DIY Solar Panels

Discussion in 'Off Grid Living' started by Tyler Danann, Dec 26, 2013.

  1. Tyler Danann

    Tyler Danann Monkey+

    Building your own solar panel grants you autonomy from purchasing one off the shelf. Bought commerically these can cost a fortune but by being able to make one yourself you can save yourself money, learn and gain knowledge instead of being lazy and having someone else do the work.


    The Suns rays are free, in Thailand there's an abundance of solar energy compared to the cloudy islands and nations of Europe.

    Yet, to harness them adequately, takes some work. Here's how you do it... :)

    Firstly you'll need a small workshop or area where you can work uncluttered. A flat surface is essential. In the shade is important, not only for comfort but you don't want your panel it 'go live' while your working on it. Especially in the case of a very large panel.

    The right tools are also necessary.

    Solar Cells - 0.5 volt 3.6 amp polycrystaline.

    At least enough for 7 - 10 volts per array. If you're wanting to charge up a lead acid battery you'll need to build two or more of these. Otherwise re-charging it will be difficult. SOURCE: Ebay

    Stuff you'll need for one array / panel.

    1. Soldering Iron

    2. Thin Solder

    3. Clear, see-through perspex in a minimum of 2 equal sections.

    Make sure you have the dimensions of AT LEAST 350mm x 750mm x 4mm. Any less and you're cutting it fine for margins to the edge with a 2 column displacement on your cells.

    4. EVA (ethal vynal acetate), this what you need to seal in the cells to one another so they are crack resistant and will hold them together if they do crack (thus retaining conductivity.

    5. A method to raise the perspex clear of each other. This may involve wooden

    beading (you'll need a table saw for ultra accuracy). DIY methods or use fine sections of perspex.

    6. Araldite glue (plenty of it!)

    7. Surgical Gloves.

    8. A heatgun (used for paintstripping) or a hairdryer.

    First thing you need to do is order in some perspex and source your solar cells.

    I used Plastic People (URL at bottom of page) for my clear perspex and ordered 2 sheets of equal dimensions.

    For the cells you can get these off eBay and they are quite cheap too.

    Roughly $0.75 per cell which is 0.5 volts each at peak power.

    Be VERY gently handling them as they snap with ease.

    Solar Panels being soldered


    So by the picture above you can see that I've soldered a fair few and am coming to the end of the main soldering.

    You want to have the 2 rows (or more) in a configuration where it runs like a railway track. One-way from top to bottom; The top being where you'll be making a 'bus' wire bridging the contacts, the bottom where you'll have the + and - wires running out of the array to be heatshrinked and joined by your voltage regulator wiring.

    Once the soldering is done you need to sort the EVA out.

    This needs to be laid out on top of and underneath the cells. Be careful as you'll have to move them back and forth as you go about soldering and placing the eva underneath etc.

    You can't solder the cells with the EVA in place though as the heat will melt it.

    Once you've got the EVA laid out you need to first get the feel on a sample section by heating it up and seeing how much heat you need etc.
    3M-TA3, Motomom34, Gopherman and 3 others like this.
  2. Tevin

    Tevin Monkey+++

    You mention Thailand...are you using that as an example or are you actually in Thailand?

    I'm asking because here in the USA, the topic of homebrew solar comes up a lot and the answer is always the same: There is no financial benefit to making your own.

    The market has been flooded in the last few years. Commercially made panels that used to sell in the $5-$7/watt range are now under $3/watt and in some cases less than $1.50/watt. There is no reasonable path for the average guy to make an effective solar array plus mount it in a sturdy weatherproof housing and beat that price. It is also a very tedious, time consuming project.

    I would be curious to know what the actual dollars/watt cost of your project is and how long it took to make your panels.

    I'm all for not "being lazy and having someone else do the work," but there is a point of diminishing returns. Some things are not worth doing yourself.

    Anyway, I'm not trying to piss on your idea because it is a cool experiment and an excellent way to learn soldering and basic electronics skills...but as a practical, money-saving energy source...hmm I gotta vote no, at least for the US market.

  3. Tyler Danann

    Tyler Danann Monkey+

    Well I sourced all the parts in the UK and it cost me £40 ($70) or thereabouts back in 2010. All the prices were comparable to a US market, possibly even cheaper in the USA than the UK!
  4. Tyler Danann

    Tyler Danann Monkey+

  5. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Monkey+++

    I have none of this stuff. I would love to have solar panels.
  6. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member


    Using the OP's own figures, you can't build panels as cheap as you can buy them. 75 cents/watt just for the cells, for example. (and that's without frame material, glazing, backing, solder, etc )

    Right now you can buy factory made panels for 75 cents a watt or less....and get UL listed panels with a 25 yr warranty.

    Build your own if you want to experiment a bit, but if you want to produce POWER, it's a ridiculous waste of effort.

    Solar Panel Price Survey | EcoBusinessLinks
    BTPost likes this.
  7. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    Weather or not it is ridicules or not depends upon your primary aim. I am teaching kids what it really means to be "GREEN" when using waste items to produce power. I have spoken of this before, but for those who missed it.....

