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How To Build A Solar Panel

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Picture of How To Build A Solar Panel
Currently I'm a college student studying computer engineering, and this summer while I was on break I decided I wanted to learn more about solar energy and how to build a solar panel from scratch. My main reason for looking to build it myself was to learn how it all worked, and the next reason was due to the price of a commercially built solar panel.

So to get started, I searched around and found a few videos here and there, and a few articles on how to go about building a solar panel, but it was hard for me to find a full free video or article that showed you the full process to making a solar panel from scratch. I ended up having to watch about 4 different videos, and then having to sign up for a forum to ask other questions I had in order to get a basic idea of how to go about building my own solar panel.

It was basically an adventure for me, and mid-way into the project, I decided that while I'm learning about how to build a solar panel, and putting it together, why not create a free video to help others that want to learn about solar energy and how to build a solar panel. Of course it takes time to edit the video, and time to create a website, but I see it as a small great way of giving back.

So, you'll learn how to build a 63 watt solar system in this instructable with free videos to help you get started. I know I'm a visual learner, so hopefully most find this very helpful.

For the full video series, simple visit my website at: http://www.greentechtown.com/how-to-build-a-solar-panel-diy


 
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Step 1: Creating A Template & Putting Frame Together

Picture of Creating A Template & Putting Frame Together
First, I want to make a template for my solar cells. What I used was a spare piece of regular plywood, a piece of regular cardboard the size of a solar cell, some tile spacers, and a staple gun to create my template. I wanted to use the tile spacers to help keep my solar cells even as seen in Part 1 of the video.



Using a ruler helped to keep everything aligned, and it's easier to cut the plywood using a jigsaw, but a regular hand saw will do fine as well.

Next, once I finished my template, I started to put the frame together. What I used was a 1x2x8 piece of plywood, and cut that to fit my outer frame of the plywood. I wanted to make sure the outer frame was not too high to prevent from loosing any sunlight I could be using. So I then placed the pieces of plywood on top of the 2x4 pressure treated plywood, and screwed those down and sanded the entire frame afterward as seen in Part 2 of the video. After sanding and cleaning up any extra dust left over, I applied the Deck and Siding paint onto the frame. I wanted to give it 2 coats for a nice seal from UV rays, and making it water resistant. I also needed to place 2 coats of the Deck and Stain paint on the 2x4 piece of pegboard.

Step 2: Assembling The Solar Cells

Picture of Assembling The Solar Cells
Next, while my first coat was drying, I started to work on assembling the solar cells. The best way to learn how to assemble the solar cells would be to simply watch the video. A quick overview of it is, the bottom of the solar cell is the positive side, and the top of solar cell is the negative side. I wanted to connect the solar cells in series, with a total of 36 solar cells, which will give me 63 watts. I used tabbing wire with a soldering iron to connect the solar cells together. For my panel I had 3 strings of solar cells. To connect those strings of solar cells, I used what is called a bus wire. The bus wire goes at the end of the strings to create one long string, however, curled up in a way like a snake. Again, for step 2, I recommend you watch the full video (Part 3) to understand how to work with the solar cells and how to check the voltage/current.


Step 3: Creating Holes For My Connections

Picture of Creating Holes For My Connections
Next, once the pegboard and plywood had 2 coats of Deck and Siding paint, I needed to screw the pegboard down inside the frame (plywood). What I did was first place the solar cells inside my frame to get an idea of where I'd need to place the screws, and then took the solar cells back out once I made my marks, and then screwed the pegboard down. Next I went ahead and drilled 2 holes at the end of my frame for my negative and positive connections to run out. You can find more about this in Part 4 of the video.


Step 4: Gluing The Solar Cells Down

Picture of Gluing The Solar Cells Down
Next, it was time to glue the strings of solar cells down to the pegboard with silicon. Watch Part 5 to see the method I used.



Afterward, since I had two strings completed, I was able to go ahead and solder my bus wire on one end to bond the two strings of solar cells together. Watch Part 5 and Part 6of the video to see how I went about doing this. Note* after you solder any string together, or make new connections, it is a good practice to check the voltage/current that moment, rather than waiting until you connect all the solar cells/strings together. This is also mentioned in the video as well.


Step 5: Soldering Bus Wire

Picture of Soldering Bus Wire
Next, after hooking all 3 strings of solar cells up in series, I was ready to get my 22 gauge wires (red and black) ready for soldering. On the ends of my leads from my gauge wires, I connected some connectors to make the process of soldering them down to the bus wire a lot easier. Watch Part 7 of the video to see how I went about doing that.



To help give the inside of the solar panel a nicer look, I used 2 strips of wiremold and ran the wires inside those. This is also seen in Part 7 and Part 8 of the video. Afterward, I took the panel outside in the sun to test the voltage/current of the whole panel to make sure I was getting 18 volts and 3.5 amps in an open circuit and short circuit.


