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Do you know a cheap instructable for solar cells? Tips/ideas Answered

Do you know where I can find a cheap how to for solar cells? The ones I've found cost around $200 and more but I cant be spending money on materials for a how to that might not even work. For materials around the house I have aluminum cans, copper wire, hot glue....you get the idea. If you have tips where to go to find an how to that I can afford, or tips on how to make a solar cell out of aluminum, please let me know.


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Jack A Lopez
Jack A Lopez

3 years ago

So you want a device that can turn sunlight into electricity? Using inexpensive materials, like " aluminum cans, copper wire, hot glue..."?


As far as I know, at the time of this writing, there is no known homemade alternative that can compete with professionally made photovoltaic panels, either in terms of area efficiency (in watts per square meter) or even in cost (in dollars per watt).


Although there is, like, high school science demo type stuff, like PV panels made from oxidized copper sheet, or raspberry dye and titanium dioxide, but I do not think any of those will give more than few milliwats per square meter.

Also you could maybe make a big parabolic solar concentrator, to turn light into high temperature heat, but then how to turn the heat into electricity? Peltier, or other thermoelectric? Stirling engine? It could easily turn into something more costly than the cost you were trying to avoid.

But I can understand your desire to avoid unnecessary expenses.

Which makes me think: Does your town have any solar powered traffic signs? Here is a link to an image search, for to show you what these artifacts look like:


Obviously, the part you want is the PV panel, and that is usually bolted on to the very tippy top of the pole, where it hard to reach, and also where it can get more sunlight, free of shadows, etc.

So, removing one of those panels would probably require a ladder, and whatever tools are necessary to unbolt the panel, like probably a socket wrench, or something like that. Sometimes, on equipment like this, you will encounter funny-shaped, "insecurity screws", for which the bit, or sockets, are harder to find.


So it might take more than one trip. One trip to discover what tools will be needed, and a second trip to actually remove the panel and take it home.

Also it helps if you go at night, because there will be fewer people to see you, and ask you dumb questions like, "Hey! Why are you stealing that solar panel?"

By the way, in the event you are confronted by some pesky person asking this dumb question, you will of course want to have a thoughtful reply, prepared in advance.

Simply tell the pesky person that you are "liberating" this photovoltaic panel, because, "the people's army" has need of it. That sounds pretty convincing, right?

If further explanation is required, you can explain how the panel was paid for with public taxes, which are essentially stolen money, taken from the people without their consent.

If you can call the lighted sign, an "instrument of oppression", that might help your argument too, especially if it is one of those dumb naggy signs with a built in radar gun, whose only purpose is to tell people they're drivin' too fast. I don't know who thinks those dumb signs are a good idea.

Also instead of "people's army", feel free to substitute whatever group sounds best to you, e.g. "the people's liberation army", "the resistance", "project mayhem", or merely, "the people". You know, whatever feels right to you.

Final step: use your free solar electricity to do something righteous!

Viva la revolution!


Reply 3 years ago

Thank you so much for your idea! I love your explanation for why I'm taking the panel. Unfortunately, in my town they would have cameras near by due to problems with vandalism. But if I come across one without a camera to be seen...I'll keep your advice in mind ;) And thank you again for your constructive comment, I normally don't have much luck asking for help online & usually see the worst of people commenting.

I think I found a way to save a few cents at least over time-money adds up so might as well try it. Sometimes at our dollar store they get these solar powered garden lights. So next time that they have them, I'm going to have to snatch a few of those, take them apart, & since they are working cells -play around a little bit to try and get the max voltage out of them. Not for anything like powering the house, but maybe charge a phone or something.

Jack A Lopez
Jack A Lopez

Reply 3 years ago

Yeah. That's a good idea too. I mean, shop around to try to find a better price. In fact, maybe that is a better idea than contemplating theft of government property, because if you get caught, you might have to hire a lawyer to try beat the larceny or vandalism charge, and lawyers are definitely not cheap.

I probably should have asked about the panels you were looking at, the ones that "cost around $200 and more", because you did not mention how much panel, like, in watts, you were getting for that price.

As an example of a place that I think is selling PV modules at good prices, I will link to a page at, Northern Arizona Wind and Sun (NAWS),


and I think that link will show you results sorted by price, cheapest first. If not, there is a button for that.

I also mentioned this metric of (dollars/watt), and that is simply the price of the PV module, in dollars, divided by its maximum power output, in watts.

Of course for that math to work, you have to have an honest estimate for the actual max power output, and a lot of sellers will exaggerate that number. I think in the case of NAWS, they are getting their numbers from the the data sheets provided by the PV module manufacturers. It gets weirder, less reliable, for no-name modules, with no data sheets.

Regarding solar garden lights from the dollar store, there was someone on the answers forum a few months ago, trying to build something with these, and in response to his question I decided to actually try building what he was building with my own supply of solar garden lights.

It does not happen all that often, but occasionally I decide the best way to answer a question about building something, is to just build that thing, to see what it does, and take some pictures and stuff.
I think this link,

will take you directly to the comment I made there. If not, just scroll down, and look for the pictures.

Anyway, in this simple testing, I was only getting about 36 mW = 36/1000 watts, per module. Since those modules cost 1 USD each, the cost per watt is awful, actually, 1000/36 = 27.77 ~= 28 USD/watt.

But I have to admit, it is hard to beat the per module price (1 USD per) of solar garden lights. Plus there are some other interesting components in that light as well, like the little boost circuit that can drive a white LED from a single battery cell. You know, you could make a single cell flashlight out of that part.

The other thing I should mention about larger modules, in particular those nominal 12 volt or 24 volt modules, I linked to at NAWS, is those kind of work best for charging 12 volt or 24 volt lead-acid batteries, and the charging circuits that do this tend to be simple.

I still have not quite got my head around what kind of circuits, or charging algorithms, strategy, would be needed for charging Li-ion batteries, which are, I think, more finicky in the way they want to be charged.

But maybe someone else has figured out a good way to do this.

If you have not tried it already, you should definitely ask the let's make search to show you 'ibles about "solar charger"


I am not sure if that that will turn up any good 'ibles. I mean, a lot of the stuff here seems to be kind of amateurish, but then there are some things that really impressive too, although, unfortunately the search engine alone is still not smart enough to tell which is which.


Reply 3 years ago