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Best DIY Solar Panel Kits – Pricing and Reviews. DIY solar setup

Best DIY Solar Panel Kits – Pricing and Reviews. DIY solar setup

    DIY Solar. Can I Install Solar Panels Myself?

    Whether it’s to save money, flex our weekend warrior skills, or savor the sweet accomplishment of building something with our own hands, DIY (do-it-yourself) projects can be a rewarding way to spend free time. Couple this with video tutorials for just about everything on the internet, and it can be quite tempting to undertake a project that may be a bit outside of our comfort zone.

    And while venturing outside your comfort zone is a great way to grow your skill set, undertaking a highly specialized project may not be a good idea. no matter what the YouTube video promises.

    Take for instance installing your own solar energy system. While this DIY project may save you some money in the short-term, it could be very dangerous for someone who is not a trained solar professional. And with the potential to lose out on manufacturing and installation warranties, it can end up costing you more in the long-term than you saved in the short-term.

    The Dangers of DIY Solar

    Installing your own solar panels can be a risk to your own personal safety and to your property for two main reasons: the height at which panels are typically installed and the fact that you’re working with a complex electrical system.

    Most solar systems are installed as either a roof mount or a ground mount. Typically, roof mounts are less expensive and require less labor to install, since the roof serves as the main supporting structure. With ground mounts, the structure has to be constructed. Because of this, and because roof-mount panels don’t take up valuable space in your yard or farm, they tend to be more popular.

    However, unless you’re working with a team of trained, certified professionals equipped with all the experience and tools needed to work safely, it simply isn’t worth it.

    A single panel can weigh between 33 to 50 pounds. Depending on how large your solar system is, you’ll be hauling quite a few of these up to your roof, along with the materials for racking and wiring. Then comes the installation, which will require you to position and install these components on an elevated, and likely angled, surface.

    Unless you’re properly trained to do this type of work and have all the required personal protective equipment, this in itself makes installing your own solar panels a bad idea. Saving some money is not worth the risk of falling.

    The other risk is the electrical work you’ll need to do.

    When exposed to sunlight, a solar panel can produce a couple of hundred volts of electricity. That’s certainly enough to inflict serious harm if accidentally or mistakenly touched.

    In addition to personal harm, you could potentially damage the building on which you’ve installed the solar system. Electricity will be flowing through the wires. If the components were not installed properly, the system could, potentially, damage itself, or even worse, start an electrical fire.

    Solar energy has proven itself to be an extremely safe way to generate your own electricity. The 630 GW of solar energy installed around the world as of 2020 is a testament to this. However, as with any electrical system, mistakes can have serious ramifications.

    To ensure these mistakes don’t happen, solar installers in all states need to be certified and licensed to install solar. To ensure you work with a team that knows their stuff and will install your system the correct way, be sure to check out their experience, qualifications, and certifications.

    A good place to start is to ensure they are North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). NABCEP is the country’s leading certification board for solar energy professionals.

    We put together a list of tips for selecting a solar installation company to help you select an installation partner.

    The Regulatory Hurdles for New Solar Installations

    Permitting, utility interconnection, grant applications, tax credit paperwork, SRECs.

    You can’t just order parts, hop on your roof, and start installing a solar system. There are various paperwork hurdles you must first jump through. This process can be quite frustrating and time-consuming for solar DIY-ers.

    First off is the permit from your local building department. In it, you’ll have to provide a site plan and share the details on how you’ll install the system. This will include things like how the panels attach to your roof, proof that your roof can support the additional weight of the solar system, and the spec sheets for your solar system’s components.

    You’ll also need an electrical diagram of the system and calculations proving the components are compatible and safe. Lastly, you’ll need to show how you plan on connecting the system to the electric grid.

    After getting the required building permits, you’ll need to submit the specifics of the system to your utility company to gain permission to connect your solar system to the grid. Along with this, you’ll likely have to navigate the paperwork for your area’s solar electricity compensation program (called net metering in most states). This will ensure you are properly compensated for any excess electricity your solar system produces and pushes out onto the grid.

