Introduction: Solar Panel Setup Around $100

Picture of Solar Panel Setup Around $100

My objective was to be able to charge and use, cell phones, tablets, laptops, and other devices that use less than 100 watts. Also I wanted to have the power ready and available day or night.
The parts I used are:
$39 Solar Cells Untabbed 0.5 volt 2.8 amp 1.4 watt
$11 CMP12 10 amp Charge Controller
$22 Chrome Battery SLA 10.5 Amp
$5   Old Picture Frame to encase the solar Cells
$8   Wood to build the frame to hold the panel
$4   Wood to build the Charge Station
$4   12 Volt Socket
$1    9 volt Battery To power the LCD voltmeter
$5   LCD Voltmeter

Things I had around the house:
Exterior Grade Wire 2 Conductor
Wire and Panel Mount Connectors
Fuses and Fuse Holders
Outlet Coverplate
150 watt 12 volt car Inverter
15 amp Blocking Diode

Step 1: Panel Construction

Picture of Panel Construction

Tab the Cells and check the output of each cell before you solder them to each other, If you need help or need more information on how to do this use Google search and Youtube Videos. I used the backing for the picture frame as a layout and soldered them accordingly. Then I reassembled the picture frame with the wires coming out of a hole at the back. As soon as put it together I checked the voltage and amperage output and made sure that everything was connected correctly. 2 of the 40 cells I was sent had a much lower output so I did not use them in the final panel. I added the blocking 15 amp diode to the outside because it would not fit inside the frame along with a terminal block on the back. After everything was checked I sealed the panel with caulking and painted it.

Step 2: Stand Construction

Picture of Stand Construction

The stand is nice and simple and the panel is also easy to remove if needed. I used metal clips that grab the frame tightly and used some pavers to keep it off the ground. I also used some bricks to weigh it down. The wire goes down about 6 inches into the ground and comes up by the house. Remember you lose dc current when traveling long distances, so keep the wire as short as possible. I'am losing about 50ma with the wire I used. My panel makes a little over 3 amps @ 19 volts, So less than %1.7 is lost.

Step 3: Running the Wire to Inside the House

Picture of Running the Wire to Inside the House

I wanted to run the solar panel power connection into the house for convenience so I could diagnose or  try different setups from inside the house. Also the temperature extremes hot and cold outside would have shortened the life of the battery at the very least if not of the controller as well. I checked for studs and conduit in the wall the best I could and drilled a small pilot hole. once i was sure there was nothing in the way I drilled completely through. I used a dc panel mount connector and a blank outlet cover to finish it up

Step 4: The Controller Setup

Picture of The Controller Setup

I wanted something portable that could be used anywhere once charged up. So i built a little stand that also holds the battery,controller,12 volt socket, fuses and voltmeter. The controller prevents overcharging or draining and keeps the battery topped off as long as its plugged into the panel connection on the wall. I used a 8 amp fuse on the load side of the 10 amp controller so I don't have to worry about pulling too much through it. I also put a 8 amp fuse on the battery just in case. The 9 volt battery powers the LCD voltmeter and it measures the voltage on the battery. Its a really simple setup and so far its been great. I have used it with a 150 watt car inverter running a laptop with no battery in it for over 6 hours with no problems. I have also charged up multiple tablets at once using the same inverter. I have yet to see less than 11 volts on the meter, it seems like its always ready to go. I will be using this for all of my charging needs. 


rmercado4 (author)2016-07-18


gasdascgsda (author)2016-01-29

You will make it easy with INPLIX instructinos . just google it

Dr.Bill (author)2014-03-09

Very nice. I am wondering what brand is the meter?

I use 'Astro Flight' to monitor 6-20 watt panels that charge a 'Trojan' battery.

One for power coming in from the panels and the other for power being used.

The readout lettering is smaller than yours and harder to read.

Khaleel123 (author)Dr.Bill2014-03-10

The panel meter is 3-1/2" Velleman PMLCD/L , I don't really recommend this meter because it needs a separate power supply from what its measuring. That's why I used the 9 volt to power it. Also you have to solder some resistors to the back depending on how you plan on using it. There are better panel voltmeters out there that can be powered by what they are measuring and are ready to use.

svprasad007 (author)Khaleel1232015-12-01

please help... ihave 20w 1 ampe panel...can i connnect panel output to battery and input to inverter together...then the power from panel will go to where battery or to inverter or on your picture i think u split the postive of the battery ..and one to panel and one to inverter..

