This instructable is all about making solar panels. Solar panels are different than solar cells--a solar cell is a single piece of silicon. Typically, solar cells are low-voltage, high-current
devices, putting out about half a volt, with a current proportional to the cell's area and the intensity of the light. A modern 6" x 6" cell puts out about 7A of max-power current, at 0.5V*
Electrically, there's not much you can do with 0.5V and 7A. So we combine solar cells in series and parallel to get to a useful voltage and current. If we combine ten solettes in series, we get five volts at the max power point, which is a generally useful voltage for powering small electronics.
The other tricky part about making solar panels is protecting the delicate silicon cells. These cells are very thin--0.2mm, and they're susceptible to every evil the world has to offer--vibration, humidity, moisture, flexing, heat, cold, bad feelings and hurtful statements. Once the cells are electrically connected, you have to find some way to wrap them up in a powerful, strong sleeping bag that keeps the warm feelings in and the bad, harmful things on the outside. This process is called encapsulation.
There's lots of ways to encapsulate solar panels--you can cover them in plastic resin, use huge presses with heaters and vacuums to fix glass and plastic to the front of the panel, and all other kinds of neat tricks to keep the silicon safe and dry. This instructable is all about a new trick that a friend
and I came up with that lets you electrically connect the cells and
physically protect them, all using a standard office laminator and a few cents of plastic film.
That's all there is to making solar panels--combine pieces of silicon together, protect them from the harsh outside world, and then ride the solar wave into the glorious sunset. It's actually quite easy to do. Read on!
* If terms like 'max power' and 'short-circuit current' are unfamiliar, check out the other images. Homey Chill Solar Dude put together some quick tutorials explaining how it all works.