Small Scale Solar Setups

You don’t have to go big right away with solar. A small solar backup power system is an excellent way to gain experience with solar or just have some backup power if there is a power outage in your area. Small solar arrays are great for camping, boating, and those that live in RVs part or full time.

My husband and I built a house with a small solar system that powers most of the lighting in our home. We also have 12V outlets we can use when we want. Our plans include switching most of our home over to solar power, including our well pump.

Since we have a small farm, we have several small mobile solar arrays. Currently we have the Jackery 1000 and 500 power center as well as a Goal Zero Yeti 400.

Advantages of Solar Power Stations vs. Gasoline Generators

You can use solar power stations inside.

Gasoline generators produce exhaust. You could set it up so that your solar station is entirely inside, with connectors running to panels that are outside.

Solar power is practically silent.

A tiny quiet fan is all you will ever hear. Gasoline generators can be fairly loud and draw attention. During a long emergency, the last thing you want is everyone knowing you have power when they don’t.

Gasoline generators mean you are dependent on gasoline.

The cost and availability of fossil fuels are concerning. Considering that we are in the 4th turning, reducing reliance on fossil fuels is advisable. Just this week, the Colonial Pipeline, the supplier of 45% of the gasoline on the East Coast of the United States, shut down due to a cyber attack. At the time of writing, they are still working on getting this issue resolved. If it is not, then we will see shortages and higher prices within days.

Straight Out of the Box Solutions


Jackery is an affordable and lightweight brand that my husband and I have been using for years. During my time writing for Backdoor Survival, I received several different units in exchange for an honest review. I do not take any commission for recommending these units.


  • Lightweight
  • Lithium-Ion Batteries
  • Several Sizes to meet your needs and budget
  • Rugged
  • Great for use on the farm
The larger Jackery 1000 is big enough to use to power our electric pole saw so we can keep trees and briars out of our roadway or safely trim limbs that are hanging and dangerous to deal with using other equipment. You could also use it to power a smaller electric chainsaw. Consider how nice that would be if you cut your own firewood and find yourself unable to get gasoline or mix? A solar panel and this power center could allow you to use an actual power tool rather than handsaws.

The smaller centers are great for those that live in apartments, dorms, campers, or that like to get out in the woods but want a little electricity for lighting, music, etc. Any of these units could provide a good backup power source for those that live alone or if you wanted to make sure that elderly relatives have a backup for medical equipment or lighting during power outages.

Large Whole House Back-Up Systems

Goal Zero Yeti 3000x and 6000x

<img class=" src=“” width=“384” height=“384” />

If you are interested in a straight out-of-the-box system that can take on the power needs of your entire home, then you should consider the larger Yeti systems. Yes, they are a serious investment at around $3,100-$5,000, but you don’t have to do any major configuring or work. The 6000x will power a standard refrigerator for 110 hours on a single charge. The costs I quoted do not include solar panels. The Yeti can be charged from a 110V plug in at your house in about 12 hours. Solar charging times will vary. This does mean that you can buy your power center and add panels later.


Types of Panels

The cost of solar panels has decreased a lot over the last decade. My husband and I have started to purchase American-made solar panels on eBay for under $1 per watt. Most panels will work with various power centers and systems as long as you have the right connectors or cords. Product manuals often tell you what you need but sometimes you have to do a bit of research yourself or call some manufacturers.

Portable panels are nice to have for mobile applications. There are several styles to choose from.

Folding Panels

Smaller folding panels can be attached to a backpack to charge devices as you walk. They have USB ports for charging. Usually, these are standard USB ports, so you should make sure your cables are compatible. These panels can be used with portable power centers as well. They are not always made as durable as you might think. Always follow the guidelines that come with your panel. Leaving them out in bad weather can damage some styles. You can get folding panels in a wide range of sizes. Amazon sells some that are over 300 watts! You can always have multiple folding panels on hand to up your wattage when needed.

Semi-Rigid flat panels

These are very thin panels that weigh 25% as much as a standard panel of comparable wattage. They are great for those that want to mount panels on golf carts, UTVs, or roofs that they do not want to stress too much. You can also store them in an RV and put them out when you park. They are usually a better value than folding panels.

Power centers have a max amount of inputs that you can use to charge. This means that more panels do not always mean faster charging.


