DIY Solar Power
Let’s look at a tough but seemingly straight-forward
Can you REALLY solar-power your house in a crisis?
Unfortunately, the answer is not quite as clear-cut:
Yes, no, and maybe. It really depends on your situation,
and there are many factors.
* What constitutes DIY?
When a reader asks me if DIY anything really works, the
first thing I have to figure out is: What does this person
mean by DIY?
Yes, no doubt we all know that DIY is an acronym for “do
it yourself,” but how much of “it” can be factory-made
before the project stops being DIY?
One person might consider a complete store-bought system
that you assemble on your own a DIY solar power project.
Another person might not consider a solar project DIY
unless the solar panels themselves are homemade from
* What kind of emergency are we talking about?
The second question that we must ask ourselves is: What
emergencies are we talking about here?
You have read our previous newsletters and you are aware
of the downsides of a solar system. The major one is that
solar power only works if there is sunlight.
If your emergency is a massive storm or blizzard, not only
will there not be any sunlight available, your solar
panels might even be covered and essentially useless.
The same goes for a major industrial crisis, or, as
Eyjafjallajokull taught us a few years ago, even a
volcanic eruption in a distant country like Iceland.
The way to get around this, assuming that the emergency is
not terribly prolonged, is to run a solar system with a
But if DIY means making your own solar cells and only
buying the raw material, chances are that you won’t have
the battery backup system to handle it.
* What does it mean to power a house?
How much energy does it take to power your house? And do
you expect to spend more or less energy in an emergency?
This aspect affects both the DIYer who bought a system and
assembled it and the DIYer who built solar panels from
If you are assembling a store-bought system, then you are
going to have to look at its size.
A 10 kWh system will often produce between 12,000 to
16,000 kWh per year in an area with moderate to high
Now, if powering your house means running lights, a
refrigerator, a washer/dryer, an electric cooking range
and electric heating in a relatively small 3-bedroom
…you will have to produce at least 20,000 kWh per year.
Can you really AFFORD to power your house for that long
with a solar system?
Homemade photovoltaic cells do produce electricity, but
nowhere near as much as industrial cells. Chances are you
don’t have the roof space to power your house on these
copper sheet cells.
If by powering your house, however, you mean provide you
with enough energy to run some lights when necessary
during the night, then there is no doubt that even a
fairly basic solar system will do just fine!
For some spare change, you could build yourself a solar
battery charger and power your flashlights. Same goes for
a mobile phone charger.
But you would probably have to buy the solar panels to
make it truly worth your while.
For anything in between, you are going to have to look at
how much your system would produce under normal
circumstances and compare it to your electric bill.
You can also compare the normal electric use of your most
important appliances and add those together to calculate
your need in an emergency.
A DIY set of copper photovoltaic cell is not going to run
appliances for you, though.
* So, could you power your house with DIY solar or not?
The straight answer? NO, a homemade photovoltaic system is
not going to power your house. It would be hard pressed to
produce energy for a single one of your appliances.
Homemade copper solar cells are simply not as efficient as
the systems you can buy. There is also a risk that the
emergency itself would render the system useless.
But, a home-assembled photovoltaic system could MAYBE
power your house. However, you would have to think
carefully about your energy use.
And a final answer: YES, a home-assembled photovoltaic
system could power your house. But you would have to
think long and hard about your energy use.
You would also have to install a battery for storing
energy as it is produced so that the emergency itself
does not render the whole solar system useless.
Most likely you would have to set up a system of
On the one hand, you would want to produce more energy
than you use so that some is always stored.
On the other hand, you want to make sure to minimize your
energy use in a crisis to ensure that you can weather the
storm even if it lasts longer than expected.
You might even want to have spare solar chargers to allow
some less important appliances to be recharged outside of
your usual system.
There you have it, The answer is yes, no, and
maybe. Nonetheless, I hope that I helped clear things up a
bit for you concerning your particular situation.