How To Build A DIY Portable Solar Power Generator (For Under $200)

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diy-solar-550

This project was born from a camping with my better half and a group of friends. These friends are not of our prepper mindset and as such had no way to recharge their phones, batteries or run any kind of device that required power.

If you’re interested in a done-for-you option check out my favorite pick at Amazon.

(Personally, I welcome the screen-free days.)

We were camping for 5 days so it wasn’t long before they started to come to me to use my inverter. I normally have a small 150w stashed in the trunk for emergencies, or times like these.

On the last day of camping, we got into a discussion on the number of batteries we had all gone through over the 5 days and how much it had cost us…needless to say I wasn’t happy at the final figure and decided that for the next trip, I would have something that would save us all money and would preferably be free.

The idea for a portable solar generator was born!

This was my first foray into solar power, though I have an interest in solar power generator for homes.I wanted to share this with you to show how easy it can be done, and why you shouldn’t be afraid to get your hands dirty with solar power.

My Requirements

First up I made a list of my requirements;

  1. Has to be portable – large deep cycle batteries were out unless I wanted to drag a trolly with me and that would pose a problem fitting it into the car.
  2. Has to power anything that requires a USB and/or DC connection – I didn’t need to power any A/C appliances such as a refrigerator or a television.
  3. Should look inconspicuous and not out of place in a home, car or tent – this project was also for post SHTF moments and I wanted to have it to hand without guests asking questions.

Here is what I came up with – the finished product.

Portable Solar Power Generator

My discrete Portable Solar Generator – using a simple toolbox!

What follows is a list of materials and tools used to construct. (note – all of the products were purchased via Ebay UK, the same or similar can be had from Ebay.com)

Materials List

  • 4x Power Sonic 12v 7ah Deep Cycle Batteries
  • 36x A Grade Solar Cells (inc Flux Pen, Tabbing Wire & Bus Wire)
  • 20″ Tool Box
  • Hella Socket & Plug
  • 12v DC Socket
  • 12 AWG Wire Black (2m)
  • 12 AWG Wire Red (2m)
  • Inline Fuse Holder
  • 10amp PWM Charge Controller
  • Digital Watt Meter (Battery Power Analyser)
  • 100x Male & Female Spade Connectors
  • 4m 5mm Wide Bus Wire
  • 8m Tabbing Wire
  • 2x Blue LED Rocker Switch
  • 2x Red Rocker Switch
  • Chocolate Block Connector
  • 2.4w 12v Trickle Charger

Tools Required

  • Digital Multimeter
  • 80w Soldering Iron

The total cost for the project so far is around $200, including the 30 watt solar panel I am in the process of making. You can save money buying from the online auction sites such as Ebay.

The Build

Here we have all of the major elements that will be going into or onto the tool box.

Portable Solar Power Generator - Components

All of the components

Next a shot of 1 of the 4 batteries I used, these are 12v 7ah batteries, normally used to power electric bikes, scooters and toy cars.

Portable Solar Power Generator - Batteries

One for scale!

Portable Solar Power Generator - Scale

Small batteries make for a lightweight & portable system

You can see the terminals used on the top which make connecting wires very easy with female spade connectors.

Portable Solar Power Generator - Battery Spade Connectors

Spade connectors on batteries

Here is a close up of the digital battery power meter I picked up for around $25 on Ebay.

Portable Solar Power Generator - Digital Multimeter

Digital multimeter

It didn’t come with any connectors so I had to add spade connectors and heat shrink to make it look nice!

Portable Solar Power Generator - New Spade Connectors

New spade connectors

Modified Power Analyzer with easy to connect spade connectors

Here is the second charge controller I bought as the first didn’t work

Portable Solar Power Generator - Charge Controller

Charge Controller – Controls the power to and from the batteries and solar panel

Next up we have the Hella socket and plug

Portable Solar Power Generator - Hella Socket

Hella Socket (Male & Female)

The 2v DC sockets and switches installed in the lid (which has the orange cover) My Dremel tool made this so easy!

