What You Can Run With a 200-Watt Solar Panel

Whether you are a homesteader who wants to live completely off the grid, or you just want to be ready for a loss of public services, a personal solar power system is a smart thing to invest in. The sun isn’t always shining, but when it is, you can always depend on it as a source of free, clean electricity.

small solar panel next to larger one
A small solar panel next to a larger one

Setting up a solar array of your own is easier than you might think, but figuring out just how much power you need, and what size panels, can be a little intimidating if you’ve never done it before. Let’s look at a 200-watt panel, for instance. What can you run on a 200-watt solar panel?

A 200-watt solar panel can run most countertop appliances like microwaves, coffee makers, blenders, toasters, and similar along with some less power-hungry personal electronics like laptops, routers, phone chargers, satellite receivers, and so forth.

If you want to power most of the larger appliances in your home, a 200-watt panel, by itself, is not going to do the job reliably.

But if you just want to take care of the basics along with one or two luxuries, or use your solar array mostly as a backup system, a 200-watt panel is probably the right size for you.

That’s the short version, but as you might have guessed already there is plenty more to know. Grab your shades and keep reading; we’ll get right into it.

What Kinds of Devices Can Run on a 200-Watt Solar Panel?

200-watt solar panels can run more than you might think. This presumes that you have a controller, charge system, and battery setup to help handle peak demand.

As a rule of thumb, you can count on it running most of your countertop appliances, lights, chargers, and personal electronics that don’t have intensive energy requirements. Check out this table for more…

✓ Speakers✓ Coffee Maker
✓ Ceiling Fan✓ LED Lighting
✓ Cell Phone Charger✓ Alarm Clock Radio
✓ Microwave✓ Clothes Washer
✓ Laptop, Notebook, or Netbook✓ Small Pond and Irrigation Pumps
✓ Portable Fans✓ Cordless Phone
✓ Toaster✓ Wi-Fi Router
✓ Power Tools✓ Security Cameras
✓ Air Purifiers✓ Satellite Receiver
✓ Printer✓ DVR player
✓ Blender✓ Electric Kettle

What Definitely Won’t Run on a 200-Watt Panel?

A 200-watt panel is a good middle-of-the-road option for folks that want to keep small appliances and a choice selection of electronics going, along with lights and chargers. But some appliances, even countertop ones, and power-hungry electronics like PCs, aren’t workable.

As a rule of thumb, consider any gadgets and fixtures on the following table to be unworkable with a 200-watt panel alone:

✘ Refrigerator✘ Water Heater
✘ Vacuum Cleaner✘ Clothes Dryer
✘ Game Console✘ Stove Top
✘ Large Well and Sump Pumps✘ Central Air Conditioner
✘ Desktop Computer✘ Air Fryer
✘ Dishwasher✘ CRT Monitor
✘ Clothes Iron✘ Freezer
✘ Space Heater✘ Hair Dryer
✘ Electric Oven✘ Electric Furnace

A 200-Watt Panel Doesn’t Deliver That Much on Demand

Something you’ve got to understand about solar power panels is that they won’t give you their rated wattage all at once when you connect to them. For instance, that doesn’t mean you can plug in something that needs 150 watts of power to run and then start it up.

Rather, any solar power panel generates its listed wattage over time, typically the course of an hour, as long as conditions are optimal and it is properly oriented towards the sun.

Said another way, solar power generates that net amount of electricity slowly, over time. In the case of our 200-watt panel here, every hour it will produce 200 watts worth of electricity.

So, at the end of an hour, your panel will have produced 200 watts worth of electricity, and at the end of 2 hours worth of daylight, 400 watts. In 3 hours, 600 watts. And in 6 hours, 1,200 watts.

I hope that makes sense because it means you won’t be able to use the panel by itself to power most electrical goods. You’ll need a way to store that power, in the form of a battery or battery bank, to have it available to you in an on-demand fashion.

If this is making your head spin, take a breath and relax: I promise it’s a lot easier to understand than you might think, and I’m going to explain everything you need to know in layman’s terms here in the next section…

You’ll Need a Battery System

Since a solar panel does not produce its listed power “on demand,” how are we supposed to use some of the high drain devices listed above? Most have running wattage requirements well in excess of the listed capability of the panel.

Simply enough, it’s because we have stored a surplus of electricity in a battery, or bank of batteries, that are connected together.

This allows us to make use of electricity on demand, because that’s what batteries do! It also allows us to accumulate and store the net-generated wattage that comes from the panel.

That way, if the system is offline for whatever reason, it’s dark or the weather is terrible we can still depend on the electricity stored in the batteries.

How Battery Systems Work with Your Solar Panel

If it helps, think of it kind of like a gas tank in your car. When the engine is running, it draws fuel from the fuel tank. If you drive the car conservatively and don’t go very fast, it will only sip the fuel. If you go hammer down and drive really fast, it will guzzle gas.

Likewise, bigger engines use more fuel and smaller, more efficient engines use less. When the fuel runs low, you refill the tank so the engine can keep running.

It is a great analogy for understanding how a solar array in conjunction with a battery system works.

