DIY Energy - How To Build Your Own Solar Or Wind Powered System!

DIY Energy - How To Build Your Own Solar Or Wind Powered System!

 DIY Energy - How To Build Your Own Solar Or Wind Powered System!

DIY Energy - How To Build Your Own Solar Or Wind Powered System!

As a part of the push for energy independence, generating your own electricity is one of the best things you can do. With your generated electricity, you can run a gate or garage door opener, put lights and power in an outbuilding, sell power back to the grid and cut your electric bill, charge a car, or even live completely off the power grid. Read on for some great ideas on how to accomplish this.


Going Solar

  1. Learn about solar panels. Solar panels are a common solution and have a lot of advantages. They work in most of the world, are a modular solution which can be expanded to suit your needs, and there are many well-tested products available.
    • Panels should have south facing exposure to the sun (north-facing in southern hemisphere, up-facing near equator). The best angle needs to be adjusted according to your latitude. You can use panels in locations that are sunny most of the year and in overcast conditions.
    • Fixed mounts can be built onto their own structure (which may house batteries and charge controller beneath) or placed on an existing roof. They are easy to mount and maintain if near the ground, and have no moving parts. Tracking mounts follow the sun and add efficiency, but can be more expensive than simply adding a couple more panels to a fixed installation to make up for the difference. They are mechanical contraptions that are easily damaged by severe weather and have moving parts to wear out.
    • Just because a solar panel is rated at 100 watts doesn't mean it will deliver that much on a regular basis. That will be determined by the way you mount it, the weather, or because it's winter and the sun is riding lower on the horizon.
  2. DIY Energy - How To Build Your Own Solar Or Wind Powered System!Start small. Get just one or two solar panels to start off with. It's possible to install in stages, so you don't bite the huge cost all at once. Many grid-attached rooftop systems can be expanded—this is something to check when you shop. Buy a system that can grow as your needs grow.
  3. Learn to maintain your system. Like anything else, if you don't take care of it, it will fall apart. Decide how long it must last. Saving a little money now can cost you much more, later. Invest in taking care of your system, and it will take care of you.
    • Try to work out and budget for expenses related to keeping the system going in the long-run. Running out of funds in the middle of a project is a situation you want to avoid.
  4. Decide on your system type. Consider whether you want a stand-alone power solution or a grid-connected system. A stand alone power system is the ultimate in sustainability; you will know the source of every watt you use. A grid-connected solution gives you stability and redundancy, and can also provide an opportunity to sell power back to the utility company. If you are grid-connected, but manage your power usage as if you were stand-alone, you can even generate a little extra income.
    • Contact your current utility provider and ask them about grid-connected systems. They may be able to provide incentives and will be able to tell you who to hire to set up your sustainable power supply.

Using Alternative Systems

  1. Learn about wind turbines. These are perfect solutions in many locations as well. This can sometimes be more cost-effective than solar power.
    • You can use a home-brewed wind turbine made from an old car alternator, with plans available on the net. This is not recommended for beginners but can achieve suitable results. There are also fairly inexpensive commercial solutions.
    • There are some drawbacks to wind power as well. You may need to put turbines very high in the air for them to work effectively, and your neighbors may see them as an eyesore. Birds may not see them at all...until it's too late.
    • Wind power needs fairly consistent wind. Open, desolate areas work best as they have the fewest things blocking the wind. Wind power is often used effectively to supplement a solar or hydro system.
  2. Understand micro-hydro generators. There are various types of micro-hydro technologies available, ranging from a homemade propeller connected to a car alternator to fairly robust and intricately engineered systems. If you are on a riverfront property, this could be an efficient and self-contained solution.
  3. Try a combined system. You can always combine any of these systems, to help ensure that you get power year round and that you get enough power for your home.
  4. Consider a standalone generator. If there is no grid, or you want disaster/blackout backup, a generator may be required. These can be run of off various fuels and are available in many sizes and capacities.
    • Many generators are very slow to react to load changes (switching on a power-hungry device causes the power to falter).
      • Small, commonly available generators at your hardware store are made for occasional emergency use. They will generally fall apart if used for daily power.
    • Large household generators cost a significant amount of money. They can run off gasoline, diesel or LPG, and usually have a self-starting mode where they kick on when the grid power is interrupted. If installing one, make sure you work with a licensed electrician and follow all building codes. Improperly installed, these can kill electricians who pop a service disconnect and don't know there's also a backup generator.
    • Generators made for RV, trailer, or marine use are small, quiet, made for continuous duty, and are much more affordable. They can run off gasoline, diesel or LPG, and are made to run on demand for hours at a time for a period of years.
  5. Avoid CHP systems. Cogeneration or Combined Heat and Power systems (CHP), which generate power from the heat produced usually through steam, are old fashioned and inefficient. Though there are fans of these systems, you should avoid them.

