solar powered computer

Our computer is one of the primary uses of energy in the home – not only are desktop computers energy-hungry, but many of us use them for long hours during the day and even overnight. We know that electricity consumption from fossil fuels is unsustainable, contributes to climate change, and is damaging to the environment. 

So is it possible to power a computer with solar energy?

Is it possible to power a computer using solar energy?

Essentially, you can run any type of electrical appliance or device on solar power. These days, we’re seeing more and more solar powered devices, from fountains to hanging lights.

So what about solar powered computers?

How can you run your computer on solar energy?

Although there is potential for computers that come with their own built-in solar system, this technology isn’t yet available. As solar technology continues to develop and we see smaller and more efficient batteries and PV systems being released, we can hope to see something like a solar powered computer in the not-to-distant future.

However, there are two main ways you can run your computer on solar:

  • By powering your device through a home solar system
  • By using an electricity provider with energy that comes partially or entirely from a solar plant

In this article, we’ll focus on the first option, and walk you through how you can set up a solar system to power your computer, as well as some important points to keep in mind. In essence, what you’ll end up with is a solar powered computer!

Why should you power your computer with solar energy?

If you want to be able to use your computer as much as you like without negatively impacting the environment, solar energy is your best choice, aside from maybe wind energy.

The advantages of running your own solar powered computer:

  • Reduced energy costs
  • You’ll have uninterrupted power (as long as you have a battery for your solar system)
  • You don’t need to worry about sudden power cuts or surges damaging your device
  • Reduced carbon emissions and air pollution means it’s better for the environment

For more on setting up a solar system in your home, see our guide to building your own DIY solar system.

How to run your computer on solar power

You can easily run a computer using a home solar system, but there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind. Solar systems generally produce DC power, while computers are AC-powered.

This means you’ll need an inverter and charge controller to convert the power from DC to AC in order to power your PC, but this equipment is easy to source and simple to set up.

The system should connect the solar panels to an inverter, then charge controllers with batteries, and finally connect from the battery to your computer. The inverter is necessary in order to convert the system from DC to AC power and will give you a standard wall socket that you can plug your now ‘solar powered’ computer into.

Most panels also come with a charge controller, but if not, you’ll need to buy one separately. This device makes sure the solar panel sends the correct amount of power to the battery and stops the battery from discharging overnight or on cloudy days.

The impact of the elements

One risk of using solar to power your computer, or anything else for that matter, is that it can be affected by lightning. Solar panels need to be installed in exposed spots, such as on your roof, in order to get the maximum amount of sunlight, and so can be vulnerable to lightning strikes.

Lightning can cause power interruptions, which can interrupt work or gaming time, or even damage your device. Strikes can also damage the solar equipment, and it’s hard to find solar systems with complete lightning protection.

Additionally, solar systems rely on sunshine by definition. This means that your solar powered computer will be vulnerable to lapses in the sun, such as overnight or on cloudy days, making batteries a key part of running a solar powered computer.

Battery storage

A battery is also essential, as it will store the energy and allow you to run your computer at any hour of the day, not just when the sun is shining. Furthermore, if you want to run a number of devices on your solar system or live in a climate with frequent cloudy days, you’ll probably want to have a second battery as a backup.

Therefore, our recommended set up for a solar powered computer would be:

  • 2×200-watt or 3×160-watt solar panels
  • 2×320-amp lithium-ion batteries
  • A charge controller
  • An inverter

With all of this, you can create your own solar computer, or expand your system with more panels and possibly more batteries, and run your entire home on solar power!

What is the best battery for a solar powered computer?

Having a reliable, high-performing battery is important if you want to run your computer on solar power. This will ensure that you have uninterrupted power to your device, and avoid fluctuating power levels which could damage the hardware.

solar panel, battery, charge controller and computing station
Source: Wikimedia / Inveneo

Lithium-ion batteries are an excellent choice, as they are reliable, efficient, have excellent storage capacity and do not require maintenance. They discharge deeply (meaning that you can store more power) and charge very efficiently, allowing you to make the most out of the power generated from your solar panels.

