Harbor Freight Off Grid Solar Panel System Installation and Review

The following is an overview and review of the Harbor Freight 100 Watt Solar Panel Kit.  You should consult a qualified electrician about installation of a solar panel kit.

I have a big ass garage out back on the property that just stores my old car, home gym equipment, and also works as a shop for building shit.  The garage was built after the fact and looking into cost to have power run out to the building would have been pretty pricey for something that needs limited amount electricy, mainly lights, running a few fans during the summer, a shop vac, and limited used of power tools, occasional power tool charging, and of course a little music.  Looking into options, I thought about just running a solar kit to fit my needs.  This set up that I did cost less than having an electrician come out and dig a trench to run the power to the building.  Also, really the only anticipated maintenance would be the eventual replacement of the batteries.

I chose the harbor freight kit for a couple of reasons.  First off, the review were very positive.  I looked at other kits online, but they either had mixed review, or the kits were not as complete.  Sure there are more expensive kits that would get 100 watts of charging from 1 panel, but the cost was also a lot higher.  Secondly, I liked being able to go into the store and shop the components and know the kit and additional equipment needed would easily be compatible.  Third, if I want to add onto my setup, I could easily just go to the store and purchase additional parts to expand my solar setup.

Cost of My Setup

I apologize for the blurry camera phone pics.  Maybe I’ll go back one day and get the good camera.  Pictured above are most of the parts needed for my setup:

100 Watt Solar Kit (includes wires, 12 volt test bulbs, and charge controller) $150 Purchased at Harbor Freight

2 Pack of Honeywell LED Shop Lights (purchased at Sam’s) $50 a2 pack.  They lights use 42 watts and kick out lots of light.  They are also able to be connected together and link up to 10 lights.  Since I initially set up everything, I have added 2 more kits, for a total of 6 lights at $150.  These were the best quality and price I could find and really like the lights.  There are no bulbs to replace.  You can also operate all the light together, or independently.

Power Inverter Cables $50.  Purchased at Harbor Freight.

1500Watt Continuous/3000Watt Peak Power Inverter $130 at Harbor Freight.  This is a nice inverter and has a nice build quality, but if I could go back, I probably would get something else.  The fan kicks on pretty easily on this thing during the summer.  Also, I wish it had a power level indicator light like other models I have since found.  Whenever this one dies, I will go with something else.  For those unfamiliar, the power inverter changes DC power into AC power.  This is what you can plug your things into  It has 2 USB ports that only charge at 1 AMP, and 2 outlets.

Deep Cycle 12 Volt Battery $40 each at Harbor Freight with 20% coupon.  I decided to go with 2 batteries after my initial setup to provide more power storage for a total of $80.  When these batteries die, I will probably pick up a massive marine battery from Walmart for about the same cost.

A few item not pictures:

2 Power strips, about $10 each.  I added power strips to the power inverter to provide more outlets and also allow easier control of the lights.  During the day, I don’t need the lights, so I can flip the power strip with the lights connected off.  I use the second power strip to plug in the shop vac, radio, fan, etc.  The second power strip had individual switches to control each outlet.

6ft Grounding Rod $15 on Amazon.  I went ahead and grounded this set up, just to be safe.

$25 Ft Grounding Wire $20 on Amazon

Extra battery cables $15 on Amazon.  These were to wire the 2 batteries together in parallel (red to red, black to black).

Conduit $20 at Lowes.  I wanted a clean looking install from outside, and also to provide protection from any critters chewing on the solar panel wires.

Total cost for my setup sits at $650.  Very reasonable I think and I don’t really have any increased electricity bill from adding this to my build.  I will probably break even when the batteries die and need to be replaced.

The Installation of the Kit

I’ve had rental properties in the past, so I’ve done some home improvement projects.  I would have to say, this is a really simple project you can knock out in a few hours, depending on how tidy you want the wires to look.

First thing to do is set up the solar panels.  The harbor freight kits comes with 4 25 watt panels, for a total of 100 watts.  the cables are pretty long, so you have some slack to play around with how you get everything set up.

For the time being, I just have the panels on the ground.  They get about 12 hours of sunlight per day, so my batteries are pretty much fully charged.  I plan to eventually build something and get the panels off the ground.  I’d also like to be able to rotate the panels a little, so they are getting direct sunlight for those 12 hours.  Note, you should anchor the panels down.  I had a gust of wind knock over the panels and one has some surface cracks.  Cinder blocks are sitting on the panes in the back for now.  I also have the grounding rod  hammered down in the ground in this area.  In the back , you can see a little bit of the conduit going into the building.  I dug a little trench for the conduit to bury the solar panel wires and run the wires to the building.  It just makes for a clean looking install, versus having wires sitting around.  It also protects the wires from rain and the intense sun.

