Adjustable Portable DIY Solar Panel Stand
A portable solar panel stand is one of the most beneficial upgrades anyone can do to a portable solar system. Having used many solar generators, I have had to charge them with solar panels many times. Putting solar panels directly onto the ground works pretty okay during the summer but during the fall, winter and spring a solar panel stand makes a huge difference in power production.
The first time I ever built a solar panel stand it was extremely complicated. That’s why I never published anything about it because it could not be easily replicated. I wanted something that was lightweight, very compactable and could take with me anywhere. I think permanent installations are just fine for solar panels but with a solar generator, a portable solar panel mount is really helpful.
Solar is a large investment, there’s no way around that, it isn’t cheap. A solar panel stand frame is the cheapest and easiest way to get more power from the panels. I am also not huge on having a permanent installation of panels for a solar generator because in the event of a natural disaster I could lose my entire investment. For example, the wildfires in California burned countless homes and many of those homes had solar on them. Same in southeast Texas and along the entire Gulf Coast, horrific hurricanes have caused billions of dollars of damage to solar equipment from hail, debris, wind and water.
Having a system that can be taken with me is important in the event that I need to take my things and evacuate to a safer location. I’d hate to invest thousands of dollars into a system and then have it destroyed when I could’ve easily packed it into my car and taken it with me. There’s no guarantee in the event of a natural disaster that there will be power wherever I am heading to evacuate.
This is why I set out to find the most affordable solar panel stand that was completely adjustable for different times of the year. This DIY project took a long time to figure all the parts out exactly but now I have an amazing portable solar panel stand setup that I can take with me anywhere and greatly improved my power production from my solar panels.
Complete DIY Solar Panel Stand Kit:
1 Set Panel Stand Legs Option 1
1 Set Panel Stand Legs Option 2
4 Pieces of Panel Stand Crossbeams (Usually cheaper at Home Depot or Lowes)
2 Packs of Star Knobs 1/4″-20 w/bolt 10pk
1 Box Flange Nuts 1/4″-20 50pk
1 Set Red Tent Stakes 8pk
1 Bag Bungee Ball 4inch 25pk
Solar Panel Stand Legs
The solar panel stand legs are the most crucial part of the whole support mount. At first, I tried making my own stand legs but found that it cost me more than just getting a good quality set online.
The solar panel stand legs are very simple and consist of two 41” long aluminum slotted angle pieces, one 21” aluminum angle brace, and a few star knobs, bolts and flange nuts.
Putting these pieces together is surprisingly confusing even though there are only three main pieces to the whole rack. The first thing to do is take the two 41” pieces and put them together so that one is sitting in the angle groove of the other. Be sure that the elongated holes are matching so that the two pieces are lined up exactly the same. With one in each hand pull them apart so that they are not touching each other. Take the slotted angle piece in the left hand and rotate 180 degrees. Now place the two pieces back together side by side. The last hole closest to you on each piece now has a star knob put through it and a flange nut put on the star knob bolt threads.
The second part is easier than the first. Take the 21” frame strut, and using a star knob and flange nut, bolt it in the middle of the 41” piece that will be the bottom. Then take the other 41” piece, lift it up so it’s at about a 45-degree angle, and then bolt the other end of the 21” mount strut to it using a star knob and flange nut. And just like that it is all set up.
The same process is repeated for the second leg that comes in the set. These two solar panel stand legs will make the outside legs of the entire frame so that it easily stands up and holds up to about 100lbs.
When breaking down the legs I simply unbolt the star knob that’s on the 45-degree 41” frame piece. I then lay everything flat so that it’s easier to store. I then take the start knob I removed to break it down and simply bolt it anywhere there’s an open spot on the whole frame so that it doesn’t get lost and I have it on the leg for the next time I set it up.
Solar Rack Crossbeams
There are a few different ways to set up the crossbeams. The first thing to consider is how wide does the whole stand need to be? I generally use 100-watt solar panels with my solar generators and each solar panel generally about 22 inches wide. I normally have about 500 watts in solar panels setup on my stand which means I have 5 panels total. With each panel at 22 inches wide that means the total minimum width my solar panel rack needs to be is 110 inches (9ft 2in) in width.
