The Solar Power Expert Blog

DIY Solar Panels Guide – Part 1

by Chris - January 4th, 2011.
Filed under: Projects. Tagged as: , , , , .

This is a quick overview/guide on how I built my own solar panels from DIY solar cells. In this article, I’ll cover how I built my own solar panel for use in the free charge controller project.

Before I go too deep into this guide I want to point out that the cost of solar panels is continuously decreasing. The panels I show how to build here can be customized to any size, but cost about $2 per watt. It is now becoming possible to purchase solar panels at about $1 per watt if you know what you’re doing, so a cost conscious DIY solar panel builder might be better off just hunting for the lowest price possible.

My personal method for making DIY solar panels is to sandwich the solar cells between a clear plexiglass sheet and a molded fiberglass backing. This creates a rugged panel is much stronger than glass and can only be built as a DIY solar panel. Both the plexiglass and fiberglass need to be UV stable.

I make my DIY solar panels with Everbright Solar cells. I got a kit with 40 cells in it. They are Grade B cells, which mean they have small, aesthetic blemishes that shouldn’t affect their performance significantly. They come in a kit with a flux pen and tinned copper wire. The wire is used to string the cells in series.

A DIY solar panel builder will only need 36 cells to create an 18 volt, 60 watt panel (for charging a 12 volt battery). They usually send 4 extra cells because they are fragile and the chance of breaking a couple during the process of building is pretty high. I was lucky and was able to use all forty.

The DIY solar panel uses 40 Everbright solar cells which should make a 66 watt peak DIY solar panel. However, I have only been able to achieve 15 watts peak output with my initial test panel. I’m not sure if the problem is the time of year, the angle of the panel to the sun, or if the plexiglass front is blocking solar light. I suspect all the above. In light of this, I recommend to other DIY solar panel builders to use actual glass if you can. These panels were intended to eventually go on my boat where they may be stepped on, so real glass was not an option for me.

The cells can be seen above with small, tinned copper wire tails ready to solder in series. Soldering on the tin strips is pretty easy. Just touch the flux pen to each tab to allow the solder to bond. The tabs on the cells are made from a thin layer of metal oxide, and so they get damaged by the heat of a soldering iron. You need to have quick soldering skills to solder the tab before the metal oxide layer evaporates. You’ll want to tin the pad, then tin the ribbon, and then solder the two together. It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it – that’s why they send you extra cells.

Finish learning how to make solar panels in part 2.

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