DIY Solar Panel




About: Work at the FUSE (future of Social Experience) Microsoft Lab in Cambridge, MA. Alumni of the Interactive Telecommunications Program, New York University. Most recent web visualization:

Creating a solar panel out of broken re-used solar cell pieces. I ordered a pack of these from (3$ for a bagful of them - you can order here). In addition, you will need some conductive copper mesh (available at most art stores), glue gun + sticks, a multimeter and a conductive pen (or any sort of conductive brush-on - I got my conductive silver pen here). In this tutorial I will try to explain the best technique I found to connect these broken cells, in order to create your own CHEAP solar panel.

Step 1: Get the Solar Cells

this is how the cells can look like when they arrive

Step 2: Check Power and Ground

When you look at the solar cell, make sure you check voltage between the positive side (the back side which is usually grey) and the negative side (which is the black side, with all the lines on it) of each cell. You can simply use a multimeter by placing its leads on the cell itself. This step is crucial, otherwise you'll connect bad cells in the middle of your link, causing the whole panel not to work.

Step 3: Use Conductive Pen If Needed

You need to make sure that all the tiny little lines in the negative side of the cells are interconnected (a way to gather all the electrons from the surface). This step is not necessary for all cells, only for the ones like in this picture, which don't have any connection between the lines on the surface. you can use the conductive pen to draw a thin line which connects all of them. Once you do that, you will immediately see the voltage rising for that specific cell.

Step 4: Cell With Conductive Pen Line

here's an example of a cell with the conductive pen line on it, linking between the tiny conductive leads on the negative side of the solar cell.

Step 5: Linking the Cells

This can get a bit tricky, but once you get the hang of it, can be done fast enough. First, some technical notes: In order to get higher voltage, you need to connect two cells in series. This means that the negative part of the first connects to the positive part of the second. As you continue to add more cells in series, you will get a higher voltage from side to side on your solar strip. This is all good, but if your cells are small-ish, they won't generate much amperage. So even if you have a high voltage, you probably won't be able to give it any load (probably will hardly light an LED). In order to get higher amperage through the circuit, you need to connect cells in parallel (positive side to positive side, negative side to negative side). When you do this, make sure the positive and negative leads (copper mesh in this case) don't short themselves out.
I found that the best way to connect between two cells was to use hot glue and some conductive mesh. The mesh is good since it allows light to come through it, and we all love glue guns. So all you need to do is glue the mesh onto the solar cell surface. Its always better to have a longer strip of mesh on the surface, with a big enough shared surface space between the two. Always check with a multimeter that there is connectivity, and that there is voltage coming through. Its a bummer later to try and figure out where the problem is.

Step 6: Example Measurement for 2-cell Link

Step 7: Example Measurements From a 6-cell Link

This solar array can light an LED when close to the window. (I know... doesn't help much)
But it can definitely charge a battery... (instructable still in the making...)

Step 8: Silicon Coating

I highly recommend applying a silicon coating to your solar array. The cells are so fragile, and the links can easily detach or move out of place. A thin coat of silicon keeps it all in place... and also gives it a very cool effect!

Step 9: Solar Jelly

Here's what i made.
A little Solar Jellyfish. I put a battery and servo motor inside. When there was enough light on it, the object moved its legs up and down just like a jellyfish (video coming very soon...). And when it was dark, it lit up from inside and became a light display.
A bit messy, but still a prototype.
Next iteration coming up real soon.

project page

Step 10: Hope This Helped

Please leave a comment if you have any questions, suggestions or ideas.



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    171 Discussions


    Reply 2 years ago

    By all mean please post it as a DIY. Am quite curious to see your set-up


    3 years ago

    Why pay a huge amount like $1000's for utilization of solar or wind power when you can have the opportunity to build your own home made solar system for less than $200. I know one thing. You can build it cheap. Go to and learn more


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I've actually constructed solar panels for my house and a couple family members' homes. However, I used a solar panel kit rather than recycled photovoltaic cells. I'm sure this is a cheaper method (by far), but it definitely sounds a bit more technical. If this is your first attempt to construct a solar panel, I recommend using a kit rather than building it from recycled cells. I followed the directions at Do It Yourself Energy, which has numerous guides on both solar and wind energy.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    I don't know, if you master this at your first attempt, then when it comes time when you have a kit available.... it would be like a treat!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    This is very interesting and creative post on Solar Panels. This makes me crazy that you have made a solar panel from broken pieces of solar cells.


    This is great. With all the things going on around us about solar energy we forget that fundamentally solar energy is the natural evolution of the electricity, power and energy industry. If the consumer also becomes the generator and all are electricity self sufficient where solar solutions seem to be going then imagine what fantastic future we can build for ourselves.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    This is great for those broken solar panels due to storms. Got a lot of people asking about how to salvage the scrap and I don't know how to before I came to this site.Great tutorial. But I have a question.. how much wattage does this "thing" produce? If anyone want to know more about solar panels feel free to visit my site: Solar panels for your home

    Helmut Rahn

    6 years ago on Introduction

    If you want to repair the broken cells, then it costs you more,
    it is better way to make a solar own
    you can know everything how to make a solar own
    An engineer write it on his Solar Panels Blog


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Great post.. Solar Panels for home energy generation has been around for lots of years. I want to share more about building solar diy panels easily- Make Solar DIY Panels for your home.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    i need good solar cell 3x3 inch, 5 volt, 1-4 watt, send to me address of company were i can get them cheap.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    You should make an instructables making a cell phone charger with these pannels


    6 years ago on Introduction

    It is a fascinating project I would like to try. But I would need a whole lot more detail and pictures. Not skipping any steps.

    Step 2 Connect the pos. and neg. multi meter clips to where/what on the cell?

    Step 5 is really confusing. Needs more detail. It looks like you took tabbing wire and soldered it in one long strip across the negative face of the bits. Then placed the whole string of bits on a large piece of copper mesh. So that only accounts for the positive to pos. and neg. to neg. Is there some other wire that goes over and under the bits? Could you please add pictures of attaching the where the positive and neg. parts are also?

    Step 6 & 7 it looks like the wire mesh has been cut into strips maybe a few inches long goes over and under--connecting pos. to neg. That makes it a little more clear. But Now it no longer looks like the tabbing wire is connecting pos to pos and neg. to neg.

    Step 9 looks really pretty. But wouldn’t the bits on the back side never get sun?
    Step 10 . It looks like we are back to a large piece of wire mesh.

    I'll check out some other DIY solar panel articles and add that info to your idea of using broken bits. As an artist I think I can make a really unusual and attractive solar collector. Thanks for the idea!