The easiest way for me to accomplish this is to get two 5ft slotted angle iron pieces. Those two pieces will be bolted together for the top crossbeam and then a second set of slotted angle iron pieces will be put together to make the bottom crossbeam. A third set of 5ft slotted angle iron pieces can be used to make a center crossbeam which is recommended on windy days to help hold the panels in place.
I find it easy to use star knobs and flange nuts to put the crossbeams together but some people may not like this because the center solar panel will have to bend around or go over the bolts from the star knobs or the star knob heads. I haven’t found this to be an issue but if it is a concern then a flush rounded bolt head should be used. The flange nuts I use are ¼” 20 TPI (threads per inch) and fit with the star knobs I like to use. Getting carriage bolts (round head) that are ¼-20 TPI will be a good fit. Also using two 6ft pieces instead of 5ft pieces makes it easy to not have the middle panel bend over the star knobs.
To assemble the crossbeams, I place two of them on the ground with the ends touching each other. I then take one and overlap the other by about 6 inches for the 5ft pieces and 18 inches for the 6ft pieces. I then use two star knobs on each end of the overlapped section and bolt the two slotted angle pieces together. This makes one long 9ft 6in section.
The crossbeams are the second thing I put together after putting the solar panel stand legs together. Once the crossbeams are assembled together, I then use the star knobs and bolt the bottom beam onto the legs first. Then I do the top crossbeam and bolt it to the top of the solar panel stand legs using the star knobs. With that the solar panel stand is basically done. If it’s windy I will often add a third crossbeam in the middle just to make the stand stronger and give the solar panels more support.
For the top crossbeam I have the slotted angle set so that it has a flat face pointing out with the 90-degree point going towards the back. For the top crossbeam I do the opposite where the 90-degree point is sticking out towards the front. This allows me to have a small shelf for the bottom of the solar panels to rest on. Then regardless of the height of the panel it can sit on a flat face of metal which makes it easier to attach.
Mounting Solar Panels to the Rack
For mounting the solar panels to the entire support rack, I like to use more star knobs and flange nuts. They are easy to put on, they secure the panels very well, and I know they won’t fail with extended use outdoors. I have also used round top bolts with a washer, crush washer and nut. I have also used, even on windy days, 4” ball bungees. The ball bungees hook on very fast and are surprisingly sturdy but are only UV resistant not UV proof so they will eventually fail. Also, because they are fabric and elastic the weather will eventually cause them to fail.
Most often I use star knobs to secure the top of the solar panel to the rack, then if it’s windy I’ll use the ball bungees to secure the bottom of the panel. If it’s very windy I will add the third crossbeam to the entire stand and then use the center grommets on the solar panels along with the ball bungees to help the panels not flap around.
This DIY solar panel stand is very lightweight. It weighs right about 15lbs without the solar panels attached. The flexible solar panels I use weigh 4lbs each. The panels and the mounting rack together weigh a total of 35lbs which is easily picked up and moved around wherever I need it.
The weight varies a little bit because it’s also very easy to use 6ft crossbeam pieces rather than 5ft pieces. This makes it better to have more of an overlap in the middle of the crossbeam so that it’s stronger. Also using 3ft or 4ft pieces and piecing them together into a crossbeam works very well and makes it easier to store when completely broken down. It just means those smaller lengths will overlap each other and will need 2 star knobs per overlap.
Generally, at night or on very stormy days I will bring the solar panel stand back into my garage where it is safe. To do this all I have to do is disconnect my cables from the solar panels that go to my solar generator. Then I pick up the entire solar panel stand from the back in the middle and carry it into my garage.
Lifting the entire frame will not work with rigid solar panels on it. The 100-watt rigid panels generally weigh between 16 and 20 pounds each. With five solar panels on the stand that would mean that the solar panels would weigh 80lbs on the low end. Then adding the 15lbs for the solar panel stand it weighs a total of 95 pounds. There’s no way the average Joe will be able to easily pick that up and carry it around. Because it is nearly 10ft wide and almost 4ft tall it is very awkward to carry when there’s that much weight on it.
