I know what you're thinking.  It's written all over your face.  You're all, "awww, man!  I'm sitting here, ready to make a solar panel, and I've got my silicon cells and EVA all ready and waiting, but my dang kid just threw my soldering iron at the glass I was going to use for the frontsheet, and now the iron and the glass are shattered and on fire, respectively.  How am I ever going to make a solar panel now?  The only other things I've got in the house are a couple transparency sheets and an office laminator.  This mad sucks, yo"

Well, solar friend, don't you worry.  I'm here to tell you about a sweet technique to make waterproof solar panels out of silicon cells with NO soldering, NO glass, and NO money down.  All you need a cheapo Staples laminator (got mine for $15 from the Chinese version of Staples down the street in Hong Kong, 钉了!), a few simple materials and an iron will.

It takes about five minutes to make a small panel, and they're delightfully sturdy, waterproof and easy.  Ready?  Once more into that shiny solar breach!

(no, not that one)

p.s.  My boy Chill Solar Dude is coming along on this instructable hayride to drop some ill narration on us.  How's it hanging, CSD?

Step 1: A little background on solar

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.
<p>Dude! At the risk of gushing too much, this is a brilliant idea! I have all the ingredients to do this now, and I've been putting off some projects because I wanted an easier, safer (I'm a clutz) way of working with my pile photovoltaic cells. Thanks!</p>
<p>This is so clever! How did you even think of this? I love the idea! My school recently got solar panels, and it had taken them years to fundraise for them! I never knew they could be this simple, on a small scale.</p><p>I was just wondering what laminator exactly did you use? I know there are a lot of office laminators out, like this one <a href="http://www.monomachines.com/shop/paper-handling-equipment/laminators/roll-laminators/gbc-ultima-35ez-load-12-roll-laminator.html" rel="nofollow">http://www.monomachines.com/shop/paper-handling-eq...</a> , but do you think it would be better to use the one you got? </p><p>Thanks again for a great instructable.</p>
<p>is it necessary to put the eva on the sunny side of the cells? Wouldn't it bond just as well on the dark side, and would one less thing reducing the sunlight?</p>
The EVA serves two functions. One function is to protect the cells against shock/thermal expansion/moisture, and for that purpose, the EVA would work as well on the back. The other function is to match the index of refraction of the glass, reducing the reflective losses. Those losses can be significant, ranging from a few percent of your total power when the sun is directly overhead to tens of percent when the sun is way over at an angle.
<p>Which is best: gloss or matte laminate?</p><p>Is UV resistant laminate OK?</p>
<p>hi dear prank, please help me out by answering few questions.</p><p>1. does it not break when laminated with that machine?</p><p>2. what could be the life of these panels?</p><p>3. in any ways efficiency will be decreased? </p><p>4. can we use regular heavy weight lamination machine? (we basically use lamination to protect important documents, making it water proof by lamination machine) (i never ever imagine we can use this for solar as u shown)</p><p>5. i want to setup a low cost factory which produce highest quality of small solar panels ( presently i m importing it from china) how can u help me?</p>
<p>If you want to make durable solar panels I can teach you and so you how to cheaply. Step by step instructions and I will answer questions via email. </p><p><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00D357GWE" rel="nofollow">http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00D357GWE</a></p>
<p>Awww yeah, @Riotgrrlscout! You make references fun!</p>
1Q84! Being new to solar DIY, I thank you for writing this instructable. It is both tight and sweet.
Hey Prank, <br> <br>I am a newbie on Solar but did like your ideal on using the plastic laminate as I picked up a whole bunch of those sheets at our local junk store recently. Most of them are 8&quot; X 10&quot; <br>and going down to small id photo size sheets. The stack of larger sheets is about 12 or 14 inches high. Not sure just how our New Mexico Sun will treat them after a bit of use though. I will put this on my list and I have a long list of to do's but am looking forward <br>to learning more on all this so can try it out.
Why is your name prank
is the eva film really necessary? On ebay there are huge rolls for around $90.. that aint cheap
Am I correct that the false solette does not add any current or voltage to the panel? If so, couldn't you just put the copper tape on that end over a bit of the final solette so that there is not a wasted solette? That would give you nine fully functioning solettes rather than eight and a connector.
Yes, that's correct--the false solette doesn't add any power to the panel. It's just a conductor that connects the top of the last solette to the copper tape. You could just as easily use a piece of copper or other conductor.
Do you have a rule-of-thumb for how much wider the PET should be than the solettes?
This was awesome. And then it became even awesome-er. Love your wacky sense of humor.
Thanks for sharing this fascinating project. You clearly have a lot of knowledge to share.
Love the instructable! I have a question for ya. If I build this solar panel to charge a battery, will the battery explode at some point unless I attach something else to it? For instance, would I kill my phone battery if I hooked this up to charge my phone?
For powering phones and other electronics, as long as you supply the right voltage, it'll be just fine. A phone has an internal chip that takes care of charging the battery safely, so if you connect a 5 or 5.5V panel directly to the phone, it'll charge like a happy calf at a solar udder.<br> <br> If you directly connect to a battery, it depends on the type of battery. Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries work great with solar trickle charging -- check out <a href="http://www.instructables.com/id/Turn-a-playing-card-into-a-solar-charger-for-AA-ba/" rel="nofollow">this instructable</a> to see an easy solar battery charger. &nbsp;Lead-acid batteries are also pretty easy--you can slap a small solar panel on a big battery and <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trickle_charging" rel="nofollow">trickle charge</a> that battery without a backwards glance.<br> <br> HOWEVER, you can mess up a battery this way. &nbsp;If the panel voltage and battery voltage are mismatches, like say, charging a 3.6V battery pack directly from a 5V panel, you can blow up a battery. &nbsp;Lithium-ion batteries are also pretty picky about how they're charged, and if you overcharge an unprotected battery, you might find a large fire in place of your battery. &nbsp;It can be done, for sure, but for lithiums, you'll want to add some circuitry in between the panel and the battery that takes care of properly charging the battery. &nbsp;The Seeed Studios <a href="http://www.seeedstudio.com/depot/lipo-rider-pro-p-992.html?cPath=155" rel="nofollow">LiPo Rider Pro</a> is a good &quot;in-between&quot; circuit that you can use or check out the schematic for inspiration.<br>

About This Instructable


483 favorites


Bio: here: http://www.artiswrong.com But really, I'm just this guy. For up-to-the-minute, action-packed updates on my life (and occasional drawings of tapeworms getting ... More »
More by prank: How to Draw Sweet 3D Graphics for LED cubes Make rad solar panels in minutes with a sweet desktop laminator Pixie, the world's most intense desk lamp
Add instructable to: