and how it functions. I'll start with the original setup and show how it has evolved over time.

Step 1: The Original Setup

Picture of The Original Setup

My original setup started off with a 10 watt panel I built myself from some cells I found off of eBay. These were the tougher CIGS cells rather than monocrystalline or polycrystalline. The cell was originally rated at 15 watts but because of all the inefficient soldered connections (I wasn't that great at soldering yet), it made about 10 watts. Each black square is one cell that makes approx. 5 volts. The voltage was combined in series to create around 20 volts, and then the amperage was adjusted with wiring the strings of 20 volts into parallel. I'm not really going to go in a crazy amount of detail because this is explained on hundreds of other instructables. This amount of power is ideal for maybe some DC lights and charging cell phones. It's not nearly enough for even my laptop. The inverter would whine and the adapter on my laptop would begin to buzz. Probably not a good sign!
*Note* The third picture to this step is a quickly drawn schematic of how everythig in this system currently works. It will help with trying to understand the basic function of the system if you are new to solar for simplicity. I'll try to include a schematic after every major change to clarify.

Step 2: The First Battery and Electronics System

Picture of The First Battery and Electronics System

The original electronics consisted of an old 12v marine battery that I repurposed, a Coleman Air C60 charge controller, and a 400 watt inverter. That was all  I needed to manage the battery and keep it from overcharging.

If you are new to solar power and how it works, the charge controller is a device (usually microprocessor controlled) that regulates the charging on the battery. When the battery becomes completely full, it is designed to stop most electricity from going into the battery. Without a charge controller, the battery would eventually boil out and become ruined.

If you are extremely new to solar, you might wonder why there's a battery. Even though it's possible to run loads without a battery, they would shut down every time the sun goes behind a cloud. The battery is there to make sure there is a stable, clean stream of power to your loads. Also, it can store electricity for night, as I have it do.

 Be sure to look at the highlighted notes on the pictures for more information.

Step 3: Adding a 15 Watt Solar Panel

Picture of Adding a 15 Watt Solar Panel

With my interest sparked again by a friend also interested in solar, I went online and purchased a northern tool 15 watt panel. The frame was a paint to install, but once attatched I immidiately noticed the battery voltage shooting up and the charge controller having to regulate the current constantly. Also, my inverter stopped yelling at me for charging my laptop, but it still would drain the battery pretty fast. Interesting what a difference 15 watts makes!

Step 4: A New Battery

Picture of A New Battery

The original battery decided to go fast. Leaving a cell phone on the charger overnight would drain it down to the 11 volt range. I could see how this would never last. Tractor Supply had a good deal on commercial batteries, which are a combination of deep-cycle and starting. I would recommend getting straight out deep cycle, though, because of their better efficiency. Deep cycle batteries are designed for (as the name implies) deep cycling: draining the battery significantly. They have much wider lead plates that can resist the chemical abuse of the acid. Starting batteries have thin plates that can release a lot of energy quickly. This thin of a plate can never sustain the chemical abuse of deep cycling. So deep cycle is the way to go, starting batteries won't last long. Commercial works well, too, though. This battery is flooded, meaning I have to add distilled water every now and then. It's really not a hardship, though. Equalization occurs every few months and keeps the battery very healthy.

While on the topic of batteries, I would like to explain the PROPER way to read a battery's charge. The voltage of the battery IS NOT the best way to determinte state of charge (soc). A battery's voltage can swing all over the place, and is most accurate after resting for 4 hours without a load or charge. Rarely does this occur. The BEST way to read a flooded battery is by inserting a hydrometer in a cap and reading the gravity. The most common is amp meters that use a shunt to measure how much goes in and out.

Step 5: The BIG Panel!!!!

Picture of The BIG Panel!!!!

After a few months of toying with solar, I decided to get serious. One of the top loads I wanted the system to run was a backup sump pump which ran off of 12v. This, of course, can easily draw over 100 watts at a time. The system wouldn't be able to keep up with the pump and would eventually stop altogether, flooding the basement. The solution to all my problems was to get a bigger panel. This one is made by UL Solar and is rated for 100 watts.

Mounting the panel proved to be difficult. Instead of on the ground where I could easily monitor and maintain the panels, I decided to install this one on the roof for better solar exposure. As you can see in the third pic, it is conveniently right on the edge of the roof,  reducing my wire run and potential losses. The 12 gauge wire is specifically made for low (10 - 30) voltage, so my 12 volt system fit right into that, even with the panel producing 23 volts open circuit.

Step 6: Upgrading the Charge Controller

Picture of Upgrading the Charge Controller

My original controller (the Coleman Air C60 found on the second step) was not very successful with the new solar panel. Since it uses an on/off relay, it will connect the panels to the battery, and the voltage of the battery would shoot up because of all the juice coming in. The voltage would rise up to the battery trip point, then shoot back down again as the relay began "dumping" the power. So basically, only 1/3 of the available power I get every day actually goes to the battery, the other gets dumped even though the battery wasn't full. I decided that the current charge controller had to go.


I decided on a Xantrex C35 charge controller online. The C35 is a unique controller because it offers 3-stage charging, plus PWM charging. When the sun comes up, the battery is usually sitting at a happy 12.4 volts or so. That's fine with me. It's not discharged too much, and it could sit like that for days. As soon as the panel starts sending power, the C35 will "boot up" and begin charging the battery in "bulk" mode. Bulk mode tries to charge the battery as fast as possible by giving it as  much voltage and amperage the panel will give out. It does this until the voltage hits about 14.8 volts. When it gets there, the controller switches to the "absortion" stage. In this stage, the battery charges more slowly by limiting amperage, not voltage. Then, after it holds that voltage for approx. one hour, it switches to float mode, where the battery is considered fully charged. This keeps it at 14.0 volts until I use the power or the sun goes down. If I start using the power while the controller is in float mode, it will automatically adjust the current to account for the load!