Building Your System

There are some advantages to building your solar arrays.
  • Less expensive per watt
  • Customized to meet your exact needs
  • Usually easy to expand when needs change, or your budget allows

List For Homemade Basic Solar Set Up

Charge Controller

Solar Panel



The items listed above come in various sizes. Your charge controller needs to be sized to handle the output from the solar panels, and your batteries need to be able to store the electricity your panels are producing. If you don’t have enough batteries, then your panels might be generating power that is wasted.

Building a small solar array is all about balance.

Inverters allow you to covert 12V power to 120V or even 220V depending on what type of inverter you have.

Here is an example of a small solar array you can put together in practically no time at all.

Trolling Motor Battery Box

<img class=" src=“” width=“521” height=“311” />

Sealed Marine Battery

Solar Panel

My husband designed this little system back when we had a canoe. The battery provided power to the trolling motor, but it also allowed us to have outlets, so we had some electricity when camping out. When we pulled into shore to camp, we had power even at very remote locations on the lake. Taking a small solar panel with you would allow you to keep your battery topped off.

[caption id=" align=“alignnone” width=“443”] We used the Minnetonka brand of battery box. I was unable to find this exact box so I included a pic and link to a brand that is currently available.[/caption]

Expanding Your System

Adding more battery storage and panels is fairly easy, but you need to make sure that your charge controller can handle it. If you start with a very small system, a charge controller is under $30. Remember that you can always save your smaller charge controller and use it for a separate small system. Large or whole home charge controllers are what is expensive. It is still a good idea to buy a charge controller that does allow for at least some expansion. For example, if your panels produce 30 amps of power, you may want to get the 50 amp charge controller, so you have at least some room to grow before having to invest in a larger charge controller. If you have no plans to expand your system, you should still plan to get a controller that exceeds your needs by a few amps just to be safe. For example, if your panels produce 20 amps, you might want to get a charge controller that can handle 25 amps or more.

Transport and Moving Systems

Solar components can be heavy. Many of the homemade solar systems use lead-acid batteries that weigh considerably more than the lithium batteries used in many of the power centers you can buy and use straight out of the box.

Painted metal garden wagons can be used to create a mobile system that is easy on the back. Garden wagons are often found at hardware stores for under $150. If you can find one used on Craigslist or at a yard sale, you can save some cash.

Old handcarts and strapping can also be utilized.

Important Considerations For Those Going Solar

If you plan on using solar to meet a large portion of your energy needs, you will likely need to make some lifestyle changes. This is easier said than done. We are creatures of habit. Those with kids and teens will have the additional challenge of getting them into better energy habits. Here are a few things we have discovered about solar over the years.
  1. It is essential to perform maintenance on your system regularly. If you are using batteries that require water, you need to set reminders to make sure that you top off the water every few months.
  2. Never run your batteries down to less than 50% of their capacity.
  3. If you have a gloomy and gray day, you will need to reduce your energy consumption unless you have enough stored in batteries to get through until sunnier days.
  4. Electric heat or stoves are not a feasible option if you are relying on solar power. We have 110 V electric service to our house as well as solar. Air conditioners are another appliance that is very challenging to run on solar energy.

Panel Efficiency

When you buy a panel, there should be an efficiency rating listed. More expensive or well-made panels will have a higher efficiency rating. I am going to tell you something that you don't want to hear: Panel ratings are often inaccurate in a real-world setting. This means you should try to buy a panel that is rated with the highest level of efficiency you can afford and then expect less. Maybe you have a good site for your panels, and the efficiency will be right in the range of what the manufacturer claims? Over the years, despite living on a South facing slope and experimenting with positioning many different portable panels, our experience has led us to conclude that those ratings are for particularly ideal lighting conditions and the best panels from a production run.

No matter how good the panels are that you start with, they lose some of their efficiency over time. Most panels will come with a warranty that explains what efficiency levels are guaranteed and at what age.

Suggested Reading and Videos

A few good reference books are always good to have on hand when dealing with anything electrical.

Off Grid Solar Power: How to Design and Install a Mobile Solar System for RVs, Vans, Boats and Tiny Homes (DIY Solar Power) by Paul Holmes

DIY Solar Power: How To Power Everything From The Sun

Off Grid Solar Power Simplified: For Rvs, Vans, Cabins, Boats and Tiny Homes


Simple Solar Power System for an Off grid Cabin by Bushradical

Tiny House Solar System For High Power Use by Tiny House Giant Journey


Small scale solar is a great way to get power where you need it on a larger property or at a remote location. Although many people get experts to install solar panels for their home, there are plenty that choose to do it themselves and save a ton of money in the process. 12V power is a bit safer to work with than standard 110V. I encourage you to learn more and get started with some small solar backup systems today.