    Then comes the paperwork for grants and other incentives. Their availability will vary region by region, as will the requirements and stipulations for receiving them. Limited grants can be competitive, as with the USDA REAP Grant, which can cover a significant portion of your solar system’s cost if awarded.

    In order to be eligible, you need to be a qualifying farm or rural business located in specific areas of the country. While navigating eligibility is hard, the submission process is harder, and actually receiving this competitive grant is the hardest. However, it can cover up to 25% of your solar system.

    At Paradise Energy, our specialized grant writers have an 80% success rate. Learn more about applying for the USDA REAP Grant.

    You will also have to complete the paperwork for the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit, which returns 26% of your solar system’s cost to you in 2020. Businesses’ and farms’ systems may also qualify for accelerated depreciation, which accelerates solar’s payback even more.

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    Lastly, if SRECs are available in your state, you will have to fill out the necessary paperwork and navigate the SREC market. SRECs stand for solar renewable energy credits, which solar owners earn with every 1,000 kWh of solar energy generated. They can sell these credits on an open market, helping the state reach its environmental goals.

    To put it simply, there is a lot of work that needs to be done outside of the actual installation of your solar system. Not only can it be overwhelming, but it can be challenging and time-consuming. By partnering with a professional installer, you can rest assured they’ll take care of the paperwork correctly.

    DIY-ers May Lose Out on Valuable Solar Equipment Warranties

    There’s no denying that solar energy can require a significant upfront investment. That investment can pay for itself in just a few years, leaving the vast majority of its 25 to 30 year lifespan left to save you a significant amount of money. However, equipment, production, and workmanship warranties can provide a vital function over the decades-long lifespan of your system.

    The solar panel components that make up your system are built to last. Manufacturers are so confident in their durability that they guarantee their products for up to 30 years. That means if anything goes wrong with your system under the terms of the warranty, you’ll receive a replacement piece of equipment for free.

    However, these warranties only apply to components that were installed exactly as the manufacturer intended. By installing your own components, one mistake could void the 30-year warranty on your solar panels before the system is even working.

    Additionally, you’ll lose out on warranties offered by your solar installation company. While these will vary from one company to the next, they can be immensely valuable to your solar investment.

    At Paradise Energy, we think it’s just plain wrong that you should suffer the consequences of a mistake we made. That’s why we offer our Triple Ten Guarantee, which will protect your investment and help guarantee your system’s payback through a ten-year production guarantee, ten years of system monitoring, and a ten-year workmanship guarantee.

    What’s a production guarantee? In your solar system’s proposal, your installer will provide an estimate of how much electricity your solar system will generate each year. They’ll take into account local weather patterns and the amount of sunshine in your area to get as close of an estimate as they can.

    However, the weather isn’t always predictable, and that estimate won’t always be right. With our production guarantee, we’ll treat our estimate like a promise. If your system produces less electricity than we estimated, we’ll write you a check for the difference.

    If you opt to install your own solar panels, you’ll be losing out on the peace of mind these warranties offer you.

    Installing Your Own Solar Panels Isn’t Worth the Risk or Your Time

    All in all, you’re risking a lot when you’re taking a solar installation into your own hands: your safety, the safety of your building, and the risk of losing the warranties on your solar equipment.

    You’re also going to be spending a lot of time on paperwork, permitting, and approvals.

    Solar energy requires a complex system that should be installed by experienced, certified solar professionals with proper safety equipment. Not only will this keep you safe, but you’ll save time and have an investment backed by strong warranties for decades, keeping your investment safe as well.

    Best DIY Solar Panel Kits – Pricing and Reviews

    Solar panel kits can be used for a number of applications and are becoming more popular as the cost of solar panels has declined by more than 70% in the last decade. The most common use for solar kits are RV travelling, camping, boating and small off-grid cabins, as solar is a more attractive alternative to loud and smelly diesel generators or additional batteries.

