Solar Generators

There is a bit of a Catch-22 in the concept of building a self-powered home. You want to build a home that contains everything it needs to provide its own electrical needs but you need power to build it. Though this may seem to be an inherent conflict there is a way around this dilemma.

You can build yourself your own solar generator. Using one or two PV panels, a few batteries and a small inverter you can create a power source that you can move around your construction site to the places you need power. It can be any size you want, from a unit not much larger than a standard gas generator to one the size of a small utility trailer.

I have seen two types of these generators in the Guffey area. Karen Wolfer has a small unit that she and Patty are using to help build their house. She displayed and demonstrated it at the meeting of the Earthship folks in Manitou Springs this past weekend.

This solar generator, not much larger than a wheelbarrow, contains a small inverter, two batteries and a charge control system. The PV panels are separate and one or more of them can be connected to it whenever it is time to recharge the batteries. This feature means that you wouldn't have to carry the panels with the system. The generator can be charged up and taken where it is needed and the panels stored safely away until it is time for a recharge.

A crew from New Mexico, working this past fall on a straw bale home in Cover Mountain, had a much larger unit. They built a small utility trailer as a tool storage and power generating system. The trailer tows easily behind their pickup and provides enough power to run a small house.

The top of the trailer has an adjustable rack on which the PV panels are mounted. Inside the trailer they have a 2400 watt inverter and a medium sized battery bank. They simply drive the trailer to the job site, pick a nice sunny spot to park it and they have all the clean quiet power they need to build a house.

For most people the cost of a PV system represents a considerable investment and they don't want to have to buy more than they need. If you have a good idea of the size of the system you will need for your house, you can buy the inverter, batteries and some (not necessarily all) of the PV panels. You can then build the system into a utility trailer and tow it up to your building site. When enough of the house is built to install the system you can easily take it out of the trailer and set it up in the house.

Even if you plan on having a gas generator as a backup to your renewable energy system, using a solar generator makes more sense for building the house. You avoid the wear and tear on your nerves from the racket of a gas engine running 8 hours a day, to say nothing of the cost of fueling and maintaining a generator for the time it takes you to build your house.

Another advantage to these kinds of solar generators, especially small ones like Karen's, is that they are a good way to familiarize yourself with the concept and application of solar power generation. For a minimal investment, you can build your own solar generator and use it for chores around the property and you can do it for about the cost of a medium sized gas generator.

All Contents © 1997
Wagonmaker Press
Thomas W. Elliot


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