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Friday, August 5, 2011


How to Make Your Own Electricity

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit


As a part of 'Energy Independence', generating electricity is the easiest and most flexible thing you can do. One of the easiest ways to generate electricity is to make your own solar panels (For under $100)! You can do anything from generate power to run a gate or garage door opener, put lights and power in an outbuilding, sell power back to the grid to cut your electric bill, or even completely live without power from a utility company and operate an electric car.

See the Warnings section.


Examine Your Needs
  • Be realistic - don't deny yourself if it's important to you.
  • Plan for future extension if you underestimate.
  • Don't neglect well pumps and other necessities in your planning.
Decide What You Are Trying to Achieve
  • Do you want to just save money?
  • Do you want to be prepared for disasters?
  • Do you want to be self sufficient?
Evaluate your need the power for?
  • Water/Well
  • Lights
  • Refrigeration
  • Appliances
  • Entertainment
  • Electric Vehicles
Decide if you Survive With a Bit Less
  • Do you need the biggest TV?
  • Do you need an ice maker in your freezer?
Incremental Growth
It's possible to install in stages, so you don't bite the huge cost all at once. You can start small, learn and build confidence to go bigger.
  1. Many grid-attached rooftop systems can be expanded - this is something to make sure of when you shop.
  2. An automatic gate can be run off solar power, whether the grid is up or not.
  3. Any RV or trailers that have deep cycle batteries should have at least 60 watts of solar power just to keep the batteries up when it's not in use. More like 200-400 watts if you are going to use it and not run a generator every day.
  4. An outbuilding (a detached garage or shed) that doesn't have lights or power, or that 'needs' an electric door opener can be run off solar for less than the cost of having it wired to the main building by an electrician.
  5. A well pump so you will still have water if the power is out.
  6. Certain circuits in your home can be isolated and put on a battery/inverter.
    • The one that has your computer room, for a truly uninterruptable power supply
    • Just the lighting circuits, so your home is always well lit
    • The alarm system
    • Gas/propane powered heaters or pellet stoves
    • Circulating fans
    • Gas/propane powered stoves/ovens/water heaters with electric 'brains'
Shop Around
Just because you are fortunate enough to have a local 'alternative energy' dealer, it doesn't mean they will give you the best bargain or the best system. Quite the reverse, usually.
  • If you go to talk to a dealer, be armed with internet prices for hardware. They are likely to be as tough and ruthless salesmen as a car dealer.
  • Know what you're talking about before you visit the dealer.
  • Salesmen are not always "evil", and they can be very useful when it comes to state and federal rebates for alternative energy installations.
  • Comparison shop and find the lowest possible cost for the best equipment after shipping/taxes.
  • If you're not 'handy' enough, consider stalking a solar dealer's business and hiring the dealer's help to install hardware for you. They'll be the guys with the pickup trucks (and maybe trailers) loaded with stuff to install some place.
  • Not every contractor or 'handy man' is equally qualified to install these systems. Make sure they have experience, or use their lack of experience against them to barter price for their getting this experience.
  • 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 a lot of money later.
  • Try to work out and budget for expenses related to keeping the system going in the long-run.
  • Ask about insurance coverage for larger installations. Your current home owner's policy might not cover it if a disaster wrecks it, and that could be heartbreaking.
  • Decide if it's worth the bother to you. Some people want to throw the switch and have the lights go on by magic, regardless of where the energy came from. This takes a little planning and daily thought.
  • Work out what can (and will) go wrong with it.
While it's possible to run everything you can possibly think of from solar/wind/water, it would be prohibitively expensive for most people to afford to install a system that can handle all of that. Large household air conditioners, electric heaters, electric ranges, etc. all draw prohibitively high amounts of current that reasonably scaled renewable systems just can't handle. Your local solar dealer (assuming there is one) may run their whole business off the panels and keep it 59 degrees in the peak of summer and 85 degrees in the dead of winter, but consider how much hardware they had to buy (wholesale) and install (themselves) to manage that trick.
  • Every dollar you spend on conservation means two or more dollars less generation equipment to make the home work.
  • Comfort vs. Luxury vs. Ideology
    • Realistically, photovoltaic panels, wind and micro-hydro power will not heat or cool your home for a reasonable installation budget. If you have the money, they CAN, but you will probably be looking at a grid-tie solution for that, since you will be generating excess power much of the time that batteries can't soak up fast enough.
    • There are solar water and air heaters that work well, but these heat the water or air directly from sunlight, not via an electrical circuit.
    • Wind generators may have a 'diversion' load (for when the batteries are charged) that needs to be put somewhere, and this CAN go into a water heater, but it won't generally make the water hot on its own.
    • Generally speaking, you won't be able to air condition or heat your home with the size of a solar and/or wind system that you could reasonably afford without a second mortgage on the house.
  • Highly efficient refrigerators tend to be smaller and the most energy efficient ones open from the top. Consider what you will need (and want) to keep cold, and whether you can put some things in a chest freezer, or re-arrange your conventional kitchen layout.
  • Gas-Absorption (Gas/Electric/Heat powered) refrigerators are still available.
  • On non-grid systems, 12/24 volt lighting and appliances, such as refrigerators and washing machines can save substantial power over their AC counterparts by cutting the inverter 'middle man' out of the equation. That 10~15% of a small load is a small price on an inverter, but 10~15% of a big load is a lot of wasted energy.
While it's possible to run the whole household off DC, it's far less expensive and convenient to get AC appliances and run them off an inverter.
  • On grid-tie systems, the inverter is integrated into the system that ties the power to the grid, and connected between the power company's meter and the house. These can usually be chained together to handle power output requirements.
  • Many smaller inverters can be more efficient and less expensive than one large inverter. These can run individual household circuits.
  • On non-grid-tie systems where the grid is used to supplement stored or generated power, inverter, generator and grid circuits must not mix. For instance, a battery charger could run off grid/generator power, and certain household circuits (like kitchen/air conditioner) can run off grid/generator, but other circuits that inverters supply need to be isolated from the grid power.
The natural elements that a self contained power system rely on are not reliable. The sun is not always shining, the wind is not always blowing, and the water is not always flowing.
  • Grid
    • This is the least expensive solution for most people, especially those who are already power customers. They install one sort of power (i.e. SOLAR), and tie the package to the grid. Then 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.
  • Storage
    • 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.
    • This is pretty much going to be lead-acid deep cycle batteries, and they shouldn't be stored in your house because they can gas off hydrogen. Each type of battery needs a different kind of charge cycle, so make sure the charge controller handles your type of battery, and is configured correctly for it. Batteries can not be mixed and matched, and generally new batteries of the same type will not do well when mixed with older batteries.
    • Batteries and their connections need routine inspection (even 'maintenance free' batteries must be routinely inspected).
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • You will need more power to charge than the batteries you have are rated for. If you can take 1KWh off the batteries overnight, you need to be reasonably certain that this can be put right back in again tomorrow along with your normal use, or your batteries will be constantly discharged and won't last very long.
      • Wet (flooded) 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, and then they're just 'bad', and you can't add more water because the caps don't come off.
      • 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.
      • AGM (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. They do still gas off 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.
    • See 'External Links' for more information about batteries.
  • Generator
    • If there is no grid, or you want disaster/blackout backup, a generator may be required.
    • You don't want to draw batteries dead, so you'll need a way to make power when all else fails, so you don't deep-cycle your batteries to the point where you end up replacing them too frequently, or end up with no power.
    • 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.
    • 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 LOT 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. These can kill electricians who pop a service disconnect and don't know there's also a backup generator.
    • Generators made for RV/trailer/marine use are small, quiet, made for continuous/daily duty, and affordable (at least compared to household generators). 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.