This is why I prefer the flexible solar panel so much to the rigid panels. The flexible solar panels will make as much power as the rigid panels but weigh much less. The
reason some people do not like the flexible solar panels is that they do not last as long as the rigid panels. That is the case if the flexible solar panels have a PET finish on them. PET is a plastic coating much like what disposable water bottles are made of. The thing to do is get flexible solar panels that have an ETFE finish which is guaranteed to last for 20+ years.
The second thing to keep in mind with the flexible solar panels is that if they are mishandled the cells in them will likely begin to crack. If the cells crack, then they become less efficient. If the panel becomes less efficient it will make less power. This is actually one of the big reasons why I love having a solar panel stand. Since I am keeping the solar panels on a stand, they are not at risk of being stepped on. Often times people will put the solar panels on the ground which is a much higher risk of getting them damaged.
The entire solar panel stand frame easily breaks down to be very portable as well when not in use. If 5ft or 6ft crossbeam pieces are too long, it’s also very easy to get 3ft or 4ft pieces and simply combine more of them together to get the needed width for the solar panels.
This DIY portable solar panel stand is 100% adjustable from 90-degrees to 5-degrees of angle. During the summer the sun is much higher in the sky than it is during the winter. During the summer solar panels can often lay flat on the ground and make about 90% of the power that they would make if they were up on the rack. But during the winter because the sun is so much lower in the sky, laying the solar panels on the ground will often only make about 50% as much power as when they are on the mounting rack.
The solar panel stand legs have holes spaced out about every 2.5 inches so that the angle of the stand can easily be adjusted. This is another reason why I like to use the star knobs. They make it very easy to make small changes like this to the whole stand.
The pricing on the pieces vary on Amazon. The solar panel stand legs that I use normally can be purchased for about $50 per set of legs. But there are other solar panel stand legs (option 2 on the list provided above) that are about $100, and the only difference is that they’re a little bit wider.
The crossbeams vary the most in price on Amazon. When possible, it’s best to find the crossbeam sections at Home Depot or Lowes. My issue is that when I bought my first 4 pieces of crossbeam there were only 4 at the store. Then over the weeks as I checked back, they had either not been restocked or people kept buying them before I got back to the store. One option is to order them off of HomeDepot.com or Lowes.com and pick them up at the store to ensure they are in stock just for you.
The star knobs, flange nuts, tent stakes, and ball bungees were all more affordable on Amazon than anywhere else which is why I recommend getting them from there.
On average each solar panel stand setup costs about $150 each. What most people don’t understand is each set of solar panels stand legs are designed to be used with one panel only. So, if I used one solar panel stand leg set for each panel that would cost about $250 for 5 solar panels or as much as $500 if the cheaper stand legs were out of stock or not available and had to get the thicker ones. And that doesn’t include getting the extra star knobs, flange nuts or anything to mount the panels to each set of stand legs. That means this DIY portable solar panel stand mount is anywhere from 50% to 75% more affordable than putting a set of legs on each panel. It’s also much cheaper than building one from angled aluminum pieces which is what I originally did and it is very costly and complicated.
In my opinion, there is nothing more beneficial to making more power from my solar panels than using this solar panel stand kit for the price. The entire mounting system costs about the same as buying another 100-watt solar panel but during the winter the solar stand helps make twice as much power. That means I’d have to buy 5 more panels to use during the winter to equate to how much power is increased by the solar stand. It’s much more affordable to have the stand.
Because of how portable and adjustable the mounting frame is I am able to take it anywhere with me with ease and use it regardless of the time of the year. Also, because it’s off the ground I won’t kill any grass under my solar panels since hot solar panels will kill the grass under them when laying on the ground.
It’s invaluable to my setup. It truly makes everything worth it since the whole point of having solar is to make as much power as possible with free energy from the sun.