Step 7: Upgrading the Alt-E Power Board

Picture of Upgrading the Alt-E Power Board

The original setup inside the basement was a patched together mess. It had stuff everywhere, wires crossing everywhere, and everything delicately balancing on the battery as if at any moment it might slip and short (which had happened a couple times). Obviously, a fire was going to be inevitable. With that in mind I designed a vertical board where I could mount all the electronics and some bus bars. The battery would sit on the cool basement floor where the temperature would increase efficiency. IT IS A MYTH THAT BATTERIES WILL DRAIN ON A CEMENT FLOOR! All batteries will lose energy over time, but a battery doesn't care what it's sitting on.

To start, I needed a board. That was accomplished with some spare wood (first picture).

Then, the electronics would need to be mounted (second).

The new addition of the bus bar helps prevent a short circuit. It's hard to see from this picture, but there is a layer of plexiglass on top of the whole thing. This prevents anything from crossing the two. It hopefully is obvious which side is positive and which is negative. Again, way overdone but better safe than sorry.

Step 8: The Finished System (for Now)

Picture of The Finished System (for Now)

After all of the upgrades and designs, the system is close to finished (for now). I plan on adding another battery to help keep  the voltage steady under load and add a backup sump pump. For now, though, the system charges all of our cell phones, my laptop, and some lights. Updates will continue with this instructable as more stuff is added, so check back now and then for any updates!

Step 9: Adding Another Battery

Picture of Adding Another Battery

Update 5/9/12:

I know I had mentioned this in my previous post, but now I actually made a move on it. The problem with my system right now is that the battery is too small for the amount of panels I have pumping juice into. By 9:00 AM the next morning, that battery is fully charged. I'd like to run more stuff at night to pull down the battery down more, but I'm limited because of the lack of capacity. Running cell phones and lights at night was enough to drain the battery, but not enough that the panels couldn't recharge it easily the next day.

Note: Even though I could continue to use the system like this, I would be wasting valuable sunlight hours where the battery is full and I have no need for the power. Really counts when I need the power and don't have any, plus I'm kicking myself at night when I have to shut down loads while I sat and watched the power go to waste all day.

The new battery is at 86 a.h. compared to the previous 104 a.h. battery I got earlier. That's a total of 190 amp hours for those of you who can't do math in their heads. BECAUSE a battery should never be discharged below 50%, I basically have 95 amp hours to play with. Still, this is significantly more than the 52 I had before. I still would like to purchase more batteries, so I will still continue searching for good deals.

Step 10: Outdoor Lighting

Picture of Outdoor Lighting

Last Christmas (2011), I had decided to run some Christmas lights through solar. We live a ways out of town, so it doesn't justify to pay a huge monthly bill for some dinky lights that only a handful of people will see. Still, though, it helped brighten up our road and my neighbors were inspired to put up Christmas lights, too. How I eventually decided to run the Christmas lights was via a 400 watt inverter with one of those timers plugged into it. The lights would turn on at about 6, then off in two hours. Using all LED lights, my light consumption totaled to be around 30 watts. However, with the inverter working full time, I actually consumed about 50 watts. Not that the system can't handle this, but such a loss in winter really made a difference. We had limited sun hours and some days with just no sun.

Having so much fun with those lights, this summer (2012) I decided to put up some path lighting outside just for fun. I searched specifically for 12v LED lights (which is extremely important, or else you're wasting energy), and found some at home depot. When they arrived by mail, I cut the wire from the transformer and wired it directly into the battery. I then ran a 60 foot 14 ga. wire from my battery bank to the front of the house, where there were two holes drilled for my wires to go through. From there, each light was connected.

The problem with these lights was the amount of control on my part. Every time I wanted to turn the lights on, I'd have to run down into the basement, connect the wires, and then do the opposite in the morning. REALLY A PAIN. And if I forget, there goes 120 precious watt-hours.

I finally decided to connect my 10 watt panel to a relay, so at night when the panel stopped giving out anything the relay would click and the lights would come on. This didn't work too well considering that whenever a cloud passed the lights would go on. The ultimate solution to this problem is found on the next slide.

Step 11: A Lighting Controller

Picture of A Lighting Controller

My very first charge controller from step 2 on this instructable had finally quit (NOT THE XANTREX C35!!!). It wasn't a very good design to begin with, and only looked at battery voltage. As I had explained earlier, the voltage would rise under charge, and it would assume the battery was full while it was instead just charging. I finally unbolted it from the board and threw it in a box. I took the 15 watts of power it was handling and wired it directly into the bus bars. The system still worked fine, but the other controller got "confused" on why the voltage was rising while it wasn't putting much into it. The solution that fixed my lighting problem and my charge controller problem was a charge controller with lighting control. The one I picked was a Xantrex C12. I have had a very good experience with their products, so I decided to give them another go. Turns out this controller is a PAIN to wire up. The terminals on it are so small and close, I'm constantly afraid it's going to short out any minute now. Good thing theres fuses. Anyways, after 2 days, I finally got it working.

When the sun comes up, the controller senses it by the power coming in from the panel. It then shuts off all outdoor lighting and begins sending and regulating power from the panel to the batteries. When night finally arrives, it waits 60 seconds after the panel voltage drops below 3 volts, then blink! and the lights come on all night (or whatever amount of time I want them on). Very nifty and automatic! Also automatically adjusts throughout the year as the sunrise and sunset times differ.

JUST TO MAKE SURE I AM COMPLETELY CLEAR, THE XANTREX C35 IS WORKING TOGETHER WITH THE C12. The only controller that was replaced was the original coleman air.

