Installing solar panels can be an expensive endeavor, with professional installation often costing thousands of dollars. However, with a bit of DIY know-how, I was able to build my own functional solar panel system for well under $200. In this article, I'll walk through the complete process I used to build a small off-grid solar system on a budget.

Choosing the Components

The first step is selecting the right components for your budget DIY solar system. Here's what you'll need:

Solar Panel

For under $50, you can get a 50W polycrystalline solar panel. This will be sufficient for running small loads like phone/laptop charging and LED lights.

Charge Controller

A charge controller regulates the voltage and current coming from the solar panel to safely charge your battery. I used a $15 PWM charge controller.


For under $100, you can get a 100Ah 12V sealed lead acid battery. This gives you 1.2kWh of storage capacity.

Wires and Connectors

You'll need 10 AWG wires to handle the output from the solar panel and battery, along with MC4 connectors to connect the wires to the panel. Expect to spend around $20-30 on wiring.

Box and Mounting

For enclosing the system, you can use a simple plastic tool box for around $20. Use metal L brackets to mount the solar panel, costing around $10.

Calculating Energy Usage

Before building the system, it's important to calculate your expected energy usage to properly size the components. Here are some example daily loads:

So with a 100Ah battery, you can expect to power several small loads for multiple days without sunshine before recharging.

Wiring the System

With all the parts ready, it's time to wire it all together. Follow these steps:

  1. Connect the charge controller to the battery using 10 AWG wire. Ensure you match the polarity - positive to positive, negative to negative.

  2. Connect the solar panel wires (with MC4 connectors) to the charge controller. Red wire to the positive input, black wire to negative.

  3. Wire the loads through the charge controller. Connect the positive load wire to the charge controller output, and negative to the battery negative.

  4. Enclose all the wiring safely inside the plastic box.

Mounting the Solar Panel

To mount the panel, follow these steps:

  1. Attach the L brackets to the back of the solar panel with bolts and nuts.

  2. Choose a sunny spot on your roof or in your yard. Consider sun exposure throughout the day.

  3. Mount the panel by securing the L brackets, angling the panel towards the south.

  4. Run the solar panel wires safely into your DIY solar box. Seal any holes to protect from water.

And that's it - you now have a fully functioning DIY solar panel system! For under $200, you can build a small off-grid system to provide electricity for essentials. Just remember to properly size your components for your expected loads. With a bit of handy work, solar power can be within anyone's budget.