    These kits can also be used for a small building on your property that needs power, such as a barn or parking garage. Running electricity to these buildings can be expensive, particularly if all you need to power are a few light bulbs and small appliances. If you own a cabin that has a greater electricity demand and is off of the grid due to geographical reasons then a solar kit can be an excellent option.

    There are also DIY solar kits for full-size homes (3kW – 5 kW) that have a larger electricity load (average residential solar size in the U.S. is approximately 6 kWs). These kits come with the same top of the line panels and inverters that you would get from a professional installer. People enjoy the thrill that comes from disconnecting from the grid or having back-up power. DIY solar can also generate energy savings depending on where you live and reduce the overall installation cost relative to a professional installation if you have the expertise to install the system.

    Editor’s Summary Recommendation

    Our recommendation is the Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit. It features a highly efficient monocrystalline panel, is built in the USA and offers good value as a starter kit. Because it uses monocrystalline panels, it is lighter (19.8 lbs) and smaller dimensions that kits that use polycrystalline panels, which makes a difference for RV or boating applications. It can also be expanded up to 400Ws.

    Best Solar Panel Kits Reviewed:

      Solar Panel Kit ComparisonSolar Panel Kit Buyers GuideDetailed Solar Panel Kit Reviews
      Renogy 100W 12v Solar Starter Kit WindyNation 100W Solar Panel Off-Grid Kit Grape Solar 100W Basic Off Grid Solar Kit Renogy 400W 12V Solar Starter Kit Grape Solar 400W Off-Grid Solar Kit

    Solar Panel Kits Comparison Table

    ModelPanel TypePanel BrandSystem SizeSystem TypePrices
    Renogy 100W 12v Solar Starter Kit Mono Renogy 100W Off Grid
    WindyNation 100W Solar Panel Off-Grid Kit Mono WindyNation 100W Off Grid
    Grape Solar 100W Basic Off Grid Solar Kit Poly Grape Solar 100W Off Grid
    Renogy 400W 12V Solar Starter Kit Mono Renogy 400W Off Grid
    Grape Solar 400W Off-Grid Solar Kit Poly Grape Solar 400W Off Grid

    Solar Panel Kits Buyers Guide

    Buying the right solar kit for your specific application is important if you are going to extract the most value and usefulness from your purchase. Some important things to consider are:

    The key items in a solar kit are solar panels, a charge controller, a battery, and an inverter. Some solar kits will include a few of these items, leaving you to buy the other components separately. Here is a simple diagram that explains how the solar system relates to each component, and what they each do. Note that the solar kits in this review do not include batteries and we have included advice on several battery options in the Buyers Guide.

    The second most popular solution is to have a battery installation that gets charged during the sunny hours, and then when it gets dark you can switch to an inverter which changes your stored DC voltage into AC voltage for your appliances. Most solar reliant houses will have DC LED lighting to make the most of the lower power consumption of these efficient lighting products.

    Working out your energy requirements is important before you go out and buy your next solar kit. Simply follow our guide and to calculate how many solar panels and batteries you will need based on your appliances and lighting. This is a very simple formula, but will require a bit of input from you.

    Step 2: Calculate your solar panel requirements. Assume you will receive 4 hours of full sunlight per day ( check the DOE for exact amounts in your zip code), so a 100W panel will generate 400Whs of electricity (100W x 4 hours). Take your daily electricity usage (1,475 Whs) and then divide that by 400Whs per panel = ~3.7 100W panels or 4 with some cushion.

    Step 3: Estimate your battery capacity. We need to factor in bad weather, so we will multiply your daily electricity usage by 2 days as a safety measure in case we don’t have enough sun to charge our batteries. Because we don’t ever want our batteries to discharge below 50%, we will then multiply this number by 2. So your daily electricity usage is 1,475 x 2 days x 2 (50% capacity) = 5,900Whs.

    Step 4: Next we need to work out our total amp hours that we will need for our battery installation. We do this by dividing our total daily watt-hours by our battery voltage which is 12v in this case.

