How To Make Solar Power Work For Everyone

Keep reading to learn about DIY Solar Heating System that looks cooler than Teslas Solar Roof

Want to know the best part?

I built my first homemade solar powered space heaters with soda cans only!

See my home-built solar furnace in action (it's a short video):

OK, without further ado, let's dive right in.

First, let's cover the basics of solar power usage. There are 3 types of solar panels:

  • Solar PV (PhotoVoltaic) Panel – creates electricity;
  • Solar Powered Water Heater – heats up water;
  • Solar Powered Air Heater – heats up the air.

Now, you may not want to hear this:

Most residential solar companies will not tell you that other, more efficient options can be used instead of PV solar panels. So instead of focusing on solar electricity, it is much cheaper to install solar space heating.

See also: What is a solar powered outlet?

Look:

I started researching DIY solar panel kits in 2009.

Note: This post was first published in 2013. I recently gave it a much-needed update (for 2022) and added many great tips and enhancements that I recently learned. Enjoy!

There were not so many free step-by-step installation guides on the internet at that time. Solar thermal installer resources for beginners were not easily available.

Back then, I reached out to several solar system manufacturers and professional solar installers for advice on how to build a solar system.

I asked them two simple questions:

Would I Make a Good Solar Thermal Installer?

What they answered might shock you.

They told me that building solar systems from scratch and solar panel installation is very complicated.

They also told me I would have to get a solar permit and pass certification training to install and build my own solar energy systems.

And guess what?

They were all wrong!

Thanks to Gary Reysa and Mother Earth News, I stumbled across the cansolair solar heating system on the internet.

It took me less than 1 second to realize how awesome this project is. I instantly decided to start working on my own diy solar installation project.

This is what I learned by studying their commercial version of the solar space heater:

Unlike the solar PV system, even a simple homemade solar power heater could produce 2 KiloWatts of power without much effort or battery storage.

That truly makes it a perfect do-it-yourself solar heating system for homes.

Let's face it:

The concept of making and installing home solar heating systems yourself is not new.

Some homeowners choose DIY to save a few bucks (actually thousands of dollars).

Others do it for fun or simply because they want to build something useful and learn something new (that's me 😂).

The first thing you're going to learn today is figuring out if DIY solar is for you and how to build solar panel systems for houses.

In fact, going solar has significant benefits for homeowners:

  • Solar increases the value of your home;
  • Solar investment lowers your utility bill;
  • Decreases environmental pollution by lowering the carbon footprint;
  • Solar brings considerable savings by reducing electricity expenses;
  • It makes you feel good (because you did something right!).

Because of the high price tags that system designers put on commercial systems, solar equipment can be a significant investment. To save money, many homeowners are buying DIY solar panel kits.

To help you decide about making your own solar energy system, I have compiled a list of 5 necessary steps. You only need to check them and figure out if this is something you can do or not.

Video

How To Make A Better Solar Dehydrator

We did a post ages back about how to make a different solar dehydrator,  but that dehydrator was a completely different design…

Personally, I think this solar dehydrator is a more effective design.  The whole thing seems more effective and simple and this applies to how it’s built and how it functions. If I had to choose between the two solar dehydrator designs, I would choose to build this one. Check out the great photo tutorial (including the materials list) from ’10 Degrees Above’.

How To Build A DIY Portable Solar Generator

First I should clarify – there are solar panels, solar chargers and solar generators. We have featured several tutorials showing how to build cheap solar chargers. These are simple to build as they are basically just a solar panel that produces electricity and charges when the sun is out, but when the sun goes in, it does nothing. This tutorial is to build a simple weatherproof solar generator – when the sun is shining the panel produces electricity AND then charges (and tops up) an internal battery so you can store the electricity to use later. To be fully weatherproof I would probably make a little cover to go over the external socket, just to keep it dry.

A solar generator like this would be awesome for camping, fishing and emergency preparedness etc. With it you can power lights and other small devices. Check out the full build tutorial here.

how long do solar powered generators last?