Step 6: Visiting The Electric Side

Picture of Visiting The Electric Side
Next, in Part 9 of my video, I showed the electrical side of the solar system. Basically, what you need is a charge controller, deep cycle battery, and an inverter. To hook those up together is fairly simple as you can see in the video. I first hooked the solar panel connections up to the solar side of the charge controller, and from the battery connection side of the charge controller, I hooked that up to the deep cycle battery. From the battery, I hooked that up to the inverter, and then I was set to go. Again, watch Part 9 to see the whole process and see devices I was able to power off the solar system.


Step 7: Adding Even Pressure on the Plexiglass

Picture of Adding Even Pressure on the Plexiglass
Next, I found out that to secure my 2x4 piece of plexiglass I would need to provide even pressure around all the edges as you can see in Part 10 of the video. To accomplish this, I used another set of the same outer frame pieces of plywood I had on the bottom of the plexiglass, and mounted those on top of the plexiglass to provide the even pressure I needed. Be sure to drill slowly into the plexiglass to prevent from cracking the glass, and make sure you have screws that are made for pressure treated lumber. Refer to Part 10 of the video for more details.


Step 8: Installing the Junction Box

Picture of Installing the Junction Box
Next, in Part 11 of the video, I finished connecting my back pieces of plywood that was going to support my whole solar panel when I was ready to mount the panel on my roof. I also installed a junction box onto the back of the solar panel since most solar panels include a junction box. As seen in the video, my junction box came with a blocking diode which prevents the backflow of current when you have the solar panel hooked up to a battery. Most charge controllers prevent the backflow of current already, but if the charge controller does not, you will need to install a blocking diode onto the solar panel. It is best to install the blocking diode on the outside of the panel just in case something was to ever happen to it so you can easily replace it.



Lastly, I took my silicon and went around all my edges of the solar panel, as well as the junction box on the back. Next I made a final voltage/current check and was ready to mount the panel to my roof.

Step 9: My Thoughts of the Whole Project

Picture of My Thoughts of the Whole Project
solar1.jpg
Overall, the project was a fun experience, and the total amount of money that I spent was around $400-$500, which includes the battery, charge controller, and deep cycle battery. So I saved a large portion by building my own solar system, since a commercial solar panel would have cost $400 on up for just the solar panel itself.

If you have any questions or concerns, just visit GreenTechTown.com's Forum and I or other members will try to answer them as quickly as we can. This is a free resource including the videos, so be sure to share this with others.
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Henry32122 days ago

Opps, power my house, a three bedroom .

Henry32122 days ago

Hi! How many DIY panels in your instructions would you need to be totally off the grid and would power your house.

frenteria2 months ago
Hi Robert. I'm in the process of in the process of creating a solar panel-have not started building only calculations. I'm looking for a grid- interactive inverter. A grid-interactive inverter allows me to sell the excess energy from my solar panels to my electric company, but I can find one that is for 100 watt solar panel: keep in mind I want to "expanded" my solar panels. If anyone can send me a link to one for sale for under $50 that would be great. Thank you.

you're not going to be able to tie a DIY panel into the grid. Most utliities have interconnection requirements that all equipment be UL listed. It's simply a safety issue. To that end, by all means, DIY up whatever you want for your hobby projects, but if you want to lower your electric bills with solar, call a local installer and see what they're willing to do for you.

vic86m4 months ago

Hi!
I am from India, and i am a solar enthusiast.

Recently, i bought Solar panel (75 watts, 36 cells) in a govt of India subsidy scheme for 5000 INR (that's 95 $ roughly which includes a 15 foot rod, battery and a street light). If i make one, would it cost less than what i've purchased under this scheme?

Jport187 months ago
Hehe want some candy
Cali12131 year ago
You'll have to figure out the right voltage for sure. I got really detailed info about making my own panels online at www.homemadesolarcelldiy.com and it was pretty helpful good luck !!
asargent22 years ago
how many of these would i need to run a computer all day, computer is AC 220v battery
JCG5 asargent21 year ago
I'm not sure but you would want an inverter and a deep cycle battery about AC 220v to keep it running.
JCG51 year ago
On the solar cells I ordered, it has three "lines" to put tabbing wire. Do I put tabbing wire on all 3 lines or just 2?
Excellent, thanks for sharing your knowledge. Would you let me put this on my blog? With FULL credits to you? thx. http://homemadeiseasy.blogspot.com/
A tip for drilling plexiglass: Buy a cheap steel drill bit of the size you need. Before using it on the plexi, run it into a piece of concrete for a few moments. This dulls the edge just right so you can slowly chew through the plexi without cracking it, and without the bit trying to pull itself through faster than it's cutting. You can get specialized plexiglass/acrylic drill bits, but they cost alot. An aquarium friend of mine shared this tip with me for small numbers of holes, and it really works.
if you have any experience with sharpening drills, you can also use shallower lip angle so the edges don't cut as aggressively. also, a reduced rake angle will prevent the drill from grabbing which would decrease the chance of breaking the material around the hole.

taken from http://www.smithy.com/machining-handbook/chapter-6/page/4
Doesn't plexiglass discolor over a fairly short period of time being exposed to the elements ? Thanks.
TheCiscoKid2 years ago
hi, i really like your instructable I am almost at the end but it seems that you never explained how to wire the junction box to the charge controller. My junction box has what i believe are mc4 connectors. Will the charge controller have a connection for these? If not, how do i connect them??i have looked around online but i cant find anything on the topic. Thanks.