Step 12: Update: the Complete System Diagram

Picture of Update: the Complete System Diagram

After many comments (Thanks everyone!) I have made this drawing to try and clarify why I have two charge controllers. The 10 watt panel I built now runs some basic DC things by the garden (radio).

The 15 watt panel is connected to the C12 and is the "photocell" for the lighting control. During the day, however, it regulates the power to the battery just like any other charge controller would. At night, it stops sending power to the battery and begins doing just the opposite. The 100 watt panel (and any future panels will be) is connected to the C35 due to its higher capacity.

In the picture, all the red dots indicate a fuse. There are a few more for the inverter and elsewhere, but these are the basics.

Step 13: Using My Power!!!

Picture of Using My Power!!!

So now that I have all this solar power available, why not use it even when the grid is up? In fact, most of the power I make is inverted and used to power my everyday electronics (my laptop, monitor, fishtank light) and some other appliances that we all use regularly (vacuum). Since installation, my system has generated approximately 119 KwH. As the system expands, this number is expected to jump into the thousands. Stay tuned, and comment on any ideas or advice! Also, vote for me in the Green Tech contest! Thanks!

As a side note, this ENTIRE instructable, from the pictures to the internet connection, were all powered via solar! Thanks for using a bit of solar energy just by looking at my instructable!

Step 14: Backup Sump Pump

Picture of Backup Sump Pump

This has been mentioned several times before, but I have now added a backup sump pump ran entirely off of solar. The pump is a Wayne ESP25 backup pump rated at 3300 GPH. I looked at the Basement Watchdog and other pumps, but after many reviews I chose the ESP25. A note on the Basement watchdog: it's all PLASTIC. The ESP25 is all METAL. You tell me which will most likely be better. Hooking it up was a real pain because our sump pit is so tight. I'm no plumber, that's for sure. Anyways, the pump came with its own battery box, so off to the store to get another battery. It is EXTREMELY similar to the one in step 9 except for the company logo. Other than that it's literally the same model. So now, my battery bank has 276 amp-hours of energy at my disposal. The pump can run 7.5 hours continuously at 75 a.h., so at 276, that's 27.6 hours of CONTINUOUS run time. While testing, I noticed it only runs about 15 seconds per minute, so that makes it about 4 days of running if it ran 15 seconds every minute without any solar input. SINCE there's always going to be some solar input despite cloudy conditions, I'm looking at an estimated unlimited run time.

The video below shows a test on what would happen if the main pump fails for whatever reason.

Step 15: Living Off the Grid and Installing New Data Monitoring Equipment

January 2013 was our first major power outage of the year. It was a partly-cloudy day after a very breezy night that knoked out the power lines. No problem for me, though. While our neighbors pulled out their generator, I simply grabbed some extension cords. From the 400 watt inverter, I was able to charge cell phones, iPods, iPads, laptops, and also power our DSL modem for Internet. At the end of the day, who doesn't like to watch some TV? No problem for me. I used a 40 inch LED tv that drew about 60 watts. The batteries had no trouble keeping it powered until I wanted to go to bed. Overall, I was very impressed with the system performance. It served all the needs I wanted it to. Maybe next time I'll look into our washing machine. Who knows?

Now, the next order of business. I recently installed a pentametric battery monitor system specifically designed for renewable energy systems. Basically, there are two shunts. One is positioned between the 100 watt array and the batteries, while the other one is located between the bus bars in the batteries. They measure amperage and voltage throughout the system. Both shunts connect to the pentametric input unit, which is just a computer that logs and tracks all this data. From there, I purchased the Ethernet unit. It runs from the system all the way to my router. Any computer in the house can instantly access all system data live, or review and save logged data for analysis. The system has since changed the way I see how much energy I use, and how much I really have to work with. Prior to installing this, I had no idea how full the batteries were, while knowing not to take them below 50%. Even during power outages, the batterie never seemed to go below about 80% full. Works for me. I'll try to upload some of the excel data files and some screenshots.

i think it's also VERY VERY VERY IMPORTANT for me to say that the PENTAMETRIC IS MADE IN AMERICA! I will chose an American company any day regardless of cost. The company that builds them is in Boulder Creek, California and what they make is very high quality. 

Note: I am not affiliated with any company in any way. 

***UPDATE AUGUST 2013***

I'm finally attatching a GIANT spreadsheet of the data my pentametric has gathered over the past few months (March to be exact). Each "reading" takes place every 15 minutes and is stored on the pentametric's internal memory until I upload it to a computer. The internal memory only lasts about 6 days before I'm out of room and it begins to rewrite over some of the old data. Because of this, there are a few gaps in the data readings, but it's still a very accurate summary of what happens over the course of a typical day. Being a techy person, I wrote a program in java that takes my spreadsheet and calculates all sorts of data from it. The results are below:

System summary
Created 08/23/2013
File used for analysis: solarData.txt

System data:

Average battery volts: 12.860747758760798
Average solar Amp-hours: 0.0
Average % full: 96.76894865525672%
Battery is full 15.678484107579463% of the time
Minimum voltage ever recorded in this data series: 11.6 volts. Date recorded was: 7/19/2013
Maximum voltage ever recorded in this data series: 15.5 votls. Date recorded was: 3/10/2013

Equalization records:

3/10/2013: System voltage is 15.1
3/10/2013: System voltage is 15.4
3/10/2013: System voltage is 15.5
3/10/2013: System voltage is 15.3

Since data recording began on 3/5/2013,

Total solar production to date: 17.60 KwH

This amount of electricity costs approx. $2.82

The KwH production isn't exactly accurate since there are gaps in the data, but it's something I can live with.

Being that the pentametric is connected to my router (and therefore the internet), I'm currently looking for ways to make its data accessible to all of you on the internet. The best way is to download the pentametric software ( Use the PMCOMM 2 beta. It's a lot simpler. However, it's not digitally signed so your computer may not be too fond of it).