Do you already have some small-scale solar? How about larger systems? Any tips for others that are just getting started? Are there any brands of panels, charge controllers, or inverters that you highly recommend? Any that have failed to perform well? Please share with the Peak Prosperity tribe in the comments below so we can learn together!


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Just the kind of article I wanted to see as I am looking to create a small scale back up system. Thanks for all the great info. The pics are especially important as I tend to learn best with visuals that supplement written information.

I’m building a 1200 sq.ft. House for a client in Texas. Do to the heat he has requested central AC. The house is too big and spread out for mini splits to work well but we are going with a 3 ton Mitsubishi Inverter type AC/Heat system (works like a mini split) that has only 17 amps at start up and 13 amps running. This load is driving the solar design being 90% of the demand.
Currently looking at a Sol-Ark 12K inverter and (28) 455 W modules and three 7.5 Wh KiloVault Lithium batteries.
There are a lot of choices out there…I’ve used the Outback GS 8048 inverter up until now and have been very pleased, but thinking hard about the new Sol-Ark technology.

10 or 12 years ago or so I put together a portable sys. I bought a hand truck, installed a 24" X 36" X 1/2" thick hdpe sheet on the up right and 24" X 9" on the blade part. I put two 12v deep cycle batteries on the bottom, mounted a 2000 watt inverter and a 20 amp charge controller to the panel above the batteries. Also on the panel I mounted a 5 outlet power plug strip and a 4 outlet 12v cigarette lighter type strip.
I have two 100 watt solar panels hooked together with a 5’ bridle then to a 15’ cable to the charge controller. I put the panels wherever the sun is.
With this rig I can unplug the cable and roll the unit wherever I need it on the farm. When the power goes out I can keep the led lights on, the fridg and freezers charged and have internet if it is still up. I take it out into the field on the tractor to run power tools.
I built a 28’ aluminum boat using only the batteries from this rig to power a wire feed mig unit. I would take the batteries off as needed. I would charge two 6v batteries too and use one with a 12v to get 18v for mig. Totally solar built boat.
I have replaced each component over the years but not the panels.

We have several and use them often. I would recommend your panel is large enough to generate over 100 watts. Keep in mind that max power and real power are often not the same. Clouds and time of day do change your power level.
Some panels allow you to chain them. If you are hiking with a group, you could carry four smaller panels and then connect them.
How much time do you really have to sit in one spot while you charge up?
The larger panels do get heavy. My two smaller panels are nice to carry in my pack, but often just not worth the effort. Even the 28 watt panel just takes too long to charge my cell phone. Sure, if I could leave it in an open field for 5 hours, I would be all charged up. But often we are near trees. The panel could be in a good spot, but then an hour later it’s completely shaded when I come back to check on it.
We have a ROCKPALS SP003 100W Foldable Solar Panel. It works greats. We can charge two cell phones in about an hour.
And we have several 18650 battery banks. These can store a lot of power for the size. Here is one brand we have: HAWEEL 4 x 18650 Charger Box, Portable Power Bank
Thus, recommendations:

  • Ditch the cell phone. Get a separate digital camera.
  • Carry a 18650 battery bank
  • Get a larger 100w+ panel. Lug it from the car to the campsite, but not for hiking.

