DIY Solar Panels: Go Green by Building Solar Panels
The benefits of going green seem obvious: cheaper power with less damage to the environment. This especially goes for solar panels, which have a proven record of reaping rewards faster than other green technologies.
But what if you could reap the benefits by doing it yourself — that’s right, what if you could make your own solar panels?
It may seem strange, as DIY solar panels have not hit the mainstream. Yet it is possible to make your own solar panels.
With DIY solar panels, you could potentially save money on installation costs, cut your electric bill, and configure a solar panel to exactly match your specific needs.
Plus, imagine the barbecue bragging rights! You can tell friends and neighbors, “Yeah, I know how to make a solar panel.”
Best of all, you don’t need to be a top-notch handyman to build your own solar panels. A moderate understanding of carpentry and electrical wiring is all you need for making solar panels.
Image Source: Pixabay
We’ve put together this rudimentary guide to help you make your own solar panels. In it, we will:
- Check the benefits and downsides of DIY solar panels to see if making solar panels is right for you.
- Review the basics of picking materials and tools needed to make your own solar panels.
- Instruct you on how to make a solar panel.
Since DIY work is unique to every situation, we unfortunately cannot offer precise brands, techniques, or measurements for how to make a solar panel. That all depends on your budget, schedule, and energy needs.
Still, by the end of this guide, you’ll know how to make a solar panel. First, let’s see if you should make your own solar panels or buy them.
Should You Build Your Own Solar Panels?
Learning how to make a solar panel will theoretically save you money upfront and instantly help the environment, depending on what materials you use. But are DIY solar panels right for you?
The cost of solar panels varies from state to state, making it hard to give a definitive figure on the amount of money you could save.
For example: A mid-range, 5-kilowatt solar panel installation nominally costs $20,000 in the state of California, according to solar-nation.org. But after tax credits, rebates, and other savings, your actual out-of-pocket spending falls to about $11,000.
It’s this sort of price adjustment that makes cost comparison tricky. To get a better sense of your financial savings, first estimate the cost of building solar panels, including the materials you plan on using — and don’t forget to count your time.
Compare the estimated costs of your DIY solar panels to a comparable factory-made system. Be sure to include any federal tax credits, rebates, and discounts. You may be surprised to find there’s a small difference between making solar panels and buying them.
Aside from cost savings, be honest about your abilities and limitations when it comes to do-it-yourself work and making solar panels. Working with electrical wiring and grids carries great risk and moderate know-how.
Don’t make your own solar panels if you’re not confident enough in your carpentry, electrical work, or general prowess with a toolbox. Even the best DIY-ers won’t make a professional-grade solar panel on their first try.
Most importantly, don’t rely on DIY solar panels for something vital. DIY solar panels are rudimentary by nature and not suited for powering homes. However, when done correctly, the average solar cell (even a simple DIY one) lasts about 20-30 years, according to Energy Informative.
If you need a reliable solar panel to power your home or a larger array of panels, buy factory-made and have a professional install the solar panels.
Image Source: Pixabay
If you’re just learning how to make a solar panel for the first time, consider it a test run. Temper your ambitions and make your own solar panels to power something small, like a tool shed or even a cell phone. Or perhaps some remote property that’s off-the-grid.
But if you’re a hobbyist or tinkerer, keep reading to find out how to make a solar panel.
How to Make Solar Panels: What You’ll Need
Learning how to make a solar panel requires some technical know-how. The list of necessary materials below can help you gauge how prepared you are to make your own solar panels.
If any of the items necessary sound unfamiliar, or haven’t been in your hands for some time, consider a practice run on some smaller DIY projects before you start building solar panels.
Before you cut a single wire, it’s crucial to choose the right materials when you build your own solar panels; this can make or break your project. When choosing materials for your solar panels, aim for quality without negating the cost-saving benefit.
Some of items you’ll need include:
- Solar cells
- A soldering iron
- Tabbing wire
- Wooden boards
- Wire cutter/stripper
- A saw
- Plexiglass (if you plan on keeping your solar panel enclosed)
- Safety equipment, including goggles and gloves
- Flux pen
- Bus wire
- Voltage meter
- Terminal block
Be sure the materials used for the housing can withstand the elements and rigors of regular use. For example, the quality of the materials you’ll use should differ between DIY solar panels, which will always be outside, and a mobile solar panel rig, which will only be taken out when it’s needed.