Francisco
If you want to reduce the chances of water geting to ur solar cells you can seal it useing eva. its made incapsle the solar cells
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUG9kLuRGXc&feature=related
and this is by far the best video i found on makeing a solar panel
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVEK_OnEA2M&feature=related
hope i helped.
Hi Robert. I just wanted to thank you for making this instructable, it's really appreciated. Your videos are really easy to follow and interesting. I've been doing research trying to learn how to make my own panels and found a few tutorials but yours is the best one I've found. I've also subscribed to your YT channel as well. So thanks again for this instructable. I'm making a few for my future home where there's no utilities and you're making it possible for me without spending tons of money.
dasgemuse2 years ago
you deserve some sort of instructables award for this. outstanding work. i too have been in you exact predicament. this information is HARD to come by. thank you so very much
pensativo3 years ago
Thank you very much for posting this, it answered a lot of my questions. :)
kschmitz23 years ago
What kinda of output is this generating? are you using it to power anything? Great Post.
Ronnieloo3 years ago
I live in a single wide aging 1971 flat roof mobile home. My roof is shot. I was thinking of making a peaked roof of solar panels. Anyone have suggestions for me? Thanks much!
jcksparr0w3 years ago
FINNALY!!! someone with solar panel nohow AND brains!
rohitbhl3 years ago
CAN U PLZ LET ME KNOW THE APPROXIMATE COST to made it at home....
plz let me know on my email id :
rohitbhl@yahoo.com
Kaya Tetsu3 years ago
Just started watching this. Couldn't help to notice that you painted it white. Would you not want to paint it black or a dark color? Would that help at all? Or is there a reason that you shouldn't that I just don't know about?
Painting it black would increase the heat inside the panel and solar cells are less efficient at higher temperatures
chardog19713 years ago
do you think this type of tech would work on the pop top of m van?I hate running out of battery when on long term camp trips.seems that you could put it directly on the surface to reduce any wind drag
If you bevel the edges of the frame, at least on the front side, the wind drag would be negligible.

If you are camping, you should make the panel attached to the roof but still removable. That way, if you would rather camp in the shade, you could set the panel up in the sun with a cord running back to the van.

It sounds like a really fun project.
It would work quite nicely.
mr_man3 years ago
Here is a similar guide, in case anyone's interested.
http://sunelec.com/Solar_Array_guide.pdf

Ducky0013 years ago
What the..... You build all that by your self!!! Nice job!! Was it hard? I'm going to study computer engineer too. Have fun building other kind of things! :)
zulfattah3 years ago
I got mine from Ebay germany..cheaper than when directly order from producer..cost me EUR170 for 100 pieces 156mmx156mm mono or poly with 3.8 W to 4.1W power rating.
djcssp4 years ago
Hello Robert,
I looked at your website and you posted a spreadsheet on the cost of producing the panel. Your list of materials includes the tools. What is the approximate cost if I already have all the tools?

The approximate cost if you have the tools is the approxmite cost listed on the spread sheet minus and cost of any tools you already have.
hastyhost (author)  djcssp4 years ago
 Hi,

For my solar panel I did not buy any tools, such as the power drill, saw, and other power tools. I also had all that on hand already, and the spreadsheet doesn't include those items.

Maybe you are referring to something else?
I AM TRYING TO WORK UP THE NERVE TO ATTEMPTA DIY SOLAR PANEL INSTALLATION YOUR PROJECT IS EXELLANT.

PAUL COX
POOLE, SOUTH COAST ENGLAND.
sugarain3 years ago
am from Ghana, and i really interested in soler energy, thank you for all your tutorials, i think getting the materials is my problem, especially the soler cells, making it here i can but the coper sheet am not sure we have some around, how can i get some cells u used
OK...can i make an improvised solar cell??
Yes, but it would be so ineficient that you would need about 10 square meters of it to come anywhere close to this panels ouput.
kktwags4 years ago
I made 4 60 watt solar panels , they work great for the most part , we installed them on our awning with 2x4's unerneath for air to get through however we are having major moisture issues.  when we built the first two we thought it was because we used to much silicone and didn't seal up the sides good enough but we just built two more with alot less silicone and we sealed the sides with aluminum tape however there is still alot of moisture in the panels.  It always starts with a fog and then turns into alot of water droplets.   Do you or anyonelse have any suggestions on how to fix this or why this is happening. We can't haven't been able to come up with any other reason.
edraq58 kktwags3 years ago
I had same problem as yours. What I did was drilled 3 holes each side ( total of 12 holes ) around inside close to the frames. Before that I vacuumed the moisture first. Since then there is no more moisture problem.
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