    Example – 5,900Whs / 12v = 491AH

    Step 4: Check your battery’s amp hour rating and then divide the total amp hours by your battery’s amp hour rating. Our example batteries have 105AH per battery

    Example – 491AH / 105AH = 4.7 batteries (or 5 to round up for cushion).

    These calculators may also be helpful.

    Batteries are an important part of your solar kit installation if you plan on using your stored solar power when the sun goes down. Most solar kits don’t come with batteries, so you will have to choose the best battery for your needs. Luckily you can use the above formula to work out exactly what you need to keep your system powered up when you need it the most, at night.

    Here are some of the better options for your solar battery requirements:

    We understand that not everyone is familiar with of the terms and concepts that are used frequently when it comes to solar technologies, so we have included a simple glossary to explain some of the more common terms that you will come across when installing your solar kit.

    Voltage – The force of electricity as it moves, measured in volts

    Watts – This is an energy rating that we get when multiplying volts by amps

    Amps – This is a unit of current, or a rate of flow. One volt across one ohm of resistance is equal to one amp.

    Polycrystalline – This is a type of silicon wafer that is used in the construction of solar panels. It is made from many different crystals and is slightly less efficient than Monocrystalline panels.

    Monocrystalline – This is a silicon wafer with a single crystal and is slightly more efficient than Polycrystalline panels.

    Amp Hours – This measures a battery’s energy capacity and measures the flow of current per hour

    Solar Panel – This is a flat panel that absorbs light and produces electricity

    Solar Cells – Multiple solar cells make up a single solar panel and there are many inside a solar panel

    Larger System Options

    ModelCost Per KWBrandsSystem SizeSystem Type
    3kW Ground Mount Kit 1.89 SolarEdge 3kW Ground Mount
    3kW Roof Kit 1.53 SolarEdge 3kW Rooftop
    5kW Ground Mount Kit 1.89 SolarEdge 5kW Ground Mount
    5kW Roof Kit 1.53 SolarEdge 5kW Rooftop

    Solar Panel Kit Detailed Reviews

    Renogy 100W 12v Solar Starter Kit

    This is a well-built solar kit from Renogy, and it is capable in many different scenarios, from being installed on top of an RV or trailer, to being installed as part of a larger solar array, the Renogy 100 watt Solar Starter Kit is a solid choice. The panel is made from monocrystalline, which is a more efficient material than polycrystalline (smaller and lighter). This is because the yield of silicone is greater and of a more pure consistency on the mono panels as opposed to the poly panels. The kit comes with a charge controller, called the Renogy Wanderer, meaning that you can expand your installation up to 400w, or 4 panels at a later stage when you decide to increase your solar capacity. Some consumers have complained about the quality of the controller, but the company has recently upgraded the controller – the Wander is a good value and works for most people.

    Renogy was started by students at Louisiana State University, is listed on the Inc. 5,000 List and is based out of Ontario, California

    DIY Home Solar

    You’ve heard it on the news and you’ve read the latest reports. Solar power is projected to become cheaper than coal in about 10 years. Just consider the significant drops in the cost of going solar – since 2009, solar have dropped 62%! What was once a far-reaching solution to lowering your home energy bill has now become a reality in the life of many homeowners. In fact, DIY residential solar kits are appearing on the shelves of big box stores. As a homeowner, you’re ready to get in on the action! And with a DIY kit, how hard could it be to start saving money on your monthly electric bill? In this article, we’ll cover what you’ll do to install a home solar energy system and the pros and cons of the DIY method versus hiring the professionals.

    Residential Solar Energy Systems: The Basics

    The majority of residential solar energy systems are still connected to the grid. This allows you to still have power when the sun is not shining (cloudy/rainy days and at night) and you’ve run out of solar energy generated by your own system. Besides always having power available, when you’re still connected to the grid, you’re eligible for net metering. Net metering is when any unused energy generated by the solar panels installed in your house is fed back into the grid. The utility company then credits you back for the solar energy you are feeding into the grid. Essentially, if your credit is the same or more than what you use from the grid, your bill from the electric company can be 0. In addition to net metering, when you install a residential solar power system, you are also eligible for federal and local tax incentives and rebates that can result in major savings off the top.