Generally speaking, solar powered generators last between 25 to 35 years, depending on the brand and quality. It’s an investment but it’s one that will last you a long time. Also, many solar generators come with warranties, so if something goes wrong, you can get it fixed. 

Step 1: The Walkway

Here is the little path that goes from my driveway to the front door.  I decided this was the best place to put the lights, mostly because I wouldn’t have to move a bunch of concrete, but also because I’d get to walk the path each night when I came home from work. I figured I’d put one of the glass blocks in the path first just to see how it would look during the day.  I dug a little hole, just a bit deeper than the end result would be.  I poured a little fine gravel into the bottom of the hole, so you wouldn’t just be looking at dirt through the glass.  I filled it back in around the block, and left the top just a bit higher than the surrounding gravel, as I figured it would settle out a bit.  Everyone who saw it thought it looked nice, so it was off to the next step.

Warnings

  • Make sure that all the installation and electrical work for your solar electric system is performed by licensed contractors.[20]

    Thanks! Helpful Not Helpful

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Step 4: Get to More Work!

I marked the spots on my path where I wanted the bricks, and measured the distance from there to the case of the solar light, and added about a foot.  I found out the hard way that I probably should have added more like three feet just to be safe!  Cut speaker wire to these lengths.  Make sure you label them for easy installation later.  Strip the ends of the wires and solder up one end to each of the bricks.  After these are attached, epoxy or silicone any exposed wire or solder.  As described in step one, dig the holes in the path, fill the bottom with gravel, and install your blocks.  In addition, you’ll need to dig out a little trench between each block, to run your wires through.  For this reason, I started with the one that was farthest from the solar light, accumulating more wires in the trench with each brick I added. Eventually I ended up at the solar light and soldered each of the block wires to one of the loose wires installed where the LEDs used to be in the solar light.  Let me tell you, soldering outdoors in the dark is a little bit trickier than doing it at the workbench!  Make sure you coat all your exposed wires in epoxy or silicone to keep the rain out. When you’re done, bury all the wires, flip the switch, and enjoy your Solar Powered Walkway!

What Does it Cost to Build Pop Can Solar Panel?

The following table contains parts needed for assembling soda can DIY solar panels.

It is a list of parts and calculation of the cost without elements damaged and wasted during the experimenting and prototyping process.

If you strictly follow my "do it yourself" guide, the solar panel total cost will be around $200 (for the 2KW system size).

DIY Solar Generator Parts List

PART QTY $
Plexiglass 27ft² / 2.5m2 70
Alu-Sheet 6.5ft² / 0.6m2 7.5
Wood 40ft² / 3.7m2 29.5
WoodPaint 2cans 10.5
Blk. Paint 3cans 15.5
Styrodur 43ft² / 4m2 11.5
Silicon 4cans 17
El. Fan 1 pc 23.5
Alu-Profile 22ft / 6.6m 11
Snap Disc 1 pc 9
TOTAL   $205

Using Recycled Parts Can Lower Solar Panel Cost

You could substantially reduce the price of solar panels if you make an effort to use parts that are otherwise collecting dust lying around in your garage.

Besides, you will need to collect empty soda cans. If you don't drink beer or soda, you can ask for empty pop cans in any restaurant or gas station. It is also essential to get all the necessary tools before you start building.

The most expensive parts of a solar panel are plexiglass sheets, an air blower, and wooden elements. If your budget is low, there are some cheaper alternatives for components.

For example, you can make the solar panel front cover using Lexan. Comparing to the UV resistant polycarbonate sheet, Lexan is a lot cheaper but also less efficient.

Before you start collecting parts for homemade solar panels, do not forget the importance of solving any thermal leakage and insulation problems in your home. With proper insulation, you will be able to heat your home with less energy, thus with a much smaller solar panel.

That also means you will spend less money on parts for your home solar heating do it yourself project and lower the solar panel costs to less than $200…

Solar install kit technical specs:

Panel Width: 1.09m
Panel Hight: 2.2m
Panel Depth: 160mm
Total Area: 2,4m2
Effective Area: 2,3m2
Weight: 66 kg
Intake diameter: 100mm
Outlet diameter: 125mm
No. of cans: 225pcs
Orientation: vert/horiz.