After opening the program, click manage sites. Then, under connection type, click the TCP/IP (Ethernet) button. Under host, type and then make sure the port number under that is 1701. After that, click test connection, and if it says it's successful, congrats! You're connected to my pentametric. Click OK and then start under the live display option. Live data will then fill up the remaining gaps. If it doesn't work, it means that
1.) The internet is down on my end
2.) My hostname's IP is invalid (updates every four minutes)
3.) Too many users are using the live data feature.

The only solution is to wait a few minutes and try again.

I've set up firewalls to keep the connection just to the pentametric, and I'm just trying to do everyone a favor by letting them see what's up at any given time. I'd really appreciate it if you can be courteous and not try and screw everything up. It really took me a while to get it working and I'm doing it for everyone to get an idea about my electrical production. Thanks in advance.


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psychip (author)2016-05-28

Hi there, i'm considering about building my own panel like you do by purchasing cells one by one. which one do you suggest, building from scratch or purchasing an commercial panel? is cost makes a difference?

twilliamsen (author)2016-05-10

I have made something similar, but with more solar power 245w and 140ah of batteries. The difference is I am powering the sump pump directly via inverter to the sump pump all the time 24/7.

You need to keep an eye on battery voltages as mine will drop down to 12.4v even on the rainy days. I would like to see battery voltages to be maintained at 12.7v or above. Our sump pump draws 560w every times it runs, which usually runs for a bout 7 seconds.

I must of spent over $500 for everything on mine, and will be adding at least another 200w of panels shortly

DaytonaPete (author)2016-01-23

Very well done. I too am going to move my toolbox solar generator to a wall mount system as it grows. I'm planning to go from a single 100 watt panel to four. I'd also like (2) 125ah batteries.

AlentoS (author)2016-01-19

great to see that

STIincorporated (author)2015-10-25

Nice set-up for a home made DIY solar energy kit. I know some people aren't big on building the parts themselves, there are some good tier 1 products you can get and use for a plug n' play solar power system.

tytower (author)2015-09-29

Battery on concrete? Actually its more to do with temperature
differences during charging and discharging I think . Concrete is cold
and stays that way holding the base of the battery cold too. The heat
though moves to the top by convection and during charging the top gets
hotter. Stress cracks and warps the plates. It protects your battery too if you sit it on a plastic tray on top of a sheet of some sort of insulation. You will need to hose off battery tops from time to time and a tray catches spent/spilt acid . Try leaving a gal nail or two on top and you well see what I mean.

tytower (author)tytower2015-09-29

And use copper impregnated anti sieze grease all over the terminals if you want them trouble free. If corroded then pour boiling water over the tops to clean up terminals and connectors then grease.

shani12345 (author)2015-09-26

hi please tell me which cells i've to use and how?

Swaps07 (author)2015-09-15


I have a solar panel of 12watt. 16v DC. I am using it with PWM invertor of 55watt to charge the battery of 12v 7ah. But it cannot run a fan with AC motor. Please suggest what needs to be done.

Fan is of 45-50watt.

BaruchS (author)2015-04-22

Impressive system! I'm curious how much is the total cost? This is nice for off the grid, but I'm thinking about buying a simple on-grid plug-in system. It seems to be the easiest way to offset your usage with solar. Lots of info here:

Mjtrinihobby (author)2015-04-15

this setup is impressive!

Clay_Dog (author)2015-04-02

I was wondering I am looking to build a solar charger to charge maybe my devices while also having a little bit of battery storage so far I have about 20-30 .518 volt at 4.01 amp solar cells what would I need to complete this project?

Noah JacobS (author)2015-03-13

If you are interested in learning exactly how to generate power and reduce your bill then this is the perfect resource for you! With the ever increasing costs of living, there is no better time than right now to stop throwing money out the window and start generating our own electricity. Check

kenni.kuhlmannclark (author)2015-03-12

I think you'll find that it is better for a sump pump to be run less frequently, for a longer time... In other words, rather than 15 seconds per minute, 45 seconds for 3 minutes would be less damaging to the pump.... The constant starting/stopping is what's really bad for the motor..... I have one pump that usually runs (as is rated to run) continuously, because it recirculates a fish pond in the yard... But, if it's just for de-watering (drainage) in order for your pump to run longer, either the sump pit needs to be wider (but not necessarily deeper), or to have a separate long-interval float (and maybe a deeper sump).... In the last option, the pump goes into the water deeper, but the float actuates where you want it to (usually several inches or more below the floor), and the float keeps pump on until it reaches the either the top of the pump (kept submerged), or less as long as the pump stays on longer.... In any case, 15 seconds is a pretty short cycle-on time....

rush_elixir (author)2014-06-02

Very nicely done. I didn't know at first that this is much simpler to build a solar power system. thank you very much for posting. God bless

jackwp (author)2014-04-04

I lived off the grid for 26 years, using a similar setup (just a bit bigger). Now I am on the grid, and I use a small grid-tie inverter rather than voltage controllers, batteries, and inverters. It seems to be a great savings if you are on the grid. Of course, I still use my solar panels !

Das Blade (author)2013-09-13

I like this solar stuff allot. You keep updating your systems and for us novices it would be help if you placed a price tage on the new stuff you add. Doesn't have to be exact just what you paid would give us all a better idea of the cost. Thanks Grandpablabe

john3347 (author)2013-09-10

In your drawing on the last slide, you show two negative wires - or circuits - with a fuse in them. Why is the negative side fused and the positive side only has the one fuse at the battery positive? Shouldn't all these fuses be in the positive run?