    Equipment Needed for DIY Residential Solar System Installation

    Solar panels: these are responsible for collecting energy from the sun and transforming it into direct current (DC). Solar Inverter: very important piece of equipment that converts DC current into alternating current (AC) – which the current needed to run household appliances. PV Disconnect: This piece of equipment allows you to power off your system for maintenance and repairs. Electrical Panel: Your breaker box – how the solar energy you gather connects to your establishment. Net Meter: Device that connects your home to the grid to monitor the amount of power in and out of your house.

    You Know the Basics, But How Do You Know How Much and What Types to Buy?

    There are multiple types of solar panels, some more efficient, some better for smaller spaces, some better for people with more land, crystalline, thin-film, cheaper, expensive. The options are vast. So, where do you start?

    You start by monitoring your energy consumption. You need to have a good idea of how much energy you consume on the average day to determine how big of a solar energy system you’ll need. On top of that, you’ll also need to know how much money you have to spend – keeping in mind that the most expensive solar panels might not be the most cost effective for your needs.

    Crystalline solar panels (both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels are more efficient than thin-film solar panels. But, they’re also more costly because they are more pure. Monocrystalline solar panels have been found to capture about 18-21% of the sun’s rays, where thin-film solar panels average around 15%. All panels have an average life span of 25 years; crystalline silicon solar panels have lifespans up to 40 years. Intuitively, the more efficient the panels, the less you’ll need to buy.

    Where Do You Install the System?

    Depending on the size and type of residential solar system to decide to purchase, the location of installation can vary. In most cases, homeowners choose to install solar panels on the roof of their home. It’s a great space saver, if you don’t have a lot of land, and can receive great contact with the sun’s rays. But, what if you the majority of your roof is under shade from large trees? Maybe it’s better to mount your solar panels in the yard instead. This is also a good option when you need a larger amount of solar panels, that your roof might not be able to accommodate.

    Keep in the mind the costs associated with mounting your solar energy systems. You’ll need racking equipment to attach the solar panels to your roof and you’ll need the correct mounting system for your yard as well. And also keep in mind you need to really research the best positioning of the system to maximize the amount of sunlight you capture, taking into account the location of the sun during peak sunlight hours in addition to the location of any shade inhibiting objects (e.g., trees, buildings). Even one panel that is blocked from the sun due to a shade tree can inhibit the efficiency of the entire solar energy system.

    Solar Inverters

    This is a substantial piece of equipment for the entire residential solar energy system. Why? This is how you get to use the solar energy you capture in the solar panels to power your home energy needs. As stated above, the solar inverter is what converts DC power to AC power – the type of power of your home appliances, computers, and other residential power runs off of. Make sure you match up the capacity of your solar inverter with the size and type of your system (based on number of kW and grid or off-grid systems).

    Net Metering and Batteries

    If you’re connected to the grid, the net meter you need for your solar energy system is a big component to your energy savings. It monitors how much unused solar power you’re feeding into the grid and how much grid energy you are using to power your home. Regardless of the number, the installation of solar panels will drastically decrease the amount of energy you’re drawing from the grid overall; and hopefully, with careful planning, your utility bills will hover near 0 based on the credit you’ll receive back from contributing to the grid.

    The last piece of equipment you’ll need to consider when considering a DIY solar energy kit is whether you intend to have battery backup or not. Your system does not have to have a battery, but, if you do, you can use the battery to store unused energy (instead of feeding it back into the grid). That way, you’re even less dependent on the grid for energy, for even when the sun is not shining or during blackouts, you can draw on your stored energy in the battery to continue to power your home.