Above all, these batteries are extremely long-lasting, with a lifespan of 3000-5000 cycles.

On the downside, lithium-ion batteries are more expensive than other alternatives, but with their many benefits, they offer excellent value for money. Additionally, as these kinds of batteries become more widespread, they are becoming more affordable.

Other types of batteries for solar systems include:

  • Flooded lead acid batteries – Although now being replaced by lithium-ion batteries, flooded lead acid batteries have been the most popular choice for home solar systems for a long time. They are affordable, recyclable, and reliable, though not as efficient or long-lasting as lithium-ion batteries.
  • Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) batteries – These are a type of sealed lead acid batteries, with a lower internal resistance, meaning that they discharge more slowly and are more tolerant of higher temperatures. They have a longer lifespan than flooded lead acid batteries while being only a little more expensive.
  • Gel batteries – Gel batteries are durable, low-maintenance, long-lasting, and highly resistant to vibrations and shock. However, they have a low storage capacity, self-discharge pretty quickly and have a narrow charging profile, so can be easy to damage if not charged correctly. Additionally, they are more expensive than flooded lead-acid batteries so we wouldn’t recommend them for a solar system.

Although more expensive, lithium-ion batteries are your best option for a solar powered computer. A fully-charged 320 amp lithium-ion battery will run a typical desktop computer for around 12 hours and can recharge within three hours on a sunny day.

How many solar panels do you need to power a computer?

When setting up a solar system to power your computer, it’s important to calculate how much energy you’ll need to be able to work or game without any interruptions.

Standard desktop computers use around 200Wh to 300Wh, while laptops only need about 60 Wh. One solar panel can provide anywhere between 100 and 300 Wh, depending on the panel and the amount of sun it receives.

Note: watt hours (Wh) is the average amount of energy needed to power the device for one hour.

Say your computer uses 300Wh, and you run it for around eight hours a day. This means your device will use 2400 watts every day.

So how many solar panels will you need to keep your computer running? This depends on what kind of solar panels you have, as well as the sun exposure.

For example, let’s look at a 200-watt solar panel with six peak sun hours:

  • 1 x 200-watt solar panel x 6 hours = 1200 Wh
  • 2 x 200-watt solar panel x 6 hours = 2400 Wh

So for the computer using 2400 Wh a day mentioned above, you would need two such solar panels. Likewise, you would need four 100-watt solar panels to power your computer.

Of course, this will only cover your computer – if you want to run other appliances and devices on your solar system, you’ll need more solar panels!

Interested in more topics like this? Check our post to learn what can a 300-watt solar panel run.

How many solar panels do I need to power a gaming computer?

A gaming PC needs more energy than a standard desktop computer, typically between 350 Wh and 450 Wh. Depending on how long you use your gaming computer, you may need additional solar panels to run it.

Let’s take the example above but this time using a gaming PC. As with the previous example, you’ll use your gaming computer for eight hours a day.

If your device uses 450 Wh, this makes the daily energy usage 3600 watts.

With the same amount of sun (6 peak sun hours a day), to generate this amount of energy, you’ll need:

  • 3 x 200-watt solar panel x 6 hours = 3600 Wh

How to run a laptop on solar power

Because laptops only need an average of 60 Wh, you can easily run a laptop on even a single 100-watt solar panel. If you use your laptop for eight hours a day, you’ll need 480 Wh of power per day, which a 100-watt solar panel could generate in less than five hours.

Additionally, as laptops come with a built-in battery, it’s not so important to connect them to a solar battery for continuous power.

How to build a solar powered computer

Unfortunately all-in-one solar computers don’t exist, at least not yet. However, you can build your own solar computer system with a couple of solar panels, one or preferably two 12-volt batteries, an inverter, and a charge controller.

This will not only allow you to be kind to the environment by running your computer on renewable energy, but it will also help you to cut your electricity bills and enjoy uninterrupted power to your PC.

If you’ve enjoyed this article on solar powered computers, take a look at our other guides to solar powered living, including how community solar works and portable solar panels.

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