A Guide to Solar Power for Sheds in 2024 – MarketWatch

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Can I Power a Shed With Solar?

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are an ideal power source for backyard sheds and other outbuildings. Solar panels operate silently and generate zero emissions, while a conventional generator is a constant source of noise and pollution. Panels also require little maintenance beyond regular cleaning since they have no moving parts.

However, the permitting requirements for a solar-powered shed can vary depending on how the system is configured. Generally, you don’t need a construction permit to install an off-grid solar kit that’s not connected to the local grid voltage. But if you plan to use a rooftop solar system and wire the shed to your home, you will need a permit. We recommend hiring professional electricians and solar panel installers if you opt for a rooftop installation.

Assessing Your Shed’s Energy Needs

How much power you need for your shed will depend on the amount of time you spend there and what tools or appliances you use. For example, if you only need electricity to power overhead lighting and rechargeable tools, you can likely use a small solar power kit, which you can install on your own.

Assume a shed has four 20 watt (W) light bulbs and home and garden tools that require 600 watt hours (Wh) of daily charge for use. The number of watts measures how much power a device needs to work, whereas watt-hours measure the energy an item consumes over time. To determine watt-hours, you multiply an item’s wattage by the hours of intended use.

So, if you used 20 W bulbs to light the shed for five hours, you would need 100 Wh of electricity. With the other 600 Wh required for tool charging, you would need 700 Wh total. You could generate 700 Wh using a 200 W solar kit, which produces enough watts per hour (200 W) to run your shed for five hours each day.

There are exceptions — a portable solar kit may not generate enough energy if you plan to convert your shed into a workshop or an air-conditioned home office. In these cases, you can consider using a rooftop solar system of higher wattage. However, this option will likely cost more than a do-it-yourself (DIY) solar kit.

Solar Panel Selection and Installation

The three main types of solar panels — monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film — differ based on the PV cell material used to absorb sunlight. Monocrystalline panels are the most efficient, providing more wattage per square foot. This makes mono panels an ideal option for sheds, which typically have limited roof space.

You can also use polycrystalline or thin-film panels to power a shed, but since these panels are less efficient, you may need more to reach the required wattage.

Home solar systems use PV modules with a typical power output of 360 W to 440 W, depending on the solar panel brand and model. With a rooftop installation, panels are held in place by racking systems anchored directly to your roof structure. It is generally recommended that you hire a professional team to complete rooftop solar panel installations.

Alternatively, DIY solar panel kits are easier to set up. Installation kits typically include mounting grommets or deployable kickstands, and some thin-film panels even have an adhesive backing you can stick to a surface. DIY solar panels typically have a power output below 200 W and are smaller and lighter than the solar modules installed by professionals.

If you are unsure how many solar panels you need to power your shed, we suggest reaching out to a professional solar company for guidance.

Cost of Solar for a Shed

If your shed only needs electricity for light bulbs and tool recharging, a 200 W solar panel kit can cost you less than $300 based on market research. Since solar kits are off-grid, you will also need a battery system. Solar energy storage can add $200 to $800 to your budget, depending on the capacity. Considering all costs, you could set up a solar energy system for a shed for less than $1,000 to $1,200.

Many companies offer solar panels for small-scale applications, including SunPower, Renogy, WindyNation and GoalZero. The chart below outlines the average cost of solar panel options from each provider.

*Pricing for two panels reflects the total cost to reach 200 W of solar capacity. 

If you’re considering a solar power system for your entire home, your costs will increase significantly. According to our March 2023 survey of 1,000 homeowners with solar, the average home solar system costs $15,000 to $20,000.

More specifically, you can expect to pay $17,100 for a 6 kilowatt (kW) solar system, and the net cost drops to $11,970 after subtracting the 30% solar federal tax credit. In an area with high energy prices and decent sun exposure, a 6 kW solar system could save you more than $1,500 in annual electricity bills.

Generally, the brands that make compact solar panels differ from companies that manufacture large modules for residential and commercial use. However, SunPower offers products for both market segments. The company makes some of the best solar panels for homes, with some of the highest efficiency ratings in the industry and leading 25-year warranties.

Battery Storage and Power Management

If you opt for DIY solar panels, you will also need a solar battery system to provide continuous power to your shed. Unlike residential systems, DIY panels run off the power grid and therefore cannot pull energy from the grid to use at night or on cloudy days. On days when you don’t use the shed, the battery can store unused solar electricity for later use.

An off-grid solar system also needs an inverter and solar charge controller. The charge controller regulates the voltage and current supplied by the solar panels, ensuring safe and efficient battery charging. The inverter converts the DC power (direct current) supplied by your panels and batteries into the AC power (alternating current) needed to power lighting and tools.

You can purchase off-grid solar components separately to make your own energy storage system, but this approach requires electrical know-how. You must ensure all voltages and wattages are compatible and use adequate wiring and connectors. You will also have to wire light fixtures and power outlets to the inverter’s AC terminals and protect all devices and connections with suitable circuit breakers.

A simpler alternative is purchasing portable power stations such as the Renogy 1000 or Goal Zero Yeti 500X, which are factory-assembled and include all required components. Portable solar generators also have built-in power outlets and circuit breakers. Plus, portable kits have certification marks such as UL and ETL to ensure electrical safety.

The Bottom Line

A solar-powered shed can generate its own electricity, eliminating the need for noisy generators. If you only need electricity for small appliances such as light bulbs and power tool chargers, you can set up a DIY solar kit for less than $1,000.

The design requirements are more complex if you intend to use office equipment, air conditioning or high-power tools in your shed. Attempting to install many solar panels on a shed roof may not be feasible due to space limitations, and the initial investment can easily surpass $10,000. In this case, you could consider installing a rooftop solar system on your home and wiring the shed to its main panel. However, this option will be more expensive upfront and require professional installation.

A professional solar company can determine the ideal PV system size and layout for your home based on an assessment of your energy bills and site conditions.

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