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DIY Solar Panels

How to Make Your Own Solar Panels

The concept of the off-grid life is something which has grown in popularity in the recent years. With energy costs rising and consciousness of environmental and pollution problems globally more people are seeking ways to create their own power as well as using recycled materials and waste to produce useful items.

 

I have been leading solar panel making workshops for the past 3 years, showing people from completely varied backgrounds how to build a solar panel from scratch. The process of building a solar panel is relatively straight forward but requires an understanding of the potential pit falls and how to ensure the panel works effectively and optimally.

 

The below is a brief intro into the process of putting together a DIY solar panel system. For a step by step process to creating a solar panel access our Solar Panel Guide here.

Equipment & Tools

It goes without saying that some of the tools needed to create one panel can be used over and over again. This means a single investment will allow you to produce as many panels as you have need for.

 

Items which will last for a long time include:

 

  • Soldering iron (with stand)
  • Heat gun
  • Multimeter
  • Wire strippers
  • Scissors
  • Screw driver set

There are also some items which you will need that will last across many solar panels but eventually you will need to reorder.

 

These include:

 

  • Solar cells
  • Solder
  • Tabbing wire
  • Flux pens
  • EVA plastic sheet
  • Silicon gun

 

The exact use of each of these will be explained below.

Solar Cells:

 

The solar cells are the most important single element of a solar panel as they are what generates the flow of electrons; which is essentially electricity.

 

Whilst research is being conducted into use of different materials for solar power generation, silicon wafers are still the most common and widely accepted. Silicon is easily available, reliable and well understood.

 

There are different sizes of solar cells which you can find and the size of your final solar panel will dictate which size you want to use.

 

Another common thing to think about is whether you want to use monocrystalline or polycrystalline cells, which simply refers to whether the solar cell is made of a single silicon piece or multiple pieces joined together. Monocrystalline is more efficient but polycrystalline are cheaper.

 

It is worth seeing if you can find some second hand semi damaged cells as an online bargain. Often manufacturers will want to dispatch of cells which do not meet their high manufacturing regulations but are still perfectly functional.

 

Cell Configuration:

 

So we have the cells ready, all we need now is to join them in a way which allows the electrons to flow. When excited by the sunlight, they electrons will move from one cell to another. When we join the solar cells we form a larger circuit and can increase the power. To increase the voltage we will connect the cells in series, meaning the front to the back of the cell.

 

A typical solar cell has a voltage of 5V so we can double the required voltage to give us how many cells we need.

 

For example if we want to make an 18V panel then we will need 36 cells.

 

We can therefore calculate how many rows of cells we will look to solder. Our panel will have either a square or rectangular shape so we need to keep the rows to equal numbers.

 

The example of 36 cells above lends itself to several configurations:

 

  • 6 rows of 6 cells
  • 9 rows of 4 cells
  • 4 rows of 9 cells
  • 12 rows of 3 cells
  • 3 rows of 12 cells

 

Depending on the use and the type of medium you will use to hold the solar panel circuit you can decide which configuration will work best. There is no right or wrong, as long as the connections are done correctly.

Soldering Cells:

 

In essence we want to solder the cells front to back in our chosen assortment of rows. We can then join these different rows to form our complete solar panel’s circuit. Soldering is a skill in it’s own right and by practicing you will improve but some important points to remember are:

 

1. Keep the soldering iron point clean, using a wet sponge or cloth will help to remove the oxidated layer and make sure you can still melt the tabbing wire.

 

2. Hold the soldering iron like a pen and keep it perpendicular to the table surface when trying to melt the wire.

 

3. Be patient; when you see the tabbing wire go molten into a semi liquid state that is when you should move the soldering iron. Doing so beforehand will be ineffective and take more time.

 

Once you have completed your rows of soldered cells you will need to join them using a longer strip of tabbing wire to line up your rows next to each other.

Don’t Judge a Solar Panel by it’s Cover:

 

In the world of sustainability re-using old unwanted items is the pinnacle or raison d’etre if you like. As far as the screen is concerned we have many options available to us.

 

Old window frames, wood or plastic, are ideal and provide a very sturdy and durable medium for your panel.

 

You can approach window or glazing shops to see if they might know where you can source these frames and keep your eyes peeled when on your journeys. Also make sure to check any sourced scrap items are both safe and definitely not needed by the owner.

 

If sourcing old materials is not your thing then you can purchase plastic pieces cut to the exact size you require. As the panel will be in direct sunlight we need to make sure we find UV resistant plastic to prevent degradation or yellowing over time. Polycarbonate is a good bet, and has good impact strength.

 

Next steps…

 

The essence of creating a DIY solar panel is covered above.

 

The step by step process is covered in the Solar Panel Guide, which also looks at connecting the complete solar panel circuit in order to start using the energy you create.

 

I hope you have fun experimenting with creating your own renewable energy from your own home.

 

As always if you have any queries get in touch at support@reimagine-earth.com

For more details and inquiry about anything don’t hesitate to contact us