I’ve built several small off-grid solar systems and am currently putting together a system that should be able to power three refrigerator/freezers through the short, cloudy days of winter without using a generator. Refrigeration for food preservation is the killer app in my climate, and heating is nice if you can get it, but I’m not optimizing around air conditioning as many would. I just don’t need it.
Here are some things I concluded were a good fit for my system:
16 x 3.2V 280Ah LiFePO4 cells from a Chinese manufacturer such as CATL, Lishen, or EVE. They are a better value than lead acid chemistry, keeping in mind you can regularly get 100% of the rated capacity without destroying the cells. The Lishen factory was backed up as of a few days ago, and many are now ordering 302Ah CATL calls. Last I checked (a couple months ago) the price was around $0.10 per watt-hour including delivery to North America, depending on how you calculate it.
You need a battery management system (BMS) to run those LiFePO4 cells to protect against freezing temperatures and to balance the power to individual cells as they age. The charge/discharge voltage curve is quite flat for the middle 90%, so you need to count electrons going in and out of each cell or else you’ll end up with cells with dissimilar states of charge.
In order to avoid using a generator during the winter, I made provision for 9000 watts of panels. They were used 250W-rated panels that were rotated out of a commercial solar farm in Georgia (USA), and I got them for merely $0.20/watt. Ground mounting allows an optimal high angle for winter and avoids the 2017 NEC rules for arc-fault and rapid shutdown that are now required for roof installations and that favor newer, more complicated, grid-friendly, but less-flexible equipment such as micro-inverters for each panel.
With so much power available during the summer, I need a BMS that can take high charging currents. None of the common Chinese-made options are sufficient without modification, but some are compatible with relays or, more reliable and generating less waste heat, solid state relays (SSR) such as are made by Crydom. I don’t need a high-power SSR to allow the BMS to turn off the inverter, since there is a signal input on the inverter for that purpose. The high-power ones would need to be on the solar input, before or after the charge controller (supposing it does not have a similar on/off signal input), and also before any DC loads from the battery. A FET-based SSR (such as is typical of Crydom models) can also be used with some charge controllers to pulse-width modulate at around 500Hz or less when the battery voltage reaches a setpoint, allowing you to use the energy that would otherwise be wasted to do something like heat water, make ice, or run a deep well pump to a cistern.
For more information about batteries (including group buys), BMS, mounting, and general topics I recommend For all the commercial equipment and parts necessary to get things into regulatory compliance I also use Northern Arizona Wind & Sun’s .

I have been wanting to get some backup power for a while now and just didn’t know where to start. Thank you! Your article is perfect and now I know where to begin!!

This is a great article, and the timing is perfect for me!
And, thanks to all of you who’ve added details about your setups. And, big thanks in advance for anyone providing links to items they’ve purchased.

Mike, you seem to know your stuff. The LiFePO4 batteries seem better all around, but I keep seeing that they need to be protected from freezing. What happens when they freeze? Will they short out and catch fire? Will it just damage the plates?
If you have a cabin in the middle of nowhere that could see temps below -4F, and you will be several hundred miles away, are sealed lead acid the next best option? What happens lead acid batteries get below -4F? In researching lead acid batteries, most are also rated down to only -4F.
Basically I need a system where we can turn it off and walk away without worrying that will be break in the winter.

Big or small , backup power systems are great to have. I built one last year from pieces and parts. Solar is a great way to go with it, but you really need to get out and find the truth behind what it can (and can’t) do. There are some snake oil salespeople out there. Here is the link to an article about my system back then:
I am currently reworking it, now that we are full time RVers.

LiFePO4 cells made in the USA by Battle Born include a thermostat and internal resistance heaters. LiFePO4 cells are permanently damaged by charging at temperatures below freezing, but I’m not certain the exact temperature, perhaps -3C. Sealed lead acid such as AGM merely has its capacity reduced 80% or so. I have some AGMs in a different system, and I’ve been very disappointed with their capacity when cold. I’d say try to make the lithium chemistry work with an insulated battery box and some sort of temperature-activated heater of less than 5 watts, maybe some plumber’s heating “tape” that would use mains voltage, or better yet a DC circuit that bypasses the inverter.
I have a fair bit of experience with leaving buildings unoccupied and unheated when it’s -4F outside, and it seldom gets below freezing inside because of thermal mass and solar gain through south-facing windows. Unless you have absolutely no insulation or solar gain, I don’t think you should be too concerned.

Another related topic.
Found this on Amazon, and it started me thinking:

Thus, I’m leaning on going with 24VDC throughout the house, with local 24V to 12v + USB conversion.