Portable Solar Power Generator - DC Sockets Installed

DC Sockets Installed – via Dremel hand tool

My master power switch and power analyzer under the lid on the opposite side to the 12v DC plugs

Portable Solar Power Generator - Mains Switch & Power Analyzer

Mains Switch & Power Analyzer

Here’s how it looked underneath

Portable Solar Power Generator - The Lid

Underneath the lid

Then I wired the 4 batteries in parallel (which keeps the voltage the same at 12v but multiply the amp hours (ah). 4x 7ah gives me 28ah…simples!

Portable Solar Power Generator - Batteries Wired In Parallel

Batteries Wired in Parallel

I also added a 12v inline fuse which you can see in the image above, this is between the battery bank and the master power switch.

Here is a close up of the Hella socket installed

Portable Solar Power Generator - Hella Socket Installed

Hella Socket from the inside

Portable Solar Power Generator - Hella Socket Installed|

Hella Socket from the outside – here is where the solar panel will connect

And one of the 2x 12v DC sockets along with blue LED switches to show me they are on and working!

Portable Solar Power Generator - DC Sockets Working

DC sockets Installed and working!

Here is my second charge controller (working this time)

Portable Solar Power Generator - Working Charge Controller

Working charge controller

The Power Analyser installed next to the master switch…we have power!

Portable Solar Power Generator - Master Swith and Power Analyzer

Master switch and power analyzer

Checking the power output

Portable Solar Power Generator - Multimeter

Getting 12.6v on the multimeter

Here is the trickle charger and it plugged in (only a 2.4w panel)

Portable Solar Power Generator - Trickle Charger

2.4w trickle charger – until the solar panel is completed

Here is where the solar panel connects using the Hella Socket.

Portable Solar Generator - Solar Panel Connection

Hella socket used to connect solar panel

And the battery power analyzer telling me we’re good to go

Portable Solar Generator - Power Analyzer On

Power Analyzer = ON!

The finished products….looking very unobtrusive….OPSEC!

The next stage will be to complete my solar panel which I have already started working on tabbing the cells together etc. I will share that with you all once completed.

Hope you enjoyed reading about my project as much as I have enjoyed building it.

If you’re looking for a done-for-you option, here’s my favorite pick at Amazon.

If you’re thinking about making your own I would encourage you to do so, you will learn a lot and if you have any question please ask in the comments below.

Meet the Author

'Mountain Man' John

'Mountain Man' John is a Survival and Preparedness enthusiast who loves everything outdoors. He has a passion for learning anything and everything to help sustain his and his families way of life post SHTF. He frequently shares his knowledge on a variety of topics from his hands on DIY projects, learning new skills such as hunting and trapping along with reviews on his Survival related purchases - Prepping has been in his family for generations, it's in his blood. You can follow John by subscribing to his newsletter on the PrepperZine.com homepage, or by following him on Facebook.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mark Crummett Sep 18, 2015, 11:17 pm

    I’d be very interested in seeing your solar panel build when it’s done.

    • 'Mountain Man' John Sep 30, 2015, 10:44 am

      Thanks Mark, I will put up the details here once it’s all complete.

  • Alvin Nov 28, 2015, 8:32 pm

    What does the inline fuse do? Im thinking about addin a 50a fuse between my 36ah batteries and 400 watt inverter. Will this do anything? Thanks

    • 'Mountain Man' John Nov 30, 2015, 3:00 pm

      It protects the battery and the outlet from shorting from a current surge. The fuse will blow before any of the expensive peripherals.

  • Dee Jan 12, 2016, 1:42 pm

    I’m a mother of 5 (nearly) grown boys with a strong compulsion to build this thing! But I’m afraid to begin, being unable to complete it with enough efficiency to be useful due to my lack of electrical knowledge and skill. I do have a passion, though, and I love to learn. Do you reasonably think I could accomplish this by just following your directions (without having to scrap the project half way through)? Thanks for your post and I’d appreciate your honest introspection here.

  • Clayton Jan 18, 2016, 4:07 pm

    What about the computer fans where did you install them?