    The Final Hoops

    Now that you know the pieces of the DIY solar power kit that you’ll need, don’t forget about the installation, permits, and regulations involved in residential solar energy systems. Even though you’re doing it yourself, you need backup from the professionals – electricians, roofers, engineers, and others to determine if the system you’re installing is functional, appropriate, and safe and whether your home is suitable for the installation of the solar system.

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    Once all is checked out, it’s time to install your system. Some estimates suggest you can save up to 40% from buying a kit and doing it yourself. Seems too good to be true? It just might be.

    Pros and Cons of DIY Home Solar Energy Kits

    Pros Overall, the main reason people choose DIY solar panel installation is the potential cost savings. There are two ways to save costs – buy the solar power kit and install it yourself or buy the kit and get a professional to install it. The cost savings are pretty substantial when you think of it – you might be able to reduce your purchase price of the solar panels from 4 per watt to 2 per watt. For a common 5 kW solar energy system, that could mean a cost savings of 10,000 right off the bat. That’s a 50% discount and seems pretty good, right? Well.maybe.

    Most homeowners are going to need to hire licensed solar installers to install even DIY kits. Not only are they the professionals, they know the ins and outs of these systems, and are specifically trained in their installation. Let’s face it, how comfortable are you with playing around with your home’s electricity? What’s the drawback of this? Most of cost you’re going to pay an installer is going to significantly decrease the actual amount of savings you will accrue from going the DIY route. Most licensed electricians will charge you 3,000 to 5,000 on average to install your home solar panels. But, wait – there’s more. Let’s assume after installation, you’re saving about 5,000 from buying a DIY kit. But, this is before applying the 30% federal tax credit, reducing your savings to about 10% overall (you’re going to save about 2100, on average, to purchase a DIY kit. Doesn’t seem like much considering all the steps involved in DIY systems.

    Cons It will take a lot of your time researching the components of residential solar energy systems, equipment needed, what the equipment does, calling roofers to see if your roof can handle the weight of solar panels, calling engineers to determine the best positioning of your solar panels, calling an electrician to install the system, calling the utility company to assess the safety of connecting your solar system to the grid, and the list goes on. With a cost savings of about 10% – and that’s just monetary savings.what about your valuable time – hiring professionals might be more logical.

    You’re installing everything and then you hit a snag. Or something doesn’t work. Or something goes wrong. Guess what? The fault’s on you. On the contrary, if you went with a licensed installer, if something goes wrong, the fault’s on them. Let’s be realistic. We’re talking about electricity. Are you comfortable doing simple electrical work at your house? Most people are not. If you aren’t trained in this type of work, it can be extremely dangerous to work with.

    Lastly, you might not be eligible for all the rebates and incentives a residential solar energy system provides if you are installing it yourself. Many of the rebates and incentives are only valid if your system has been installed by a professional. You can essentially lose out on thousands of dollars in savings by going the DIY route.

    DIY: Yay or Nay?

    Because residential solar energy systems are a big investment, you’ll want the system installed correctly and to full functionality. With this type of investment, it seems more effective to rely on the professionals who do these types of installations daily. Most residential solar systems can be installed in about two days. And solar consultants will monitor your energy usage and recommend the best system for your needs and the best placement to optimize solar energy conversion. Overall, is saving 2,000 worth it to go through the headache of DIY installation? Perhaps you enjoy the challenge of a good home improvement project and have the time to devote to the scale of this project. Then DIY residential solar energy installation might be for you. For the most of us though, it’s easier and it’ll give you better peace of mind if you turn to the professionals.

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    DIY Solar Lights for Beginners (No Tools Needed!)

    Just so you know, this page contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on one, at no extra cost to you I may earn a small commission.

    In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to make DIY solar lights without using a single tool.

    In fact, these are the steps I used recently to solar power my own lights.

    I put these solar powered lights in a small shed, but this build is also a great starting point for vans, boats, RVs, and bigger sheds or buildings.