Macattacku (author)2013-08-19

I seem to be the only one to know this(no one else seems to comment on it). But a 3 stage charger is not good for a loaded system. If you are drawing power from the battery while its in absorbtion it will confuse the charge controller into thinking that the battery isnt charged. Absorbtion hold voltage constant and watchs the amperage until it falls low indicating full charge. If the system is loaded it senses that alot of current is still flowing and its not fully charged. This will lead to boiling and overcharging. In a loaded solar system it should always be a 2 stage charger with just bulk and float. This protects the battery. Although as you stated before a 2 stage charger would waste a little more power when its in float but it will prevent accidental overcharge. In an unloaded system such as for emergencies only a 3 stage system would work best but that is not the case here. By using a 3 stage charger you will have to fill it with water more often and drastically shorten the life of your battery.

wolfgang64 (author)2013-01-11

I have just favorited you. your work is very interesting. Have ever played with gell cell sealed batteries? They have the advantage of being able to be taken down to zero and come back quickly. I have rolled dune buggies with these as back ups and with 30 watts of solar got the winch working well enough to right it and start.

wolfgang64 (author)2013-01-11

This space is really about experimenting ,learning, and having conversations for new possibilties. there may be some waste in the learning curve but it keep others from making the same mistakes over again.

wolfgang64 (author)2013-01-11

Yes let's please put this one to rest once and for all,in the 1910s to the 30s Battery bodies were made out of hardwood. especially Henry Ford's model Ts and tractors. His thinking, It's on rubber tires so who cares it's insulated anyway. Remember electric start was a bonus because these vehicles all had handcrank starters.

Paul Janes (author)2012-12-29

Thanks for the post. Home made solar panel is an amazing and important thing.....
I want to make one like that and for that searched over the internet
And then find aHomemade Solar Panels Blog ...
Where an engineer gives tips how to make homemade solar panels..

MacOSJoey (author)Paul Janes2012-12-29

Everyone who is reading this, I just want to say from my own personal experience (which you can see in my instructable) that websites like the homemade solar panels blog mentioned in Paul Janes' post are PURE LIES!!! Being that I made a solar panel myself, I will tell you straight out that it's work. Working every evening in my free time, it took me 2 WEEKS to build a 15 watt panel. This is a minuscule amount of power compared to what an extremely energy efficient home uses. Now imagine building 3000 watts worth of panels? Sure, it is cheaper, but who really has that kind of time?

There are many benefits to buying panels. The most important is being that they typically have a nice 20 to 25 year warranty that protects just about everything. Home made panels? They can't possibly survive that long because they aren't sealed in a vacuum in 99.9% dust free conditions with zero moisture. Not to say that you can't build a very nice solar panel that will last for a very long time, but for the amount of time and energy it takes to make them, it's just not economical.

Companies like the one mentioned are scams. They get you to invest big bucks into their cells only for you to find out that youll never complete all the panels.

So, to end this ramble, I would suggest to all of you that want to build solar panels (and I'd encourage anyone to build one in order to fully understand how these things work, or if they need a very small amount of power), but be aware that building them yourself is not the way to lower your electric bill.

For some REAL information about building solar panels, take a look at . This was the general template I used to build mine, and its still running after two years in the sun!

batman96 (author)2012-06-26

Good instructable!
I have that same volt meter! Got it for 12 dollars, my favorite tool too.

bfarr-gaynor (author)batman962012-11-20

Where did you get that volt meter? What is the make/model? I really like it. Seems like a simple way to monitor things passively.

batman96 (author)bfarr-gaynor2012-11-26

I got mine at my local Walmart, in the automotive section.

MacOSJoey (author)bfarr-gaynor2012-11-24

I got it from Northern tool I think. It was only about 10 bucks. It has a nice rubber casing over it (because we all know it's going to be dropped from time to time). I tried looking for it on their website, but I couldn't find it... I wonder if its discontinued...

MacOSJoey (author)batman962012-06-26

Yea, I love that meter. Only thing is the amp meter part just broke. Checked the fuse and it was fine. But for the price, who cares?

batman96 (author)MacOSJoey2012-06-27

Did you test over 10 amps?
The DC 10 amp part is not fused, only the miliamp part is fused.

MacOSJoey (author)batman962012-06-27

Ahhh. Now I see. Guess I shot the amp reading part. Still is very accurate for voltage, though. I'll have to pick up another one from harbor frieght.. I was wondering what gave in it. Now I know. Thanks!

jack.spigack (author)2012-06-27

im a beginner but do you think if you put a schlotzsky diode on the positive out put of the solar panel and then connected it to some type of capacitor whos voltage is well over the max out put of the solar panel voltage and then hook a resistor to the capacitor to bring the voltage down to a voltage that the charge controller can handle do you think this would make the voltage completely stable to the controllers without any voltage fluctuation and maybe the controllers wont burn out?

MacOSJoey (author)jack.spigack2012-06-27

The controllers don't burn out. They're designed to handle the 20+ volts from the solar panel. When the entire system is connected, the solar panel can "see" the battery, and it's voltage is limited to slightly above the battery's voltage (That's how all charging sources work. The battery will pull down the voltage until it's slightly above). Since the solar panel is still making the same amount of power, it trades voltage for amperage. For example, open circuit, my 100 watt panel makes 5 amps @ 20 volts, or 100 watts (5*20) or about 8.5 amps @ 12 volts. Either way you put it, the output is exactly the same. The only reason my first controller burned out was due to poor design and over complexity. All my other Xantrex controllers are running fine.

ALL solar panels come with a diode built in. Otherwise, during the night the panel will pull electricity backwards, discharging the battery.

Would your idea work? Yes. It would be a good way to limit voltage. The only problem I could see is when the panel becomes shaded or as the sun sets. That's why the controllers are made and designed to take such a range. My Xantrex C35 is capable of regulating voltage from 12 - 55 volts. WAY more than I would ever really think of putting into a 12v system. And by the time the sun sets, it's not really worth all the effort and losses just to gain a couple more watts.