DIY Energy - How To Build Your Own Solar Or Wind Powered System!

Getting the Right Stuff

  1. Shop around. There are many different vendors offering different products and services in the green energy marketplace and some of these solutions will fit your needs better than others.
  2. Do your research. If you're interested in a specific product, do price comparisons on the net before you talk to a vendor.
  3. Get expert advice. Find someone you trust to help you make decisions. There are vendors who have your best interests at heart and there are vendors who do not. Find DIY and similar communities online to get advice that isn't coming from someone who wants to sell you something.
  4. Investigate incentives. Remember to ask about local, state and federal incentive programs when you make your purchases. There are many programs in place that will subsidize the cost of your installation or give you significant tax breaks for going green.
  5. Get qualified help. Not every contractor or handy man is equally qualified to install these systems. Only work with experienced vendors and installation specialists who are licensed to work with your given equipment.

Preparing for the Worst

  1. DIY Energy - How To Build Your Own Solar Or Wind Powered System!Ask about insurance coverage for larger installations. Your current homeowner's policy might not cover it if a disaster wrecks it, and that could be heartbreaking.
  2. Form a relationship with an alternative energy maintenance professional. If you get in over your head, don't hesitate to get help.
  3. Think about your plan for backup power. The natural elements that a self contained power system use on are not reliable. The sun is not always shining, the wind is not always blowing, and the water is not always flowing.
    • Using a grid-connected system is the least expensive solution for most people, especially those who are already power customers. They install one sort of power (such as solar), and tie the package to the grid. When there isn't enough power coming in, the grid makes up the shortfalls, and when there is excess power, the grid buys it. Larger systems can consistently run the power meter backwards.
    • If there is no power service nearby, it can be much more expensive to get connected to the grid (or even to connect an outbuilding to the house) than to make and store your own power.
  4. Learn about storing energy. A common solution for self-contained power storage is lead-acid deep cycle batteries. Each type of battery needs a different kind of charge cycle, so make sure your charge controller handles your type of battery, and is configured correctly for it.