Dr.Bill (author)Khaleel1232014-03-17

This is the Astro Flight Meter aka; WattsUp. Cost $50 in Hawai'i.

It measures off the solar panel the voltage when the sun makes minimum 4.5v. +/-, watt hours and amps being produced.

The other WattsUp/Astro Flight measures power being used out of the Trojan battery. The meters can be always on if they have a separate power source (Small Battery). I cut the wires as I only need the meters when the sun is up or power is being used. I take power for the meters right out of the circuits as it is used or produced.

Problem is the numbers are too small for tired old eyes.

pakdhe anto (author)Dr.Bill2015-05-18

i use magnifier and fixing on the fron on panel display

Dr.Bill (author)pakdhe anto2015-05-18

The meter has no back light to illuminate the screen. If it had that the meter would be better for me. Anyone know how to backlight this thing?

Dr.Bill (author)Khaleel1232014-03-17

This is the Astro Flight. It can be powered by an external battery but I don't.

I cut the battery wires off. It is powered by the source (solar Panels) and the other one is powered by the Trojan Battery.

As the sun comes up this meter measures volts, amps, watts produced and amps produced.

When I plug in a device and turn it on the meter measures how much of everything the device uses.

The drawback is the numbers are too small for tired old eyes.

Here's a good substitution for that panel meter. This seller on eBay has dozens of styles for both volts and amps, many colors, bezels and mounts. I have bought several and use them often.

Thanks for the suggestion

_mech_engineer_ (author)2015-09-19

what is the current when you charge a mobile phone?

VikV (author)2015-06-10

It is great to know
that there are more and more solar panels users around the world. Pakistan is a
sun blessed city and quite logical if there will be more solar cities here. I
have read an excellent article on this topic It makes me feel that very soon we will be able
to improve lives of many people in our country and throughout the world.

stgflores (author)2015-05-04

hi. I have the same charge controller, are you able to use the load while still charging at same time. thanks.

Khaleel123 (author)stgflores2015-05-04

Yes you can charge and use the power at the same time, as long as you have enough power being provided by the solar panel.

stgflores (author)Khaleel1232015-05-04

I have a 90 watt amp (boombox) connected to the load (lvd) on the charge controller not the battery. if I try to play music and use the solar panel to charge at the same time, the amp will turn on but no music plays. I have to turn off the panel charge for the amp to play music. The voltage on the battery read close to 13v. do I have to connect the amp to the battery instead. thanks for your help

Khaleel123 (author)stgflores2015-05-04

I'm not sure what's going on with your charge controller, but I have been able to charge the battery while using a load on mine. Make sure your panel provides enough power to run the load with enough left over to charge the battery.

ppereira14 (author)2014-06-27

Cool Instructable. I was looking for a higher capacity Solar System (400W or more). I found a really nice instructable. Heres a link

Khaleel123 (author)ppereira142014-06-27

Thanks, I'll check that out

ppereira14 (author)2014-06-27

I was looking for a higher capacity Solar System (400W or more). I found a really nice instructable. Heres a link

ppereira14 (author)2014-06-27

I was looking for a higher capacity Solar System (400W or more). I found a really nice instructable. Heres a link

AARENAARON (author)2014-05-20

thank u so much... we nature lovers lovin ur work

Khaleel123 (author)AARENAARON2014-05-20

Thank You

Two Paddles Design (author)2014-04-24

thanks for this, such a simple and straightforward design!

Thanks for the comment

bajablue (author)2014-03-26

Great work!!!

Khaleel123 (author)bajablue2014-03-27

Thank you

Khaleel123 (author)2014-03-25

Thank you

fastrat2000 (author)2014-03-16

Looks killer

May ask why do you have a blocking diode? At 3 amps, your dropping 2.1 watts there, and at 19 volts your making 57 watts, so that bit under 4% lost for something does not seem reason to be there. If its keeping up no need to miss with it, but if you wanted just bit more power.

Khaleel123 (author)fastrat20002014-03-16

The reason I use the diode is to protect the panel from current or voltage traveling into it, in case of controller failure or something similar.