    Video Tutorial

    Here’s a video tutorial I made for this project. Check it out below, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel if you like DIY solar videos like this.

    With your mounting location picked, stick some of the double-sided mounting tape to the back of your charge controller.

    Mount the charge controller to the wall.

    If you’ve ever mounted a charge controller before, you’ll know this is as easy as it gets.

    Step 2: Connect the Charge Controller to the Battery

    Note: Most charge controllers — including the one I’m using in this tutorial — require you to connect the battery first, so that’s the order of connection I’ll detail here. But always double-check the recommended connection order in your charge controller’s manual. Though rare, some call for connecting the solar panel first.

    For this step, I picked up a couple adapter cables that make this process a cinch. Here’s one of them, which you’ll see already has a built-in fuse for overcurrent protection — a safety best practice in DIY solar power systems like this.

    Connect the two adapter cables — the SAE pigtail and and the SAE to battery alligator clips — together.

    Locate the battery terminals on your charge controller. They are usually labelled with a battery icon or the letters “BAT” or “BATT”.

    Insert the positive wire end into the positive battery terminal and the negative wire end into the negative battery terminal. Use a pair of tweezers (or a small flathead screwdriver) to tighten the terminals.

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    Tip: Don’t have a flathead screwdriver? No worries. I didn’t use one — this is a zero-tools build after all! Beyond tweezers, other household alternatives include the nail cleaner on a pair of nail clippers, the flathead screwdriver on a multitool, a hair clip, and even a knife.

    Connect the battery alligator clips to their respective battery terminals on the 12V battery.

    Tip: If your alligator clips don’t reach your battery terminals, just use an SAE extension cable.

    If you want to make the connection a bit more permanent — such as in vehicles where things can get jostled around during transit — you can pick up some electrical tape and tape the alligator clips to the terminals.

    Step 3: Select Your Battery Type

    Once you’ve connected your battery, confirm that your charge controller turned on. The screen should turn on automatically and start displaying system specs such as battery voltage.

    Follow the instructions in your charge controller’s manual to select your battery type. Your charge controller needs to know what type of battery you’re using to charge and discharge the battery to the right voltages. I selected the “SEL” option on mine, which stands for sealed lead acid batteries.

    Note: If you know anything about batteries, you may be wondering why I’m not using a lithium battery for this project. The reason is simple: because this DIY solar lighting setup is in my uninsulated shed, the battery will experience temperatures below freezing. And lithium batteries shouldn’t be charged below freezing (unless they have low-temp charging protection, which is usually only available on larger lithium batteries, such as 100Ah sizes or greater).

    Now your charge controller and battery are properly connected!

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    In my opinion, that was the hardest part of this project. All we have to do next is mount and connect the solar panel and lights and our DIY solar lights will be done.

    Step 4: Mount Connect the Solar Panel

    Find a sunny spot on your shed’s roof to mount your solar panel. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, the optimal direction to face solar panels is due south. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, the optimal direction is due north. I recommend picking the roof whose direction is closest to your location’s optimal direction.

    Tip: If you’re at all unsure what direction to face your solar panel, use our solar panel azimuth angle calculator. If you’re able to control the tilt angle of your solar panel, also check out our solar panel tilt angle calculator.

    Stick the double-sided mounting tape to the back of your solar panel. I just put tape on my panel’s four corners, but you can do the whole frame if you’d like.

    Note: If you’re mounting your solar panel to a vehicle, I don’t recommend using mounting tape. Instead, I’d get some solar panel mounting brackets.

    Mount your solar panel to the roof.

    Feed the solar panel’s wires through a gap in your shed wall. If you don’t have a gap or hole in your walls, you’ll have to get ahold of a drill and drill a small hole in the wall to feed the wires through. If you’re putting DIY solar powered lights in a vehicle or insulated building, I’d recommend using a solar cable entry gland.

    Locate the solar terminals on your charge controller. They are usually labeled with a solar panel icon or the letters “PV”.