Once you have the panels in place, they connect to a 4 plug adapter.  The adapter wire runs to the solar charger.

In the above picture, the solar charger is the black box.  The wire on the left, is the wire connecting the solar panels to the solar charger.  Basically, the solar charger works to regulate how much charging is taking place with the battery.  It’s keeps the batteries from overcharging, which can be dangerous.  Also, it keeps the batteries from totally discharging.  It essentially makes sure the battery charging/discharging is operating within certain parameters.  On the top left, you have 2 usb ports working at 1 amp.  I sometimes like to use these to charge my phone or those small batteries I use for camping.  You don’t even have to turn on the power inverter, which is nice, to use those 2 usb ports.  Last summer, power lines went down around my area, and I had no power for 3 days.  This helped me charge my cell phone during those days.

In the middle of the power inverter, there are positive and negative connections.  There are for bare wires and have alligator clips on the other end.  This connection runs to you battery to charge the battery.

The 2 wires on the right of the solar charger are for 2 test lamps.  I really like these test lamps.  Sometimes I have to run to the garage at night and just need to have a little light.  These things kick out a surprising amount of light and are controlled by a simple toggle switch (dangling to the left), just light a regular light switch.  There is a 3 12 volt connection.  I am looking for a light that will work off this connection in the auto section at Walmart.

Once you have the Solar panels connected to the Charge Controller, you are ready to connect the batteries to the Power Inverter.  Basically you are wiring the red terminal of the battery to the red terminal of the inverter, and black from battery to black on the inverter. Be careful, you can get shocked doing this if you don’t do it right, or even cause sparks.  Don’t forget your ground wire either.  The Power Inverter is the silver box, for reference.

If you are using just 1 battery, pretty simple for wiring.  ***If you are using 2 batteries like I am, they, the red connection should be on 1 battery and the black wire should be connected to the other battery.***

The last step is to get the solar charger connected to the batteries (the battery is already hooked up to the power inverter)

I will have to go back and get the DSLR for pics.  But if you are using just 1 battery, the red alligator clip connects to the red terminal and black to the black terminal on the battery.  Then you run the power inverter cables from the battery to the power inverter.  Be careful, you can get shocked doing this if you don’t do it right, or even cause sparks.  The red alligator clip should be connected first, then the black.

Since I have 2 batteries, I had to wire them in parallel.  This just gives me more storage for energy.  Basically wiring batteries in parallel means you connect the 2 red terminals together, then the 2 black terminals together.  Best 2 use the same batteries and new batteries when doing this.  You would then run the red alligator clip off one battery, and connect the black alligator clip to the black terminal of the other battery.  If you have bother alligator clips on the same battery when running 2 batteries, you are doing it wrong.  You can also see in the picture, that I have secured the wiring down into the studs, just to keep everything out of the way and neat.

Final step, just test everything.  Connect your lights or whatever and make sure you are getting power.

Here is a shot of the lights working.  I also run a shop van on this setup with no issues to clean my car and the garage.  I have old computer speakers connected to an old cell phone for FM Radio as well.  I like using this setup for charging my cell phone, laptop, rechargeable AA batteries, my power tool batteries.  As mentioned earlier, having this saved me from being with out a cell phone when some power lines were down as I was able to easily charge my cell phone.  I like to leave an extra set of  Micro USB cords, USB C and Apple 3o pin cords in the garage.  I basically charge stuff while I am working out and playing music.  Also, the garage is not finished and insulated, so during the summer it gets pretty hot.  I am now able to run fans in the garage to get air circulating and that makes a big difference when working out.

Overall, I really like the solar kit from Harbor Freight.  The install is easy, the setup is not really expensive when I compare doing this to having an electrician come out and run wiring from the house about 90 feet away and burying the lines.  I probably won’t break even on the up front cost for a few years, but really compared to having an electrician come out, I am already ahead.  About the only maintenance I expect is replacing the batteries down the road.  I wish I went with a different power inverter that was more silent during the summer.  So far during the fall and winter months, the units cooling fans have not kicked in.  This is a great setup for getting power to a remote location at a reasonable cost.

Doing this project has already given me additional ideas.  I am planning on building an outdoor living area with a kitchen and built in BBQ and smoker.  I want to add a sitting area around a fire pit and have a water pond with a fountain.  The battery, inverter and charger will all be enclosed in the outdoor kitchen island to provide protection from the elements.  I am going to pick up another kit with a smaller power inverter and basically run the pump for the fountain off of 2 of the panels in the kit.  The remaining 2 panels will be added to the garage setup, giving 150 watts to the garage and 50 watts to the water fountain and pond.  I’ll basically have a water fountain providing soothing sounds all day running off free energy from the sun.

I was not paid for this article.  This was a random home project I did last summer and decided to share for anyone looking into a solution for getting power to a remote garage or workshop.

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