Simple Solar Panel System - Setup & Equipment Guide (2021)

A simple guide, with diagrams, for setting up a solar panel for powering an outlet.

Home Solar Panel Caspar Rae / Unsplash

Last Updated: September 10, 2021

Written by Brandon Jones

In this guide, we will be using the equipment that is listed below. This equipment list includes everything you'll need for a simple 100 watt to 200 watt solar power system. You can also use this guide to get a better understanding of solar power systems for building larger systems or different variations. When completed, you will be able to charge a battery to power your devices.

Solar Power Equipment Needed

Section Link

Solar Panel System Diagram Solar Panel System Diagram TechReviewer

Definitions

Solar panels are made of many solar cells (photovoltaic cells), most often made from crystalline silicon. These cells take in energy from the sun's rays, converted through the semiconductor, creating an electric field that transfers voltage and current. Solar panels connect to the charge controller to regulate the voltage and current produced by the panel.

Charge controllers are used to regulate the voltage and current coming from the solar panels to prevent overcharging your battery.

Batteries are used for storing the energy produced by your solar panels. The battery is wired between your power inverter and the charge controller. Never connect your power inverter and the charge controller directly without a battery between the two.

Power inverters are used to convert the battery's power (DC - direct current) into electricity used for powering your devices (AC - alternating current). Power inverters have an outlet on the device.

Fuses are used to protect the wiring and devices from overcurrent. Fuses usually go on the closest point of the positive connection from your battery to the power inverter. You can also put fuses elsewhere in your system for protection, like an MC4 fuse for going between your solar panel and charge controller. You can find MC4 Fuses on Amazon (affiliate link).

Branch connectors are used to merge the cables coming from multiple solar panels to your charge controller.

Here's a list of our recommended equipment needed for a complete solar power system setup. If you want a different setup variation, see our other articles to help with determining what equipment you will need (TR) based on your needs.

If this list doesn't include what you are looking for, you can also find more of our recommended solar panel equipment (TR) below.

Solar Power System Setup

Section Link

Solar Panel System Diagram Solar Panel System Diagram TechReviewer

The solar panel system diagram above will give you an idea of the general setup of your system. It's important to follow the steps in order below so that you don't damage any of your equipment.

Be sure to follow the solar power safety and tips (TR) before continuing.

Step 1 - Inverter

  • Connect the positive (red) battery inverter cable to the positive (red / +) side of the power inverter.
  • Connect the negative (black) battery inverter cable to the negative (black / -) side of the inverter.

Step 2 - Charge Controller

  • Connect both of the tray cables to your charge controller's positive (+) and negative (-) battery inputs (battery icon).

  • You will need to program the charge controller to support/charge lithium batteries if you bought a lithium battery. You can find how to do this in the instructions of your charge controller.

Step 3 - Battery (Negative Side)

  • Get the other end of the tray cable that's coming from the negative (-) battery input on the charge controller. Connect this cable to the negative side (black / -) of the battery.

  • Get the other side of the negative battery inverter cable (black) that's coming from the power inverter. Connect this cable to the negative (- / black) side of the battery.

  • Connect the black wire from the battery capacity monitor to the negative side (black / -) of the battery.

  • Tighten the bolt on the battery's negative (black / -) side that's connecting the cables.

Step 4 - Battery (Positive Side)

  • Get the other end of the tray cable that's coming from the positive (+) battery input on the charge controller. Connect this cable to the positive side (+ / red) of the battery.

  • Get the other side of the positive battery inverter cable (red) that's coming from the power inverter. Connect the high current bolt-on fuse to this cable. Do not use any washers between the fuse and the wire.

  • Connect the cable (with the fuse) to the positive (+ / red) side of the battery. There may be a brief spark which is normal. You can discharge it first with the bolt connecting the bolt-on fuse if you want.

  • Connect the black wire from the battery capacity monitor to the negative side (black / -) of the battery.

  • Tighten the bolt on the battery's positive (+ / red) side that's connecting the cables.

Step 5 - Solar Panel

For the solar panel adapter cables, keep in mind that the cable with the red o-ring is the positive.

