Intro: Portable Low Cost DIY Solar Panel Setup
This $150 - $200 solar project is a great addition to the camping and road trip arsenal. Parts are readily available at your local hardware store or Canadian Tire. It takes an hour or two to build and the electrical is very simple so even the least handyman person can build one with ease. Let's get started!
Step 1: Gather Materials
Note most of the materials I bought were on sale at Canadian tire, the store has frequent sales so don't rush to buy everything at once.
1 - Solar panel (I went with a 20 watt RV panel because it came with an aluminum frame that was easy to drill into and keeps the panel from bending)
1 - Sheet of wood cut down to the size of your panel yet thick enough to drive screws into
1 - PWM Solar Charge controller (I bought this off ebay for ~$10, I chose PWM because it is the cheaper option)
1 - Lead acid battery (I went with a 7.5 Ah battery but you could use any lead acid battery, even a car battery, I chose this one because of its weight and slim build)
1 - Power Inverter (I used a 400 Watt inverter so I can run appliances that can draw more current without going overkill and breaking the bank)
1 - Voltmeter (This measures how much electricity your solar panel is generating, it is wired in parallel with the panel)
10ft - 1/2 inch Steel strapping (Used to hold the battery and power inverter securely to the board)
10ft - 10-14 AWG stranded electrical wire (I had some lying around but when you buy some I would not go below 14AWG, you don't wanna cause a fire)
2 - Small Steel or Aluminum L brackets (size doesn't really matter but go with the width of your panel so it does not stick out too much)
2-4 - Hinges (go with a size that will fit nicely on your piece of wood and does not stick out)
Mounting hardware - so screws shorter than the width of your peice of wood.
Screwdriver, Drill, and that's about it!
Step 2: Mount Components
This is an easy step and all it requires is to screw in all the components into your sheet of wood. Align them level and screw in. Keep in mind that you will need room to run a wire from the Solar Charge Controller to the battery, voltmeter, and power inverter. Whatever you can't screw in bend the steel strapping tightly around the component and screw that in place.
Step 3: Attach Hinges and L Brackets
These may be screwed into the top of the sheet of wood anywhere, use a measuring tape to offset them the same amount from each side of the board. Make sure the hinges are straight. The hinges must be screwed into both the metal and the aluminum frame of the solar panel. Because it is aluminum you can use regular screws to secure it or use a machine screw and a nut on the other end for extra reliability. The L brackets must be bent to the angle you want your solar panel to sit at. Use a pair of pliers and experiment with this until you are satisfied.
Step 4: Electrical
Caution: Electricity can be dangerous, but since you're working at 12 volts it shouldn't be life threatening to the average healthy person with no metal implants or heart irregularities. Just make sure you connect red(+) to red(+) and black(-) to black(-) and you'll be fine. At no point in this, you should be connecting them together.
The charge controller has symbols that show you where to connect the solar panel, battery, and power inverter. I crimped on connectors to make the connections but all you have to do is twist the wire around the screw then screw it in.
Red and Black of Solar panel ==> + and - on charge controller solar panel section respectively
Red and Black of Battery ==> + and - on charge controller battery section
Red and Black of Power Inverter ==> + and - on charge controller load section
Red and Yellow of Voltmeter ==> + on charge controller solar panel section
Black of Voltmeter ==> - on charge controller solar panel section
Make sure there are no cuts in the wire insulation or wrong connections before plugging your panel in.