How to Build Your Own Solar Panel
Hello! …and welcome to our How to Build Your Own Solar Panel page. If you have come here directly, I encourage you to get to know me a little by visiting this site’s Home and About pages.
The text on this page offers general advice and a few tips & tricks for those those who are completely new to building solar panels (and there may be a silly joke or two). The more “meaty” information, if that’s what you’re looking for, will be in the videos, so be sure to check them out.
Also, in case you’re wondering, no, that’s not me in the videos. The videos are just part of a collection of stuff I’ve come across while researching renewable energy for my own amusement. If you are curious about whose site you’re on, there is a picture of me on the Home and About Pages. Have a look and please feel free to use the contact page if you have any questions or comments.
Also, if you have any pictures or videos of yourself building a solar panel or wind turbine, and if you wouldn’t mind having them featured on this site, Please Please Please send me a message and let me know (don’t be shy). My goal is to dedicate an entire section of this site to showcasing the work done by you, the readers!
Okay, let’s get to work! First, I’d like to point out that while the technology that goes into making solar cells is quite complex, using those cells to build your own solar panel is quite simple. Well, unless you’re talking about the coolest array of solar panels ever made–the NASA built one that powers the International Space Station.
You don’t need to be a NASA engineer, though, to learn how to build your own solar panel. In fact, with a good set of plans, you can build a solar panel at home in just a couple of days, once you’ve got your parts.
Building your own solar panel requires only basic tools, which you most likely already have, and you can buy the materials for the job at any hardware or home improvement store, with exception, of course, of the solar cells.
This is a good sample list of what you’ll likely need from a home improvement store:
- Wood (for a frame and for backing) Note: metal actually works better for a frame–but if you don’t have metal cutting tools, wood will do.
- Plexiglas paneling
- Black paint
- Waterproof sealant (silicone)
This is a clip from the video instruction you get with Earth 4 Energy. It’s pretty good.
You may not be able to buy your solar cells locally, in which case you’ll have to order them from the Internet. Do some poking around and you’ll see that you have lots of cells to choose from. Which ones you buy really depends on why you are building a solar panel.
If you are just out to have a bit of fun, and you’d like to keep your costs down, you can actually buy “grab bags” of broken solar cells. I have a good video showing a panel built with these on my How to Install Solar Panels page (be careful if you’re tired–that guys voice will put you to sleep). If you’re teaching your kids how to build your own solar panel, these cells work great! Kids love playing with all the pieces, and if they break a piece, who cares? They’re already broken anyways!
If you want something a little better, but still want to save money, you can buy cells that are whole but that have been chipped around the edges, usually during shipping. These cells still work very well but can no longer be legally be sold as “new.”
When you’re shopping, you’ll see cell defections, or lack thereof, shown by grade. “B” grade cells, for example, are cheaper than “A” grade cells, but can have 1/4 to 1/2 inch chips. They will operate a little less efficiently, but they will still work. I had some links to companies and prices, but things in the solar world change quickly, and my info was often out of date.
My recommendation for you is to first decide what’s important to you. Do you really need “A” grade cells, or will cheaper cells do the job. Once you’ve answered that question, head over to eBay and start looking for the best deals. NOTE: Unless you are buying broken cells, I strongly recommend that you buy cells that are pre-tabbed.
Okay, once you’ve gathered your supplies, you get to pull out your tools and start having some fun. The first thing you need to do is build a frame. As I mentioned earlier, you can make a nice DIY solar panel out of wood. Or, if you like to work with metal, aluminum frames work well too. If you really want a metal frame but don’t have metal cutting tools, you can by a prefabricated one for about forty bucks and then just assemble it yourself.
The whole point of a DIY project, though, is to, well, do it yourself, so lets get back to constructing a wodden frame from scratch. They are not to hard to build. You basically just build a really shallow box, one that is about an inch and a quarter deep (the exact specs will be in the solar panel plans that you choose). Put some peg board inside the frame, as they are good for attaching your solar cells to. Also, since your solar panel will be living outside, make sure you paint the whole thing with a thick coat of outdoor paint.
Once your frame is built, you can get to work on your solar cells. NOTE: Some solar cells are coated in wax for protection during shipping. This wax MUST come off before you start working with your cells.
This is a real pain in the neck, and I recommend that you avoid this hassle by purchasing cells that are not coated with wax in the first place. Before you attach your cells to your peg board, you need to wire them together. To do this, you use what is called tabbing wire. If you bought solar cells that were pre-tabbed, then you don’t have too much work to do. If you didn’t buy pre-tabbed cells, then get ready to have a soldering marathon!
Need to brush up on your soldering skills? This guy doesn’t seem the friendly of chaps, but he seems to know his stuff.
Typically, solar cells are wired up in strands of six, and you should have six solar cells in each strand, the entire panel consisting of 36 solar cells. Again, consult your plans before making a decision about your overall solar panel design. If you are planning on multiple panels to wire together, be sure to read my in-depth article about how to wire solar panels together (you’ll save yourself some headaches if you design your whole system first).
Once your cells are wired together, you can just glue them to your peg board. Finally, cover the face of your box with a Plexiglas panel, and be sure to seal it up tight with silicone.
Also, don’t forget to consider power storage. Most people wire their panels to battery storage systems. If you choose to do this, make sure you use deep cycle batteries, not batteries designed for automobiles. Also, when you mount the system, most likely on your roof, be sure there is no shade and, if possible, that your panel is facing a southerly direction.
Even though learning how to build your own solar panel is relatively simple, it is a good idea to work with a set of step-by-step instructions. If you do that, you’ll have a great, easy-to-complete project that the entire family can enjoy.
And when you’re finished, you’ll be able to enjoy your own self-produced energy supply, saving you cash each month. Of course, it’s not just about saving money.
In an era where the production of energy is widely considered to be destroying the very planet we depend on for survival, you’ll be powering your home with clean, renewable energy, which means you’ll be doing your part to pass on a clean and healthy environment to your kids and grandkids.
Enjoy your project, and please don’t forget to contact me if you have pictures or videos of you getting your hands dirty!