Thanks for commenting, and good luck!

youcantoo (author)MacOSJoey2012-11-18

I really hate to disagree with you about all solar panels coming with blocking diodes. I have a pair here that do not have blocking diodes built into them. How ever all quality charge controllers have blocking diodes built into them.

hassman (author)2012-10-12

Solar energy is the infinitely available and easily accessible source of energy that anyone can utilize. Technology development and man's unstoppable desires have made solar energy available for many residential as well as commercial uses.

Electricians Perth.

iwoodinspire (author)2012-06-22

Actually, if solar were the way to go, society would have done it by now. The problem is, to make all these renewable products, you need vast amounts of oil too (to make them) and the batteries are all toxic disposal problems by themselves.

That said, if I weren't renting I'd have built a solar system for my house by now. It's still expensive to do, but as you said, the world can't just keep going the way it is. I think it is more rational to accept that all renewable energy should ben combined with oil products, to definitely converse more energy consumption without having to pay half your salary for it. I'm looking forward to the day that happens in some small degree. Good instructable.

MacOSJoey (author)iwoodinspire2012-06-22

I agree with you on some points, and disagree on others. The idea with solar panels is that you make enough off of oil to start making more through solar. The future for the renewable energy industry does not rely solely on everyone having an off-grid system and toxic batteries. The entire utility grid needs to adopt this style. If everyone were to have panels on their roof pumping juice directly into the grid, there would be no loss from batteries. It would be much more efficient and probable.

You were very specific about solar, but solar is NOT the 100% solution to our problems. The only way our entire grid system as we know it could function is with a giant hybrid system of solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal. And if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. During the day humans use the most electricity. That is also when solar production is at its highest. During the night, the rapid change in temperature causes more wind, all of which can help compensate the night load. Hydro and geothermal are extremely reliable 24/7 resources. PLUS... in the United States, the east coast has sun before the west, and the west has it longer than the east. If our grid system could go from coast to coast, you could essentially have 8 hours of constant solar input per day around the country. In the end, the only reason we still would need oil is so the fat cats who own oil reserves can make a few million a year.

As you said, it is expensive, but if gas prices can take another hit, we can expect the price per watt to fall to $1. That's something very promising and reasonable.

lordgarion514 (author)MacOSJoey2012-06-30

Don't believe the hype that solar would have been adopted by now it it made financial sense. The original funding of fossil fuel and nuclear far surpasses what "green" power receives now. so basically you have the upstart trying to battle the entrenched establishment. That is always a hard fight. A quick search turned up these numbers(websites included and they have links to where their info came from for further research)

Given the history of Nuclear Plant construction in the U.S.A., the financial industry sees the construction of the new generation of reactors as a risky investment and demands a premium on capital lent for the purpose. The Energy Bill recently passed by the US Congress assumes this risk and provides production credits of 1.8 cents per KW-Hr for the first 3 years of operation. This subsidy is equivalent to what is paid to Wind Power companies and is designed to encourage new nuclear reactor construction in the USA.

If the AP1000 lives up to its promises of $1000 per KW construction cost and 3 year construction time, it will provide cheaper electricity than any other Fossil Fuel based generating facility, including Australian Coal power, even with no sequestration charges. This promise appears to have been unfulfilled. The cost of the first AP1000 is expected to be over $3500 per KW.

about one quarter of the electricity we pay for is wasted because our household appliances operate when they’re not needed.

Approximately 10% of electricity generated is lost in the transmission and distribution system, costing consumers roughly $25 billion annually.
Power demand rose nearly 30% between 1990 and 2009, resulting in a rising number of power outages and blackouts, which now cost the nation at least $150 billion per year.

Over the next 25 years an estimated $1.5 trillion will be spent upgrading and expanding the electric grid. The choice is between building a whole new fleet of wasteful, inexpensive fossil fuel power plants or creating a flexible, efficient and resilient smart grid."

Fossil fuels and nuclear is not so cheap when the cost of environmental damage(which we WILL have to deal with eventually. Also the CDC has estimated that right now 3.1 million people die every year due to the pollution caused by fossil fuels(this is easily looked up) it is is killing that many imagine the health affects and doctor bills associated with those affects. When ALL the costs are factored in "green" energy is much cheaper than fossil fuels. But to make it work we must stop this more society we have developed. Appliances that never really cut off just to save us a few seconds of inconvenience is retarded. For instance I actually watch my TV maybe 5 hours a month but It wants to burn electricity 24/7 just so I don't have to wait 60 seconds for it to reprogram the channels when I do turn it on. Really? We're that spoiled? And I know some of the satellite systems use the exact same amount of energy when turned off as when they are on, meaning the only difference is the red "off" light comes on when you turn it off.

This wasteful spoiled consumption is what we must stop if renewables are to ever work for us. And do we really need to live in houses that are so huge compared to just a few generations ago? It's stupid. No family of four needs 2,000 SQ'FT 1,000 is more than enough and most of the world makes it quite well on less than half that. In fact, in some of the poorer nations a family of 6-7 makes do with well less than 300. What makes us so privileged that we need to waste so many resources on our dwelling and energy to power it?