Solar Power
Solar panels should have south facing exposure to the sun (north-facing in southern hemisphere, up-facing near equator).
  • Relatively clear weather most of the year is helpful, but light overcast conditions are sometimes beneficial.
  • The best angle needs to be adjusted according to your latitude.
  • If necessary, they can point straight up at any latitude, but will lose some efficiency and you'll need more panels.
  • 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 for '100 watts', it doesn't mean it will deliver that much the way you had to mount it, or because of weather, or because it's winter and the sun is riding lower on the horizon. You'll need more power.
Wind Power
  • There are many kinds of wind generators.
    • Can be home-brewed from old car alternators (that need a relatively high wind to operate)
    • Can be bought pre-packaged and less expensively than equivalent solar output
  • May need a specialized charge controller with a 'diverter load'. This is normally a big resistor, but can be a 12 (or 24) volt electric water heater element.
  • May need to be prohibitively high up to work in your area
  • Can be a noise problem (shop carefully)
  • Can be an 'eyesore' to your neighbors
  • Occasionally birds fly through (some of the bird goes through, anyway).
  • Need consistent wind. Open, desolate areas work best as they have the fewest things blocking the wind. Generally supplements solar power by making energy whenever the wind is blowing, like at night, and on cloudy days.
There are various types, ranging from a homemade propeller connected to a car alternator to fairly robust and intricately engineered systems.
  • This needs flowing water. If you don't have river-front property or year-round streams/springs, it's just not going to work for you.



  • 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.
  • 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.
  • There are 'All In One' systems, but these are usually small, overpriced, or both.
  • Putting this stuff together is not rocket science, assuming you are knowledgeable about electrical circuits.
What You Should Consider
  • If you live in a sunny environment, consider solar energy.
  • If you live in a windy environment, consider wind energy.
  • If you have access to flowing water, micro-hydro may work better than solar and wind combined.
  • A combination of power sources works best.
  • If your home is connected to the grid (has electrical power delivered from a utility company), consider a 'Grid Tie' solution.
  • If your home is remote and/or not connected to the electrical grid, or you want renewable power backup, consider a self-contained solution.
Cost and Maintenance
Up Front Cost
  • Any system that supplies the needs of a household will be expensive.
  • 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?
  • Federal subsidies and tax rebates (See External Links)
  • State subsidies and tax rebates (See External Links)


  • 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 amperages 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.

Things You'll Need

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

Related wikiHows

Sources and Citations

Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Make Your Own Electricity. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.
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