The solar array is the fuel pump, dispensing electricity into the battery, which is the fuel tank. The electronics and other devices you plug in are, collectively, the engine.

As long as you’ve got electricity stored in the battery you can run your devices, but when it runs low you’ve got to give the solar array time to recharge it. Continuing that analogy, the greater the output of the panel the more electricity, and faster, that will be stored in the battery.

If you want to think of it another way, it’s possible to run heavy-duty appliances, tools, and home electronics using a small solar panel as long as you have a big enough battery bank capacity and have given it plenty of time to charge. That said, it’s hardly convenient and not a good idea!

Solar Panel Output is Affected by Weather, Wear, and Tear

Now, everything I’ve told you so far assumes perfect laboratory conditions with no variables. You have a perfectly functional and high-efficiency solar panel and a perfectly functional, high-efficiency battery bank.

It also assumes you’ve aligned the panels well to track the moving sun throughout the day, and that weather conditions are absolutely clear. You know where this is going. Real life is never as good as lab conditions!

Because of this, your 200-watt rated panel won’t be producing a full 200 watts each and every hour.

You’ll need to keep it clean, keep it repaired and tested, and make sure it stays aligned directly facing the sun to get “full-value” light. And, frankly, it rarely fails that most panels are not perfectly efficient and don’t always crank out their listed rating even in ideal conditions.

Because of this, you’d be smart to invest in a more capable system than you think you need, and don’t plan your energy budget down to the watt, or even tens of watts, if you can avoid it.

Being conservative and thrifty with your power, and having an ample battery bank, will protect you from brownouts and blackouts but you don’t want to “split the atom” when it comes to off-grid power.

Figuring Out How Much Power You’ll Need and How Long It Will Last

This is all need-to-know information, trust me. But now it’s time to get down to the fun part: figuring out how much electricity you’ll actually need to run any given device.

This power requirement is measured as running wattage, and will be listed on an info placard mounted to the device itself or found in its manual. If you don’t have the manual, look up the item online: pretty much every manufacturer has a spec sheet freely available.

Basically, anything that you plug into an outlet or have wired into your home has a certain power demand to run it listed in watts, typically. This is also expressed as watt-hours, meaning how many watts are required to run it for an hour.

Think of watt-hours as a withdrawal from your battery bank: if it has a capacity of 4,000 watts, every appliance, device, or fixture that you run will deduct its running wattage from that balance every hour.

This means you can run one or two high-drain devices, and not for very long, run a low-drain device for a long time, or many low-drain devices for not very long. Or any combination you can think of: it’s all about the budget. The energy budget!

Let me give you an example, assuming that you just want to run some basic must-haves in your home. Let’s say you have a cell phone and a tablet charger, a coffee maker, a floor fan, and a microwave.

The first thing we need to do is figure out the running wattage of these things. For the chargers, when they’re actually plugged in and charging a phone or tablet, they will use anywhere from 2 to 6 watts of power. Let’s split the difference and say they both use four watts each.

Coffee makers run the gamut in terms of power consumption, and the longer they run, or the more coffee they brew, the more power they use. For our comparison, we’ll say that an average coffee machine making an average pot of four cups will use about 800 watts.

Floor fans are also a relatively low drain item, using anywhere from 50 to 100 watts on average. Again, let’s say it uses about 75 watts for our example here.

The microwave is another big one, and also one that is highly variable like the coffee maker.

Depending on its power setting and maximum power, your microwave can use anywhere from 500 to an astonishing 1,800 watts or even more. We’ll say you have a smaller, energy-efficient one that uses around 1,100 watts.

Let’s add all of this up.

4 (Charger) + 4 (Charger) + 800 (Coffee Maker) + 75 (Floor Fan) + 1,100 (Microwave) = 1,983 total running watts

So, looking at the capacity of our battery system, it can easily handle that demand, even all at once…

And because it has a 4,000-watt capacity, it could handle constant runtime for all of the above for a little over 2 hours. Not that you should use your power so frivolously, but you see what I’m talking about!

So if you were just using your device chargers and the floor fan, you could run all of them for a very, very long time before you ran out of power.

And remember, this isn’t accounting for the fact that your 200-watt panel is charging your battery, offsetting that consumption, as long as it is connected and the sun is shining.

All you need to do is multiply the total running watts by the time that you will be drawing power and you can easily calculate your energy budget.

Make Sure You Check Your Devices’ Running Wattage!

I know I keep throwing curveballs and complications at you, but like I said, this is genuinely need-to-know stuff and, on the bright side, it’ll become second nature once you work through it enough times.

I made a few mentions up above that different things have different power requirements. And specifically, I’m talking about different brands or types of the same item!

Every different make and model of light bulbs, vacuum cleaners, microwaves, coffee pots, dishwashers, and water heaters has different energy demands.

Generally, the more powerful or more responsive the device the more electricity it needs. Weaker models, and often compact models, need less.

This is something you should start paying a lot more attention to if you want to make solar power a reliable and useful part of your life. Suddenly saving some watt-hours makes a big difference, yes?

200-watt solar panels pin
200-watt solar panels pin

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