    • 'Mountain Man' John Jan 20, 2016, 7:34 pm

      They are for a later mod if we found the batteries getting too hot – they’re not really needed. If you wanted to use them in a smaller case for example, you would simply mount them on either side with one facing out and the other facing in.

      This would pull in the air from one fan and push it out with the other, so the cooler air would flow over the batteries and out the other side.

  • James Feb 15, 2016, 11:51 am

    Where and why do you use the chocolate block connectors?

    • 'Mountain Man' John Mar 2, 2016, 5:28 am

      They are used to connect the power to the on/off switch, which is then connected to the DC socket to power the products.

      They are simply an easier way to connect the wires rather than soldering and make it easier to replace items.

  • Paul B. Mar 27, 2016, 5:54 am

    That is a good write-up with pictures. Thank you. This was an inspiration to help me design and build mine.

    I only changed a couple of things on mine. That is a lot of Amp hour for a electronics charger but I understand it is to last all weekend. 😉

    The other thing I needed to change was the weight, my wife complained my old one was to heavy for her to move or carry around. I did not think about that on my first build. (I used 2 x 12v/12Ah batteries.)

    Soooo, *PowerBox 2.0* was born.

    I took my solar panel I already had for charging my laptop battery and used it for this project too. 18v 16,5 watt tri-fold panel.

    Now, I decided to use 12 18650 batteries in three series of 4, that is 16.8vdc at 12Ah. The batteries I used are 4.2v at 4000mAh each.

    For charging, I used a 4 cell charging board per 4 batteries, so I needed 3 of them. at a cost of 2.49 each.
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/New-Cool-BMS-Protection-PCB-Board-for-4-packs-18650-Li-ion-lithium-Battery-Cell/201434924156?_trksid=p2045573.c100033.m2042&_trkparms=aid%3D111001%26algo%3DREC.SEED%26ao%3D1%26asc%3D20131017132637%26meid%3Dd95353dad5d9402a92a11a4fabc3130d%26pid%3D100033%26rk%3D2%26rkt%3D4%26sd%3D231773942384

    Now, to provide the voltages I needed, 12.6vdc-13.8vdc, I used a stepdown voltage board. I used two for my two 12v sockets at 5a each and I used two for my usb ports (2 per board gives 2.5a per usb port) and I have an extra one for something else. cost, 1.76 each shipped
    http://www.banggood.com/5A-XL4005-DC-DC-Adjustable-Step-Down-Module-Power-Supply-Converter-p-943557.html?currency=USD&createTmp=1&utm_source=ebay&utm_medium=cpc&utm_content=saul&utm_campaign=xie-US&ebay

    I switched the and fused the input of each stepdown board to save battery power.

    This is housed in a very small plastic box weighing about 2 pounds not including the solar panel. (panel measures 15in x 18in weighing in at 14 ounces. with the connecting wire, about 1 pound.) TOTAL WEIGHT **3 pounds**

    Total cost, about 80 dollars and it has been tested to provide power to charge 4 phones, 2 tablets and a kindle fire for a whole week on a single full charge. I was impressed indeed.

    I know. I know. Anybody can make one in so many configurations, it is silly to try to think about how many. This was just my take on it after reading about yours and deciding to build one, actually 2, one heavy and one light.

    Thanks again for writing this up and giving all of us a place to start and think about our electronic needs.

    Paul

    P.S. Sorry, I did not mean to hijack your article.

    • 'Mountain Man' John Mar 30, 2016, 8:04 am

      Wow that’s awesome Paul, give me lots to think about. I am currently building my own version of the SOLN1 and SOLN8 (you can Google them, there are a ton of videos etc).

      These are the lightest I have seen and suitable for being carried around when backpacking and camping etc. Also, great in a SHTF event as they take up little space and can be mounted practically anywhere.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this…it really is an interesting topic!

      – John

  • Gabe Mar 29, 2017, 8:04 pm

    What price would you charge to build me a similar one? Thanks!

  • Jamie Littleton Oct 5, 2017, 11:29 am

    Did you ever finish it? I would like to see the pics of it finished. Thanks.

    And this was a great read and the pics helped out a lot with you explaining how you made this. Great job!!