Using and Choosing Batteries

  1. Get the same type of battery. Batteries can not be mixed and matched, and generally new batteries of the same type will not do well when mixed with older batteries.
  2. Calculate how many batteries you'll need. Deep cycle storage is rated in amp-hours. If you want roughly kilowatt hours multiply amp hours times the number of volts (12 or 24 volts), and divide by 1000. To get amp-hours from kilowatt-hours, just multiply by 1000 and divide by 12. If your daily use is going to be 1KWH, you'll need about 83 amp/hours of 12 volt storage, but then you need 5 times that (considering you never want to discharge past 20%), or about 400 amp-hours to deliver that amount of juice.
  3. Choose your battery type. There are many different kinds of batteries and it is important for you to choose which is best for you. Understanding what will work, and what really won't, will make all the difference in powering your home.
    • Wet cells are the most common. They need to be serviced (the tops come off so you can add distilled water), and they need an occasional 'equalize' charge to cook the sulfur off the plates and keep all of the cells in about the same condition. Some high quality wet cell batteries have independent 2.2 volt cells that can be replaced if they go bad. "Maintenance free" batteries will lose water as they gas off, and eventually cells will dry out.
    • Gel batteries are not serviceable, and unforgiving of charging problems. A charger designed for a wet cell will cook the gel off of the plates and form gaps between the electrolyte and the plates. Once one cell has managed to overcharge (due to uneven wear), the whole battery is bad. As part of a small solution, they work reasonably well, but don't work well in larger solutions.
    • Absorbed glass mat batteries are more expensive than either of the other types, and don't need service. As long as they are charged correctly, and not cycled too deeply they will last a long time, and they can't possibly leak or spill—even if you smash them with a hammer (though we're not sure why you would want to do that).They do still give off gas if excessively overcharged.
    • Car batteries are just that, for cars. Car batteries do not perform well in situations that call for deep cycle batteries.
    • Marine batteries are usually hybrid deep-cycle and starting batteries. As a compromise they work well in a boat, but not well for household power.
  4. Have batteries even with a generator. Even with a generator, batteries are required in an off-grid system. Charging batteries will put a reasonable load on the generator so it works efficiently for the fuel it consumes, while simply running lights will put mostly light loads, which are very inefficiently handled by most generators.
  5. Maintain and inspect your batteries. Batteries and their connections need routine inspection (even "maintenance free" batteries must be routinely inspected). This can be done by a professional but you can learn how to inspect them yourself as well.


  • DIY Energy - How To Build Your Own Solar Or Wind Powered System!In any place where the utilities aren't already installed right to the doorstep, the cost of connecting new construction to the grid can exceed the cost of installing your own power generation.
  • There are many options to finance the system and tax/handout benefits for some power sources.
  • If it can't justify itself in dollars and cents, does it justify itself in...
    • Immediate necessity (no utilities)?
    • Peace of mind?
    • Not having wires through your property?
    • Bragging rights?
  • Deep cycle batteries don't do well if they are deep cycled beyond 20% depth of discharge frequently. If you cycle deeply often, their lives will be cut very short. If you cycle them shallowly most of the time and deep cycle them infrequently, their lives will be prolonged.
  • There are many articles on the web with a lot more good information, but most of them focus on selling a particular company's solution.
  • If you have access to flowing water, micro-hydro may work better than solar and wind combined.
  • Putting this stuff together is not rocket science, assuming you are knowledgeable about electrical circuits.
  • It's possible to 'go together' with neighbors in a remote area to pay for a power system together. Whatever is agreeable to all concerned, with a thought to the future when some might move. A home owner's association or similar corporate structure might be needed.


  • Check with local building codes, zoning laws and CC&Rs.
    • Some people actually find solar panels to be 'unattractive'.
    • Some people find wind generators to be 'noisy' AND 'unattractive'.
    • If you don't have the 'rights' to the water, some may take exception to your use of it.
  • Whatever you install, make sure your homeowner's insurance covers it. Make no assumptions.
  • If you have no working electrical theory or safety knowledge in your head, consider this a list of what to find out about for somebody else to do.
    • You can cause severe property damage (fry your parts, cause roof leaks, or burn down the house)
    • You can cause severe injury or death (electrocution, falling off roofs, materials improperly secured falling onto people)
    • Shorted or unvented batteries can cause an explosion.
    • Splashed battery acid can cause severe burns and blindness
    • Even DC power at these amperes can stop your heart or cause severe burns should jewelry come into contact with it.
    • If power is back-fed to the circuit panel (through grid-tie inverters or generator), make sure there is a prominent warning to that effect for electrical service people, or they may turn off the service connect and get electrocuted when they assume there is no power.
    • This is the real deal. That innocent spinning wheel and those purple panels can kill you very, very dead.
  • There are "all-in-one" systems, but these are usually small, overpriced, or both.

Things You'll Need

  • Inverter
  • Charge Controller
  • Deep Cycle Batteries
  • Power Source(s)
    • Solar (Photovoltaic) Panels
    • Wind Generator
    • Micro-Hydro Generator
    • Motor


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