The price of energy will go up and down, but it will always go up in the long run, guaranteed. We will never have a 20 year period go by where it's cheaper at the end than the beginning.

the total cost of fossil is many times higher than we pay the utility company, we just don't associate it since it's paid in taxes. and not even that covers the true cost we have to pay in extra medical bills, funerals and eventual clean up. Nuclear always gets touted as cheap, but it always seems to cost much more than the original quoted price, and even then you have to pay hundreds of millions at the end to decommission the plant and then there's the cost of disposal of the waste( not chump change by any means)

If the numbers from that second link or accurate we have close to 175 billion a year in wasted electricity. that could be drastically reduced by spending that money to upgrade our houses to use less and making it law that appliances and electronics must turn off when they are turned off. Then after a few years of doing that we could put that 175 billion to work adding solar and wind, not to mention using the billions we would spend building fossil fuel plants to add more solar and wind instead. With the energy savings from the few years of home improvements and stopping the waste of appliances and electronics
I think we would currently have more than enough base load energy production that wind and solar could more than make up the difference, and we could probably shut some fossil plants down(remember we waste about 25% of our electricity by appliances using it when not needed. Imagine the benefits if we just stopped that waste, and it's easy to do)

Sorry for the long rant, But you're doing a good thing with this 'ible and don't let the naysayers discourage you. You're doing more than just saving a few bucks, you're also helping reduce the poisoning of our planet, which is indeed absolutely priceless. I encourage you and others to read those two links there is a wealth of information in them. i also encourage all to Google something like "CDC study 3.1 million deaths per year from fossil fuel" It will help you see there is a cost to fossil fuels well beyond what we pay in our bill. You and all your loved ones are being poisoned.

OK, I'm done. :-)

MacOSJoey (author)lordgarion5142012-07-02

I never really looked at the deaths caused by using fossil fuels and it makes complete sense. I agree with you on nuclear. Look at Germany's progress. Even though they get FAR less sun than the northern U.S. (where I am) they still produces about 40% of their power straight from solar (and here we are wondering why we can't honestly do the same). After the Fukushimi nuclear power plant became unstable in 2011, Germany instantly opted to close its remaining nuclear power plants. If there's ever a leader to look to, Germany is it. (Source:

As far as grid ineffeciency goes, there's not a ton we can do about it. The only thing I can think of to reduce those losses is to have areas with specific resources harness those resources. For example, Arizona has the most solar irridance of the United States by far. If they were able to provide all of the state's power through solar, they could essentially lose those transmission costs altogether.

I know I'm ranting, too, but you posed a good issue. Phantom loads (things that consume power even when turned off) need to go. A few weeks ago, just as an experiment, I connected a 23 inch LCD monitor to my solar setup. The monitor is extremely efficient and consumes about 30 - 40 watts running. HOWEVER, when the computer is turned off the monitor consumes 10 watts just sitting and waiting to be turned on. That doesn't seem like much, but 10 watts * 24 hours is 240 watt hours per day WASTED. Right now, my system produces approx. 500 watt hours per day ON A GOOD DAY. Then, every night I lose 120 watt hours to the outoor lighting. After all the losses from the latter, I end up with only 140 watt hours left, which is about enough to keep my laptop and cell phone working. It may not seem like much, but you're definetly right about how much is wasted just waiting to be turned on. If this is one monitor, I don't even want to know how much is wasted in the entire house.

Sorry for ranting again, but you definetly brought on some good topics and numbers. Thanks!

im3733 (author)MacOSJoey2012-07-11

Ok. I love where this conversation is going.

The next obvious step is to figure out an effective (and preferably cheap) method to force devices to turn off entirely such as a switch between the outlet and the plug of the device. If possible, this device would be removable, so it can be used in apartments or other areas where a permanent installation isn't possible.

It may also be prudent to have the "control switch" on a few feet of cord, so outlets that are difficult to access can still be switched off.

I know that a relay is likely to use some power even when in the "off" state, but I think its consumption will be small enough to be either negligible, or very close to that (I have no data to back me up, but that is what would seem to make sense to me, at least).

pfred2 (author)im37332012-07-11

Why would an off relay use any power? All a relay is is a coil of wire. If you don't supply it with any electricity it certainly can't suck the stuff out of the air. Well, it could, if there was a magnetic field moving near it, but that is a conversation for another day, or my name is Michael Faraday.

Or were you talking about a normally closed relay that you would have to energize its coil in order to open the contacts? That would indeed use some power in order to attain an off state.

Power strips have switches on them, so if you want to stop an appliance from drawing any power when not is use plug into that then simply flip the power strip off.

But first realize that lordgarion514 is completely full of it with their 25% of the electricity figure. Perhaps some appliances use 25% power when off, but don't for a minute think that 25% of power is being wasted overall. First off residential consumption is only 27% of the grid load. So saying there is a 25% waste is like saying we're wasting 98% of power. You don't think it is that bad do you? More likely lordgarion514 is playing fast and loose with some of the statistics.

Those appliances that are drawing such a significant percentage of their load "off" aren't typically big current drawing devices to begin with. I mean how many watts do you think your cable box is sucking back?

Tree huggers are claiming 55 watts but the actual figure is likely closer to 25. On par with leaving one 100 watt equivalent CFL bulb running.

lordgarion514 (author)pfred22012-07-21

Well we have another one of those people who don't "really" know about electricity but thin their opinions count as fact. Just what we need.

The numbers, and I mean all the numbers I give are not mine, they are listed in either one of the two links I gave. and on those pages they give links to the original source for every number I listed.
And yes 25% of the AVERAGE homes electric bill is wasted due to things using electricity when not being actively used.

Let us jump right to that cable box example you gave with your "opinion fact" number of it actually being25 watts(because you actually have no clue and are apparently too lazy to loo it up.
My info link(again, with a lin to the original source)

Did you know that a "typical" (I said typical! so if yours is different don't try and say "mine isn't like that your wrong wrong wrong, there are just a few more people in this country than you) Home cable box setup is 1 HD-DVR and 1HD set top box. Together these 2 "little" boxes together use more energy in a year than an average 21cubic foot Energy Star fridge in a years time? No you didn't but they do.(and you not believing it doesn't really matter. Physics doesn't hold to your whole "my opinion must be fact" mentality.
Typical cable box setup = 446KwH per year. Average 21cubic FT. Energy Star fridge = 415KwH per year.