    Kids are great about talking "green". "what's your carbon footprint?" " everyone needs to recycle" ", and everyone should drive hybrids. " ect, but they are the ones who leave the TV on, the lights on, the air on, and the windows open, while they hop in the car to go three blocks to a friend's house for 6 hours!
    I got tired of paying for their wasted energy. So my two kids, and four others( who are often at my house) have been challenged to THINK GREEN, not just talk green.
    They have a science project due with me, where they must each charge a 12vt battery, by recycling, reusing, repourposing what they find, or can make. The kicker is they can spend NO MONEY. if they must by a diode or something, they must recycle cans to buy it. they can not go out of pocket.
    they could chose solar, wind, thermal, hydro, or kinetic. They all chose solar, thinking it would be simpler. They have been collecting broken solar yard lights for a couple of years now, and have produced 3 panels that will pass the test. these are very low quality cells, but it has given them knowledge they would never have known any other way. they now understand why GREEN is not a requirement for everyday items now, and why it does not progress as quickly as they thought. BEING GREEN, is much harder than TALKING green.
    These three panels, (so far) mean more to me than the most efficient panels produced, because they were made with wisdom, as a major component. Every cell had to be graded, and each panel laid out so each cell would do the most good. there were many different sizes. And only after the layout was known, could the cases be made for them. (again, recycled materials)
    My two kids are both advanced, and now in college. I like to think, I helped put them there, by teaching them how to think their way through a problem, and how to go about solving it.
  8. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Monkey+++

    [clp] @kellory you are right again. I whined above that I had none of the stuff that was needed to make these solar panels. So the challenge is now to look at what I have and make things work.
    kellory likes this.
  9. Tevin

    Tevin Monkey+++

    @kellory is not wrong, but he drifts pretty far off the original topic.

    Of course someone could scrounge around and find some castaway stuff and make some energy with it and learn something along the way. The kids' project has virtue unto itself, but that's not the point.

    For the purposes of survival, yes, it is helpful to have a knowledge of solar power. But I assure anyone who cares to listen, there is no clear path to a do-it-yourself practical and useful solar panel for less than what it would cost to buy one. I say that as someone who has worked with solar extensively, designed and built several solar power systems, and uses it every single day to power his home. Part of acquiring wisdom is knowing when you shouldn't do it yourself.

    And as long as we are kicking around the notion of learning, I will kindly suggest that it would be much more meaningful for kids to learn how to work with commercially made solar panels, charge controllers, batteries, inverters, etc., as the they are far more likely to be using them in their daily life than assorted bits and pieces ripped from garden lights.

    Sticking junk panels together as an experiment/science project/kids learning experience: Absolutely yes.
    Sticking junk panels together thinking you'll have a meaningful power source when the S hits the F: Good luck, buddy.
    xiaobao, Gopherman and TnAndy like this.
  10. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    Once again, Tevin......"Exactly".

    The point of the OP was not an object lesson that you did with your kids, Kellory ( and a fine one at that )....the point was you can build your own panels cheaper than you can buy them....which simply is not the case.

    Not only can't you compete on price, but you can't compete on quality either. The average Joe is NOT going to cobble together a panel that will last years and years out in the weather.....just ain't gonna happen.

    As Tevin said: Learn to work with what is off the shelf, how build a real power system, and how to keep it performing. Anyone that masters that has done something in my book.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2013
    BTPost likes this.
  11. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    solar panels can be ganged..

    small panel.

    shokly diode.

    large panels open.

    power feed to charge controller..
    Gopherman likes this.
  12. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    And with that, I will leave you to your own.....devices.;)
    Motomom34 likes this.
  13. Gopherman

    Gopherman Sometimes I Wish I Could Go Back to Sleep

    Its always good to DIY but I got a 130w solar panel off ebay for $130 and didn't cus once!!:D
  14. Tyler Danann

    Tyler Danann Monkey+

  15. Gopherman

    Gopherman Sometimes I Wish I Could Go Back to Sleep

    I'm getting about three or four more soon and then comes the fun part, I have to hook them up. I need to put them in a series for 12 volt system, Do they all have universal connections or are they brand specific?
    If so what do I have to do to get them wired together?o_O
  16. VHestin

    VHestin Farm Chick

    What brand have you all found to be the most reliable for solar panels or all they are pretty decent?
  17. Gopherman

    Gopherman Sometimes I Wish I Could Go Back to Sleep

    Still playing with it! These are guaranteed for 20 years and rated for 90% at 15 years and 80 at 25/ That sounds reliable enough for me, I don't think things will last longer than that anyway.
  18. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    The hint there is to take some of the saved power costs and escrow it for replacement when the time comes.
  19. Tyler Danann

    Tyler Danann Monkey+

    A more expensive option are the roll-up, transportable solar panels.

    These cost much more, but are excellent for traveling around and the system has quick-connect and disconnect for configuring in parallel and series etc.

  20. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Monkey+++

    Here is another link to DIY solar panels. Pictures and instructions.

    For the rest step by step follow the link.
    How to Make Solar Panels for Your Small Electronics
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