xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' Build your own power station ~ The Prepared Guy

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Build your own power station

There are a few power generation stations/systems available such as the Goal Zero products.  I love Goal Zero!  Their products are innovative, easy to use and attractive.  I own a few of their products myself and recommend them.  My only concern with them is their life span.  I am not sure of how long they will continue to function.  All battery powered systems will eventually die as all batteries have a limited life span.  However, the electronic components in inverters have been known to be reliable, in general, and have a very good track record in my book.  If you were to buy a Goal Zero Yeti 400 solar generator today but don't actually have a need for it for the next 5-7 years will it still work then?  My answer is; probably.  But, the built in battery will most likely have lost significant capacity and if put into use at that time it may not last for much longer.

To ensure that you always have a reliable backup power source you could build one yourself.  The weak point in any of these types or brands of portable solar power generation systems is the battery.  Most batteries in these types of systems only last around 5 years (with repeated charging and discharging) but may live a long as 10 years or more.  You need the ability to change out this battery with an easily and readily obtainable replacement as well as the ability to replace components that may potentially fail, such as the inverter.  I have not attempted to take apart or service any of the Goal Zero products, so this may very well be possible.  However, I suspect that their components are proprietary and may be hard to get in a crisis.  This is one benefit to building one yourself.  I'll show you what I have done with parts that are typically easy to get and that will cost you quite a bit less than purchasing an already built system.  Some of these components you may already have stashed away around your house.

Here is a list of items that you will need:  

1.  Battery Box (Like those common to RV's).
2.  Battery - Automotive.  Use any battery you can get.
3.  Battery Lug clamps -  Automotive
4.  400-600 Watt Power Inverter -  DC to AC
5.  Battery power meter
6.  12V DC outlet (automotive)
7.  12V Solar charge controller
8.  12V Solar panel
9.  #14awg (or larger) wire and connectors
10.  Strap

First, I want to caution you.  Automotive and other similar batteries can be dangerous.  The positive and negative terminals, if shorted out with a tool or wire or other metal object can discharge a large amount of power which will shock and burn with potentially sever consequences.  So, take extra care to protect the terminals while you are working on this project.  Keep the lid on the power battery box at all times.  

Here is the finished product.

Mount solar charge controller inside the box. The size of the battery you choose will need to be small enough to leave space for the charge controller and 12V outlet.  You can see in this picture that there is still room for a larger battery.  A larger battery means more storage capacity and longer run time.

If you want to mount the inverter to the battery box lid as I have you'll need to select one that has provisions for this.  Some of these small inverters do not have these mounting tabs which make it harder to mount them this way.  This inverter is connected to the battery via the provided battery clamps.  I have not chosen to hardwire the inverter as I occasionally use an AC battery charger to charge the battery when the solar input is not enough.

I installed a 12V automotive outlet into the side of the box and wired it to the battery to plug in cell phone chargers and other 12V devices.  I had the 12V expansion port and USB adapter lying around which work perfect for this application.  You could also plug your AC cell phone charger into the inverter but the 12V charging is more efficient as there is a loss in efficiency when converting DC power to AC power.  So keep it simple and charge your battery powered devices with the 12V outlet and then you can run other AC appliances with the inverter.

I purchased a 12V DC LED light bulb online and put it in an unused lamp fixture.  I cut off the 110V plug from the lamp cord and connected a 12V plug that I cut off an old cell phone charger. I can plug this into the 12V expansion port and charge my cell phone and I pod all at the same time. 

I also purchased a simple marine battery monitor off Amazon for about $9 and connected it to the battery to give me a basic idea of the battery charge.  I also have a more accurate digital battery meter to more accurately measure battery voltage. 

To charge the battery I have connected mine to a 5 watt solar panel to keep it trickle charged and have a 25 watt solar panel to use when needed.  You can find inexpensive solar panels online.  To keep it simple; the larger the panel the more quickly it will charge the battery.  Remember, you need to choose a 12 volt solar panel for your 12 volt battery.  The are available sources online to help you properly size your solar panel to your charge controller to your battery bank.  This project is simple so I mean to keep it that way and not confuse you with too much technical information.  The charge controller should be large enough to handle the size of amperage of the solar panel and should also be 12V.  Off the input side of the solar charge controller I installed two wires and connectors where I can connect and disconnect the solar panel(s).

With 12V devices all that you have to deal with is positive and negative.  The positive and negative are clearly marked on automotive batteries. You will just need to determine a method of how to attach each connection to the battery lugs.  You can use automotive battery terminals which have provisions for attaching accessory components to them.  Some batteries, like the one pictured above, have lugs with holes in them, meant for smaller applications like lawn mowers which makes connections more simple.  I always use crimp connectors that are appropriate for the the size of wire being used which you can get from Radio Shack, Home Depot or most any other hardware store.  

The biggest benefit to this system is that if a component fails you can replace it yourself and keep your power system up and running.  If during a crisis your battery loses the ability to hold a charge you have the option to scrounge a new one from any vehicle.  If you have any questions or need more information about building one of these for yourself  don't hesitate to ask.



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Thanks for the detailed analysis. AGM batteries definitely seem the to be way to go for longevity and semi-portable setups for the car or base camp but as with pretty much all power storage it seems to be quite the uphill hill problem to overcome. Two step forward and three back...

I'm surprised people are willing to shell out $1600 for EnerPlex 1200 with a Li-ion battery that will last 5years tops.

I really like the Humless brand but they are expensive. This is absolutely something you can do yourself so why pay more than you must. Sealed AGM batteries would be the preferred battery especially if you planned on charging them inside your home. If they are not sealed charge them in your garage or outside. You should get more than 5 years with lithium-ion batteries, especially in a stand-by application.

Thanks for your comments. Sorry it took me so long to reply. :-)

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The purpose of this site is to provide you with information about what I have learned, my experience, and what my motivations are as a Prepared Guy. I have always felt driven to be ready for any situation by something powerful deep inside me. Being prepared has always served me well. I feel compelled to help others do the same.
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