Building Solar Panels, Step by Step
The first and most important part of DIY solar panels are the solar cells. There are different varieties, of course. If you want to make your own solar panels out of reasonably-priced quality materials, go for polycrystalline cells.
A simple internet search can find you tons of solar cell manufacturers. Experienced DIY-ers prefer eBay.
Be careful, though! Solar cells are incredibly sensitive and break easily (you may want to order extra). Don’t drop them, or you’ll mess up your DIY solar panels.
Also, try to find pre-tabbed cells, as they’ll save you time cutting wires and soldering.
Next, choose a material to contain your DIY solar panels — such as wood or plexiglass.
Image Source: Pixabay
Remember that, though you’re learning how to make a solar panel, you’re still dealing with electricity. Therefore, make sure wires are the only conductive materials on your solar panels.
Cut the board which will hold your solar cells, leaving enough space for the cells to fit comfortably as well as at least an inch at either end for wires. When making solar panels, try to favor a narrower construction, with fewer columns of solar cells.
This will be a template for how you’ll arrange your solar cells.
Next, connect the solar cells into a series until they reach 12 or 24 volts. Do not pass this unofficial limit, as it’s dangerous territory when you make your own solar panels.
Connect the solar cells together into a column by using tabbing wire and a soldering iron. Melt a coat of solder onto the back of the cells at three points, then place the tabbing wire atop the squares.
Anyone who knows how to make a solar panel will tell you pre-tabbed cells make this step easier, cheaper, and less time consuming.
Be patient and careful when making solar panels. The repeated heat of the soldering iron could damage the solar cells.
Lay these rows of solar cells onto the backing board you set aside for your solar panel. Secure the cells into place — a common trick is dots of clear silicone at the corners, which won’t interfere with the charge but keeps them solidly in place.
A common mistake when learning how to make your solar panel is misaligning the rows of cells. Think of them as flat, shiny batteries, with alternating charges.
One row needs to have a positive current at the top, and the next needs negative, creating a series.
Use your bus wire across these rows to connect the solar cells and finish the series. One end of the solar cells will create a positive charge in the solar panel, while the other end will be negative.
Be sure to remember the wiring for either pole, so you can properly connect the cells to the charge controller.
Putting the Finishing Touches on Your DIY Solar Panels
Now that your cells are connected, you can finish encasing them in a housing of your choice. To move the solar cells into the solar panel, be sure to connect them using clear packing tape.
Exercise caution; this part of building solar panels has many traps. You cannot remove tape after it has been placed. So, get it right the first time, or you’ll be losing time replacing damaged solar cells.
Once you’ve safely secured the series of cells, enjoy the aesthetic portion of learning how to make solar panels.
This is where you can let your personality shine! Put your solar panels into a whacky frame. Put them on top of a box on wheels. Or if your DIY solar panels are see-thru, set them atop a poster of your favorite movie.
Most folks who know how to make solar panels favor a simple wooden frame around the solar cells, topped with some form of plexiglass protection. Be sure to leave holes in the enclosure so your positive and negative wires can come through.
Put a knot in the wires to prevent strain, then pass them through these holes. Attach a block diode, which will stop your solar panel from drawing current when it’s not creating it.
Now, take your DIY solar panels out into the sun and test them with a voltage meter. They should be generating the amount of power you expected when you started the project. You will want to run the solar panel through a charge controller before connecting it to any batteries.
Congratulations! You now know the basics of how to make solar panels. Give or take a few finer touches, the process runs the same for all DIY solar panels.
Solar panels offer a hefty investment with substantial rewards, both immediate and long-term. But the once-complicated technology has become simple enough that nearly anyone can learn how to make a solar panel.
The project itself requires a bit of technical know-how: DIY solar panels aren’t as easy as hooking up a battery. Building solar panels requires some rudimentary knowledge of electrical installations, including how to create a series, soldering, and voltage testing.
None of this should deter you from learning how to make solar panels. The long-term savings and hobbyist-level difficulty make DIY solar panels a manageable project.
Don’t let the thought of working with electrical wiring scare you off either. Consider a small electrical shock a sign you’re making progress.
If at any point you feel lost or think things have gone haywire, consult any of a host of online videos that offer descriptions and visual help.
With a bit of patience and hard work, you can learn how to build your own solar panels.
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