  • Cost of appliances: 110VAC stuff is just cheap. 5V usb stuff is also fairly cheap. DC appliances are usually not cheap.
  • Cost of wiring: The lower the voltage, for the same power you need more current ( Power = Voltage x Current ). More current needs larger wiring to overcome resistance losses.
  • What are your highest loads: Your highest loads will probably dictate the system you need, such as your refrigerator and well pump.
Currently I'm leaning on doing a 24v system throughout the house. 10 gauge copper braided wiring will be used. The 24 VDC will float with the battery charge, probably between 22V and 29V. Locally at an outlet, I will convert the 24VDC to 12V cigarette lighter +USB ports. The important part there is that we can see the 24VDC readout in every room. Thus, if the battery gets low, we will know to stop running the whatever we have plugged in. Lighting will be on the 24VDC system. They sell 24V lights that look like normal socket light bulbs. Then I will just use normal house boxes and switches for the lighting. We will have some 110VAC power, mainly in the kitchen and the utility room. Normal 110VAC boxes and switches will be used. We like our food processor, the stick bender, a small microwave oven, and a small frig. In the winter I'm temped to put the frig on the porch where it won't need any power. Most of our small electronics will be USB powered, including any fans. There will be no big TV screens or other power hungry electronics. The vacuum cleaner will be a push broom. Our water well, I'm planning to get a hand pumped well. Kinda silly, but why not? It should last 100 years. We'll pump the water to a stainless steal tank in the attic. There won't be anyone wasting water in this house, and no well pump needed. Maybe I'm all wrong here and I would just go with 110VAC. I just don't want a plug it in and forget it house. That's the reason we end up with so much waste. Thoughts on off grid house wiring? -Travis
Unless you have absolutely no insulation or solar gain, I don't think you should be too concerned.
The house will be well insulated with a concrete floor. The batteries will be stored in a closed room directly on the floor. I agree with your assessment. My guess is temperatures may get down to 20s F in the house, but probably not any colder. We do know the ground does freeze to maybe 10 inches, but under the house, probably not. My concern on the heated batteries, we'll shut the system down before you leave. If they start to heat themselves, it may need to last for month.

I have that 12V outlet device installed on a small system, minus the built-in USB charger. I have it installed near the battery and wouldn’t want to run expensive large-gauge wire through the walls of a house. That’s what AC is for, or at least AC voltages. Mots has developed a device that makes interrupted DC at AC voltages (100-240V ?) that might be a fair compromise if you don’t plan to use AC motors and transformers with it. But for lighting? 24V LED strips can be strung up everywhere because they have their own buck/boost power supplies at each set of LEDs.
Some AC motors will run with it (power tools), some will not (constant speed motors and some other things).

Jeff Yago wrote a book titled Lights on. I highly recommend it for emergency solar information.

Thread hijack alert!
Tonight (soon) at 7:30 my latest YouTube video premier will begin.
Come for the data, stay for the logic!
I’ll be there hanging out in the chat window. Here’s hoping that the censors are okay with me reporting on CDC and major health center data…

YT live chats are like the Wild West, Dr. Chris.
Be careful who you engage. You might want some allies as moderators from the paid subscribers.
Just my two cents.

I will bring a couple circuits that run regular home depot/lowes lights from high voltage DC. The trick here is to throw away their circuit boards, combine the lights in series and use constant current to supply them. The lights last longer, can be connected to a string of solar panels without any equipment, and I have a simple doo-dad that I add to each light to keep the string going if one light burns out. If you see me in June I will have these, and I want to give away to someone who is serious about high voltage DC.

I am living the dream. I haven’t had a power bill for many years (except petrol, to be discussed).
The big factor is what is the aspect of your land. My land, in the Deep South, is south facing therefore it is adversely affected by the aspect. (My land faces away from the equator.) In effect this de-rates the photocells on one hand; one consideration amongst many. On the other hand, my calculations show that I will not be able to consume all the firewood that is captured by photosynthesis in my 15Kw stove.
Because it is winter, I have to buy a small amount of petrol.

Ingo Swann, the late remote viewer makes a fair fist of his claim that consciousness is made up of at least 3 components. Logic, Emotions and Intuition (Spidey sense).
I am weak on logic (and telepathy), but strong on intuition. Therefore it behoves me to listen to those strong on logic; hence Dr. Chris Martenson.
So, how do You assess yourself? A+ on all three? Whoopie doo.
Here’s the deal. The reported experience of near-death cases is that we are Not our bodies. Reality is procedurally generated. Do I want to die? Not on your Nellie, being alive is a great privilege and endlessly entertaining, but I do not fear death. At seventy years old and as fit as a fiddle, I am aware that death looms.
I have been alive many, many times before and fully anticipate getting a new assignment. My role now is to prepare the world in which I wish to live. I hope to return to a world where one of my granddaughter’s children has been chosen as Overmother.
Ref: Our Oera Linda and the Dharma Manifesto.