  • Connect the solar panel adapter cable and solar panel adapter cable extension together on the negative side.

  • Connect the other side of that extension cable to the negative input (-) on the charge controller.

  • Connect the solar panel adapter cable and solar panel adapter cable extension together on the positive side.

  • Connect the other side of that extension cable to the positive input (+) on the charge controller.

Step 6 - Finishing Up

Please make sure all connections are strong and tightened after connecting them.

Be sure to keep an eye on a voltage monitor or battery capacity monitor. Do not let it go below 12.2 volts or 0% charge level because it will damage your battery.

If your charge controller or battery monitor doesn't come with a battery temperature sensor, you should also get one of those. Most charge controllers have an input for connecting one.

Once everything is connected, you can place your solar panel in direct sunlight away from any obstructions.

Turn on the inverter to see if it's working correctly. You should see a power indicator. Now briefly plug in a powered device in the outlet of the inverter and see if it powers on. It's best not to leave any devices plugged into the power inverter until it's fully charged.

Multiple Solar Panels

Section Link

Branch Connectors

If you want to use multiple solar panels, you can get some Mc4 branch connectors, like these Solar Branch Connectors on Amazon (affiliate link) .

A branch connector will allow you to connect two solar panels to your charge controller using the two cables (positive and negative).

The diagram below shows that you will add the Mc4 branch connectors between the solar panel adapter cables. Be sure to connect the negative cables first.

Solar Panel Branch Connector Diagram Solar Panel Branch Connector Diagram TechReviewer

Charge Controller

When using more than one solar panel, it's best to use an MPPT charge controller that supports the increase in power. Either way, make sure your charge controller, along with your power inverter/fuse, can handle any extra energy from additional solar panels.

You will need to get a higher gauge wire to handle more power also. For example, 12 gauge wire is suitable for 20 amps, and 10 gauge wire is good for 30 amps.

If you're going to have multiple solar panels reaching over 250 watts combined, then you'll also need a higher amp charge controller like this:

Equipment Variations

Section Link

Our other articles, linked below, will help you determine which equipment to buy if you want different variations of this setup:

Section Link

Here's our list of recommended equipment for the most common setups if you want to further customize your solar power system.

Charge Controllers

Charge controllers are used to regulate the voltage and current coming from the solar panels to prevent overcharging your battery.

Power Inverters

Power inverters are used for converting the battery's power (DC - direct current) into electricity used for powering your devices (AC - alternating current). Power inverters have an outlet on the device.

Batteries

Batteries are used for storing the energy produced by your solar panels. The battery is wired between your power inverter and the charge controller. Never connect your power inverter and the charge controller directly without a battery between the two.

100W Solar Panel

Solar panels are made of many solar cells (photovoltaic cells), most often made from crystalline silicon. These cells take in energy from the sun's rays, converted through the semiconductor, creating an electric field that transfers voltage and current. Solar panels connect to the charge controller to regulate the voltage and current produced by the panel.

Solar Power System Cables

Fuses

Fuses protect the wiring and devices from overcurrent. Fuses usually go on the closest point of the positive connection from your battery to the power inverter. You can also put fuses elsewhere in your system for protection, like an MC4 fuse for going between your solar panel and charge controller. You can find MC4 Fuses on Amazon (affiliate link).

Branch Connectors

Branch connectors are for merging the cables coming from multiple solar panels to your charge controller.

Solar Power Safety and Tips

Section Link

Follow this guide at your own risk.

If you're connecting battery cables, connect the positive (red) cables first, then the negative (black). If you're disconnecting battery cables, disconnect the negative wire (black) first, then positive (red).

Whenever you plug/unplug cables between the charge controller and the battery, make sure the positive (+) solar panel adapter cable that goes to the charge controller is unplugged.

Connect the charge controller to the battery before connecting it to the solar panels to prevent it from being burnt out/damaged.

When working with batteries, it's best to use safety glasses and latex gloves.

Please follow the instructions and documentation of your devices (solar panel, controller, inverter, battery).

If you're ever uncomfortable with setting up solar panels, please get a professional.