Off-Grid Solar Power Primer

I field a lot of questions about our off-grid solar power system at the field school, so here’s my super-simple primer on going solar.

An off-grid solar system where you store energy to use with regular appliances (light, radio, laptop, etc.) at night or when the sun doesn’t shine is comprised of four parts.

1. Solar panel
2. Charge controller
3. Batteries
4. Inverter

The solar panel is the part of the system you’ve heard of. It converts sunlight into electricity. We have a single 80-watt panel.

While the sun is shining you can run electrical items directly off the panel. But to store that power for nights and rainy days, you run the generated electricity through a charge controller and into batteries for storage.  We’ve got 2 deep cycle golf cart batteries (6-volts each). The charge controller regulates the energy so the batteries don’t overcharge. I have the batteries wired in a series to give me 12 volts. For a diagram on how this is set up, and great in-depth explanations of simple off-grid systems, check out

I hook the inverter up to the batteries and it converts the direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC), which is what most household appliances run on. Then I plug things into it and I’ve got power.

I’ve also got a gas-powered generator I can charge the batteries with if the sun doesn’t shine for an extended period of time, or if I want to run power tools or other big-energy items.

The system can be scaled up or down depending on what you need or how much you have to invest.  More batteries hold more power.  More solar panel charges them faster.

For portable solar systems, check out


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