    Insert the positive wire end into the positive solar terminal and the negative wire end into the negative solar terminal. Use tweezers or a small flathead screwdriver — or one of the household alternatives listed above — to tighten the terminals.

    Once you’ve connected the solar panel, confirm that your solar panel is now charging your battery. As shown in the video near the top of this page, the battery icon should start flashing to indicate that it’s being charged.

    Your solar panel is now properly connected and safely charging your battery!

    Step 5: Connect the Lights

    For the lights, I’m using these USB LED strip lights:

    Plug the lights into the USB port on the charge controller.

    Change the charge controller’s load setting to 15. The instructions for how to do so are in the manual. (Changing the setting to 15 lets you manually turn the USB port on and off just by pushing the bottom button on the charge controller.)

    Press the bottom button (the ENTER button) on the charge controller to turn the USB port on. You should see a lightbulb appear on the charge controller’s screen which indicates the USB port and load terminals are now on. However, the lights won’t turn on just yet.

    Next, press the power button on the lights to turn them on. If you want, you can adjust the brightness up or down as well. I turned mine all the way up to their max brightness.

    Now all you have to do to turn the lights on and off is press the bottom button on the charge controller.

    Note: I know this step is a little confusing. If you’re lost, I’d recommend watching the video at the top of this page. It makes this step a little clearer. (I discuss this step starting at the 3:17 mark.)

    Only one thing left to do!

    Step 6: Mount the Lights

    Peel the adhesive liner off the back of the lights and stick them to your wall or ceiling.

    Tip: If the lights aren’t long enough reach your desired mounting location, use a USB extension cable.

    Test out your snazzy new DIY solar LED lights by pressing the bottom button on your charge controller to turn them on. It’s best to wait until nighttime to get a sense of their brightness.

    Note: The lights may flicker for a few seconds before reaching full brightness. This is because it takes a moment for the USB port to boot up to full power. That’s why it’s important to get a charge controller with a 2A USB port — anything less and the lights may flicker or be dim.

    And there you have it: a DIY solar lighting setup that works great in a range of scenarios, from small sheds and buildings to boats and vans.

    What Size Solar Panel Battery Do I Need to Run Lights?

    For my setup, I used a small 10W 12V solar panel and a small 12V 7Ah battery because I’m not going to be using these lights that often — for at most 30 minutes at a time, and maybe twice a week on average. And these lights use as most 10 watts, which isn’t that much at all.

    If you need your solar lights to last longer, all you have to do is pick up a bigger solar panel and a bigger battery. Here are some recommended sizes based on how long you may be wanting to run your lights:

    Desired Runtime Solar Panel Size Battery Capacity
    10W 7-10Ah
    1-3 hrs/day 20W 10-20Ah
    3-5 hrs/day 30W 20-35Ah

    Note: The recommended battery sizes in the above table are for lead acid batteries. Also, these recommended sizes are conservative because I don’t want your lights to die unexpectedly!

    One of the adapter cables I used comes with a 7.5A fuse, so make sure you get a solar panel that won’t exceed that current limit. In practical terms, that means around a 100 watt solar panel is the upper limit for this setup. And even then, some 12V 100 watt solar panels may output more than 7.5A in ideal conditions.

    DIY Solar Power Light Projects You Can Build Now

    I’ve got even more DIY solar light projects for you.

    DIY Solar Shed Lights

    A variation of this project lets you solar power lights for a larger shed!

    DIY Solar Powered String Lights

    This solar lighting circuit is similar to the solar powered LED lights you just made. And it’s well-suited for indoor and outdoor use.

    You can hang the lights outside as solar outdoor string lights. You can hang them in your room as solar fairy lights. You can also put them up over the holidays as solar Christmas lights.

    15-Min DIY Solar Mason Jar Lights

    This solar mason jar lantern makes a great outdoor solar light. It’s a “set it and forget it” type of solar light. You just turn it on, put it outside, and it does all the work — charging during the day and turning on at night. Once you have everything, it’s pretty easy to make.

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