Discover the Benefits of Solar Powered Home (for a Few Hundred Bucks)

This is exactly why the utility company hates me.

Hit the play button to see how my DIY solar furnace works:

Video shows solar panel efficiency and operation on a bright sunny day. After only 20 minutes, the air temperature entering our solar-powered home rose quickly to 50°C/122°F.

Differential thermostat (snap disc – temperature circuit breakers) controls the fan. You can get it from almost any electronic component store.

The thermostat has two sensors:

  1. The sensor inside the top opening (hot air);
  2. The sensor located in the bottom opening (cold air supply).

When on/off temperature thresholds are set correctly, solar panel can produce an average of 2 kiloWatt of free energy for home heating. Solar power output generally depends on the system size and how much sun there is during the day.

Homemade Solar Panel Test Drive

The first test of the solar heating do it yourself was carried out in the backyard (without mounting racks) on a sunny winter day without any clouds. After only 10 minutes in the sun, the solar furnace started to produce hot air (70°C/158°F)! I have used a big cooler extracted from a faulty PC power supply as an air blower fan.

Test results and solar panel efficiency encouraged me to have the solar array installed on the house as soon as possible.

With the solar panels installed, the outside temperature fell below -3°C/26°F. Surprisingly, the solar panel was already supplying the room with 3m3/min (3 cubic meters per minute) of warm air. At the same time, I have switched to a more powerful fan. Hot air temperature went up to +72°C/162°F (measured with a digital thermometer).

To calculate a solar furnace's total energy production, I put the airflow and average air temperature output into the formula. My calculation showed that solar power output from DIY solar panels was approximately 1950 W (watts), almost 3 HP (3 horsepower)!!!

Solar Powered Space Heater Pros and Cons

CONS: This solar thermal system does not have a battery bank. Logically, without battery systems, it will not be able to accumulate thermal energy after producing it.

When it's sunny, a solar furnace produces heat, but it is necessary to use it instantly. If the sun does not shine, it is required to block the solar furnace air supply; otherwise, the room will begin to cool off. You can solve this by installing a shut-off valve, which reduces unnecessary heat loss.

PROS: Solar kits are much easier to install compared to DIY solar. Given the cost-effectiveness and excellent results, the conclusion is that do it yourself solar panels are worth making. Solar panel, at the very least, can be used for additional heating of your home. It's up to you to calculate and figure out how much money you can save with renewable energy and a solar furnace (hint: try solar calculator). Also, there are no toxic components like lead acid battery systems.

With cheap diy solar panel installation, you can also achieve significant savings during the heating season.

Depending on the construction and material quality, one square meter solar furnace can supply solar energy for 10 – 15 m² (107 – 160 ft²) of your living space. In other words, 2x1m solar panels (21 square feet covered with pop cans) can heat up to 30m² (30 square meters or 320 ft²) of your home.

The bottom line?

Depending on your location and available sun hours, solar panels can provide a short payback period while being a relatively cheap investment at the same time.

This is even without the federal solar tax credit that brings significant cost savings.

Beer Can Solar Heater Efficiency

Let's explain little bit about the actual solar furnace efficiency.

For example, in New York City latitude, the sun delivers up to 1000 Watts per m² (10 ft²).

Out of those 1000 Watts, photovoltaic panels can capture around 200 W per m² (10 ft²). At the same time, a DIY solar heater of the same size can capture 500 – 800W per 10 ft² (1 m²), which is up to four times more!

On top of everything, by choosing DIY, I saved almost $1K on my electric bill last year, thanks to this solar furnace. You also save on solar permit, solar tax credit and permits guides as well.

During the research phase, I have found tons of heavily advertised guides for sale on the Internet that promise you can make community solar PV panels that will provide "90%" of your home's power for a few hundred dollars. So don't waste your money or time on some lame Clickbank guide to diy solar (unless it's free, of course). Most of such guides explain diy solar systems and grid tied solar, often named as Avasva solutions free solar panels or Avasva solar plans…

You will find plenty of free and honest information online, from reputable solar resources like mother earth news, , builditsolar, canadian solar, etc.

what are the pros and cons of a solar generator?