It has been proven that these HD-DVR's(which actually are nothing but computers, including hard-drives, HD graphics cards, ram memory, and processors. run at near full power even when doing nothing(recording or watching TV).

All these numbers can be looked up by yourself by simply going to the website of the cable box manufacturers if you choose not to believe the numbers I have quoted(and provided links to back up, UNLIKE your numbers which you pulled from which orifice exactly?) Don't let your opinion(which is wrong actually) keep you from seeing the truth. Such as I never said 25% of ALL electricity is wasted(how did you even get that from what I wrote anyway?)
I plainly said about 25% of the electricity we pay for, meaning that 25% of MY electric bill is to pay for electricity that MY appliances and electronics use while not actively used by me. every TV, Computer, electronic microwave, stove with a clock, alarm clock that stays lit up when no one is there to look at it, router, cable modem(router and cable modems also run at near full power when not actively in use also, for obvious reasons) DC converters that stay plugged in when not charging their device, even digital dishwashers, and a myriad other electric devices all burn electricity 24 hours a day when not used.

Now think how long it actually takes to charge a dead cell phone. Mine from totally dead takes less than 3 hours, but that converter burns juice the other 21 hours in the day. and yes even a computer that is turned completely off uses electricity, even if it's a laptop, which actually has 2 batteries(all computers have batteries)

So if you choose to not believe the numbers, too bad, that doesn't change the facts one iota. If you want to debate how their wrong/lying then go to the manufacturers site and find the numbers yourself(but get a bunch of different ones since no one said that "every" one used that much, just the typical(you know as in "averages") one does. If it isn't listed on their site then get un-lazy and send them an email and do the work to prove others wrong. Otherwise shut up and just agree with those who aren't lazy that do care and HAVE researched this stuff.

And just because most of these phantom loads aren't that big(unlike the HD-DVR boxes which use more than an average fridge) means what exactly? So what if it was "ONLY" half what the tree huggers say? You do realize there are over 160 MILLION of those things right? Why don't YOU do the math on that and figure out how many coal power plants it would take just to run those boxes if they only used half. (answer: about 3 average coal fired power plants) Just because each one might be small doesn't mean much when you have to multiply it out by the tens and hundreds of millions that are out there. This is America, well over 300 million people, all of whom think they should be free to use, consume and waste as much as they want without paying consequences like health problems and financial costs to build, maintain and upgrade the system because of their waste.

I'm sorry, but you and the numbers you "believe in" without any real research to verify are wrong.

thejaq (author)lordgarion5142012-09-10

well done !

MacOSJoey (author)pfred22012-07-22

I think there's a flat out misunderstanding about lordgarion514's comment. He's saying that for a given appliance (your home DVR), it consumes at least 25% of its full power when shut off. Average that with all the fancy gadgets one has in a house, and you come to the conclusion that overall 25% of the electricity is used just keeping items powered on IN A SINGLE HOUSE. The grid is only about 1/3 efficient in moving electricity from production to final consumption (between transformers, long distances, etc). However, in the home there is another whole level of energy being wasted because of the American lifestyle which prohibits waiting a minute for an appliance to turn fully on from fully off instead of a sleep mode.

I guess I don't understand how leaving a 25 watt device on is the equivelent of leaving a 100 watt device on. 100 watts is 100 watts, which is 4 times as much as even you claim. I can't even see 100 watts even if the device uses 55 watts fully running. That just doesn't make any sense.

Soozannah (author)im37332012-08-07

Is it so difficult to simply unplug...well, yes in some cases then how about organizing what is plugged in onto a panel that plugs into the wall plug and simply pulling out the panel from the wall to disconnect appliances, cable box, have to leave the phone alone I guess......but in our "instant satisfaction" society, who would actually do this to save a few cents per day?

im3733 (author)im37332012-07-11

Btw, voted, 5 starred, and favorited.

MacOSJoey (author)im37332012-07-11

Thanks for the 5 stars! I've personally used the switch on 5 plug dividers to immidiately shut off all power, but I find that it doesn't completely work. At night, I'll click the plug to my desk, which includes my laptop, fishtank (led lights) and cell phone charger. HOWEVER (and I just noticed it recently) the fishtank lights would still give off an eerie moonlight-like glow even with the switch turned off. I unplugged it to see if it was just some capacitor thing, and immidiately the light turned fully off. I don't know if electricity is allowed to arc in these dividers and if they really do their job.

My personal solution to this problem with my inverter is to get a remote starter on the inverter, which turns it on and off conveniently from any location (up to 50 feet).

I've seen someone use your relay idea to control his living room lighting (Link to his page, and it could probably work with AC outlets, too.

I've also seen these new 5 way dividers that "sense" when the main device (such as your TV) is turned on. When the TV is turned on, it will supply power to other items such as your Blu-ray player, DVD player, speaker system, etc. THEN, when the TV is turned off, the divider senses that and cuts all the power to the peripherals except the tv. It's a simple way to reduce phantom loads.

A good place to look for those is here:,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=c34cc57b569ee8e9&biw=1440&bih=815

Thanks again for the 5 stars, and please vote for me in the green tech contest!

Great Ible...

I've pondered the phantom energy load problem for a while and have wondered if on-board, re-chargeable batteries might be a partial solution.

Say, for instance, a TV or cable/sat box requires some energy to maintain its memory (i.e. all those programmed channels) as well as sitting quietly waiting for a signal from the remote to turn the system on.

An on-board re-chargeable battery might provide sufficient energy to maintain the memory as well as a low-power receiver/sensor to pick-up the signal from the remote. Once that signal is received, the system can then power up. It wouldn't be "instant on," but what's the problem with waiting a minute or so?

Just thinking out-loud.

Again, great Ible...

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