My panel of 38 cells ( 2 were bad in my kit) is advertised to make 19 volts @2.8 amps, It actually made a little over 20 volts @3.2 amps. After installing the diode it made 19 volts @3 amps. ( you have to remember that the sunlight changes and its hard to get an exact measurement.) Even with the two cells missing and the blocking diode I end up with slightly more power than what they were rated for. Part of the reason for the increased power could be that the glass in the picture frame is really thin and extremely clear. not sure how durable it is, time will tell.

Sovereign11 (author)2014-03-12

You could also eliminate the 9 volt battery by using an LM7809 voltage regulator attached to the 12 volt battery. They are easy to use and circuits are all over the internet. They are also cheap; about the cost of a 9V battery, so, worth the investment.

Khaleel123 (author)Sovereign112014-03-13

The panel meter needs an isolated power supply in particular I am almost certain it cant share the ground with what its measuring. I am planning on ordering one that can measure and be powered from the same source soon.

Khaleel123 (author)2014-03-13

Thats so True, small projects lead to bigger and bigger projects.

gwaligorski (author)2014-03-11

Why are you using the inverter to charge your tablets? Wouldn't it be more efficient to charge them right off of the 12 volt connection?

AdamTheMechE (author)gwaligorski2014-03-11

He probably already owned the inverter and doesn't already own a DC in-car charger for the mobile devices. Your method would be more efficient all else equal. I wonder how much usage this would have to see in order to justify the cost of buying or building such a charger?

oshman6785 (author)AdamTheMechE2014-03-12

Efficiency of not having it when the zombie-pocalypse comes makes it worthwhile...

(that, and the coolness factor that you're charging your portables using sunlight...)

Khaleel123 (author)AdamTheMechE2014-03-11

I did already own the inverter but I do plan to use a car charger once I get my hands on one.

Khaleel123 (author)gwaligorski2014-03-11

The microsoft surface rt, uses 12volts 2 amp to charge, and I dont have the car charger for it. I would make one but I also don't have any low voltage drop regulators, or dc to dc converters handy. So until I order a car charger I will be using the inverter.

Ramundicus (author)2014-03-11

Nice work. Only question: where did you get a 12v socket that mounts like that? I can think of several uses for something like that.

Khaleel123 (author)Ramundicus2014-03-11

I got the 12V socket from walmart for like $4.88 in the electrical section they also had dual 12v sockets for like $8. Its rated for 15 amp and comes with a cover, perfect for this project.

Ramundicus (author)Khaleel1232014-03-11

All I've found at WalMart are the multiple outlet versions. I was looking for a single surface mount outlet like yours. I'll keep my eyes open.

Khaleel123 (author)Ramundicus2014-03-11

here is the link for the socket.

gumbytig (author)Ramundicus2014-03-11

Looks like a cigarette lighter add on probably from your local auto parts store. They're usually meant to be mounted to the underside of your dash.

Ramundicus (author)gumbytig2014-03-11

It is, but I haven't found one with a surface mounting bracket like this.

Rev_William (author)Ramundicus2014-03-11

I got mine at auto zone for 2.99

Khaleel123 (author)2014-03-11

Thanks for the comment, I did lots of google searches and watched a bunch of youtube videos, before deciding on what parts to use. The setup you should use really depends on two things you're budget and application.

AdamTheMechE (author)2014-03-11

Next step: make the angle adjustable and use a calculator to optimize! This one seems to work well:

Khaleel123 (author)AdamTheMechE2014-03-11

If only I had more free time for this kind of stuff and a bigger budget. I would really go all out and go off the grid.

jplewis01 (author)2014-03-11

Nice work, Dug into the build aspects more than I did. I built a similar rig mostly from off the shelf parts from the Solar section at Harbor Freight. I really should put the details online here in case its useful. I can run up to a 600 Watt inverter and swap in the most efficient unit for the charging task. The other part in mine is the USB ports to charge phones ETC, I just found a 3 port X 2.1amp 12Volt car charger that seems to rock. I use the build in volt meter on the Car Battery Jump starter box at present.

Khaleel123 (author)jplewis012014-03-11

Thanks, I currently use a single port usb car charger 2.1 amp for all my usb devices, looking into getting a multi port one. The inverter gets used for bigger stuff that can't charge using 5 volts, laptop, surface rt tablet and my dslr.

About This Instructable



Bio: I like finding new uses for things, making things, and improving things. I'm a student who is currently looking for a better job, one ... More »
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