For your convenience, I’ve made a list of the pros and cons of a solar generator.  

Pros: 

  • Free energy from the sun 
  • Clean energy  
  • Quiet operation 
  • Low maintenance costs 
  • Lasts several years 

Cons:  

  • Pricy upfront 
  • Limited power supply (depending on watts) 
  • Slow recharge 

Just remember every solar generator is different, so this is a generic list. For example, there are several solar generators that won’t break the bank – it’s really just a matter of what you need. Be mindful of the fact the more watts a generator can dish out, the generally pricier it will be. 

8 thoughts on DIY: How to Make Your Own Solar Power Generator!

  • Anonymous June 19, 2016 at 1:19 pm “Nicely done. However, there are no info on how to get the panel at the right angle for maximum efficiency. Explaining angle and tilt as wellas guidance on how to achieve best results could be beneficial to those who want to power their generator efficiently.” Nice comment… http://gapenergysolutions.com/solarcity-complaints-around-market.xhtml

  • markmiller28 February 9, 2016 at 2:50 am I built my own bioplant and now create my own electricity using WWW-dot-BIOGASPLANT-dot-INFO — I literally slashed my energy bill by 80% by making biogas! I didn’t have to invest in any expensive solar panels or generators (so expensive!) – all I did was follow the steps listed on that website to build my own biogas plant. If I can do it, anybody can…seriously! It’s a great tool that will explain everything step-by-step for you. Everybody has enough energy to power their home using nothing but items you already have. I’ve never seen anything like this before! I was so furious that I spent so many years giving the big electric companies my money. Going off the grid was the best idea I’ve ever had! It’s impossible to overstate how invaluable the money I’ve saved has been for my family and I. It’s very easy to make your own power!

  • Anonymous February 2, 2016 at 11:00 am Nicely done. However, there are no info on how to get the panel at the right angle for maximum efficiency. Explaining angle and tilt as well as guidance on how to achieve best results could be beneficial to those who want to power their generator efficiently.

  • Anonymous September 14, 2015 at 11:31 pm The above clever illustrations are useful in getting a general idea of what it takes to make an outage-busting, supplemental solar power generator. This is something I have perfected, it’s fully DIY with most parts available locally, has 2000 watts of output from two inverters and a 185 watt solar panel (and deep cycle batteries). It will operate a medium sized frige, coffee pot, garage door opener, vacuum, drill and most electronics including tv’s and computers. Total cost around $750. An instruction manual and slide show is available at powerfromsun.com.

  • Craig Schaffer April 23, 2015 at 8:58 am @castiloam @Eye Light its called “google” you type in questions you want answers to like “where can I buy an inverter” or “how do I size my solar power system” then do a little legwork to put together the answers.

  • uzma February 2, 2015 at 1:16 am hi,can a lay man make his own power genarator

  • castilloam January 7, 2015 at 10:15 pm My question is If I need a 3000 watts for my aircondition and other appliances, how many solar panels or other electronic devices needed for the installation of the above? Kindly send me a reply on my email .mThanks a lot. More Power.

  • Anonymous September 18, 2014 at 2:05 am This all very nice and good, but where are all the listed models and names of these products. That is the gap from this being a cute idea to actually being considered by real people, like myself. When I showed this to my partner, he said “Wow, cool! Where do we get these things from??? How much will does it cost?” In the discussion of Solar Energy, it all comes down to power pay-off and dollar and sense, I really appreciate the idea of a friendly info graphic, to bring technology closer to end users, but giving incomplete data just shows its nothing more than a cute visual.

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About Kathleen Davis @ katjacqueline Kathleen Davis is a producer at Science Friday, which means she spends the week brainstorming, researching, and writing, typically in that order. She’s a big fan of stories related to strange animal facts and dystopian technology.

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