Setting up a basic 100 watt solar panel setup is not hard. Even if you’re a complete beginner to DIY solar, you can easily do it in an afternoon.
This step-by-step guide will cover everything you need to know to get your first solar panel system up and running.
- What You Need
- Video Walkthrough
- Step 1: Connect Charge Controller to Battery
- Step 2: Connect Solar Panel to Charge Controller
- Step 3: Connect Inverter to Battery
What You Need
- 100 watt 12 volt solar panel kit
- 12 volt battery — I recommend using a 100Ah lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery
- 12 volt inverter — I use a 2000 watt inverter in this guide, but a 500 watt inverter is a good size for a small system like this
Here’s my extremely detailed video guide of how to set up this basic system. If you get stuck at any point, I highly recommend watching the relevant part for more guidance.
Step 1: Connect Charge Controller to Battery
First, locate the battery terminals on your charge controller. They’ll have a battery icon or the letters BAT or BATT next to them. There will be a positive (+) and a negative (-) terminal.
Begin with the positive terminal. Insert the stripped end of the positive battery cable into to the positive battery terminal on the charge controller and then screw the terminal shut with your screwdriver.
Next, we’ll connect the positive battery cable to the battery. But, before proceeding, I suggest putting on safety glasses and gloves for protection while handling the battery.
Unscrew the bolt on the battery’s positive terminal. Thread the positive battery cable’s ring connector onto the bolt. If your inverter cables also have ring connectors, thread the positive inverter cable onto the bolt as well. Screw the bolt back on to the positive battery terminal.
Here’s what it might look like if you connected both the positive battery cable and positive inverter cable:
Repeat the process for the negative battery cable, but this time connecting it to the negative battery terminal on the charge controller and the negative terminal on the battery. There might be a small spark when you touch the negative battery cable (and negative inverter cable, if using) to the negative battery terminal. Don’t worry, this is normal.
Once you complete the connection, your charge controller should turn on, indicating a successful connection. The final touch is setting the battery type on your charge controller. Follow the steps in the controller’s manual for how to do this.
And just like that, the first step of your 100 watt solar setup is complete! That wasn’t so bad, was it? And, good news, it only gets easier from here on out.
Step 2: Connect Solar Panel to Charge Controller
Safety tip: If you’re outside, flip your solar panel over or cover it with a towel to prevent it from generating most of its power while you’re working with it.
Grab your solar panel’s positive cable. It’s usually marked with a red plus sign and typically has a male MC4 connector. Then, grab the negative solar adapter cable (the one with the female MC4 connector) and connect the two.
Next, find the solar terminals on your charge controller, typically marked with a solar panel icon, sun icon, or the letters PV. Insert the stripped end of the positive solar cable into the positive solar terminal and tighten it with your screwdriver.
Repeat these steps for the negative solar cable, but connect it to the negative solar terminal on the charge controller.
Your solar panel is now connected to your charge controller. Take the panel outside and place it in direct sunlight.
Here comes the moment of truth. Head back to your charge controller and check for indications of solar charging. Most charge controllers will start flashing a light or, if it has a screen, you’ll see positive values on the PV current and PV voltage screens.
On mine, the PV light started flashing a green light. That means the solar panel, charge controller, and battery are all properly connected and the solar panel is safely charging the battery.
Step 3: Connect Inverter to Battery
If you already connected your inverter in Step 1, just turn it on and plug something in to make sure it’s working. If it is, all the parts of your system are properly connected. You’re done!
If you didn’t connect your inverter in Step 1, it’s time to do so now.
First, attach the inverter’s positive cable to the positive terminal of your battery. My inverter’s cables both have 2 alligator clips, so I clipped the positive cable to the battery like this:
Next, attach the inverter’s negative cable to the negative terminal of the battery. Again, it’s normal for there to be a small spark when you complete the connection.
Just like that, your inverter is now connected. Turn it on and check if it’s operational by plugging in a small device, like a lamp or a phone charger. If your device works, great! Your inverter is successfully connected.
An important safety note: if you ever need to disconnect this setup, always start by disconnecting the solar panel from the charge controller. Disconnecting the battery first can damage the charge controller, especially if it’s a cheaper model.
There you have it! You’re basic solar panel setup is complete. The solar panel will collect solar power, and then the charge controller will take that power and adjust its voltage and current to safely charge the battery. The battery stores the solar energy and the inverter converts it from DC to AC so that you can use your system to run standard devices and appliances.