Introduction: Foldable, Lightweight Solar Panel
12 volt 50+ watt, foldable, portable, very lightweight, inexpensive, solar panel. Take it anywhere because it's so light and small at only 36" x 6" folded up. Make a bunch of them and create some real usable electricity with or without battery back-up.
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Step 1: Supplies List
1. 24 ft. of the cheapest pine wood tongue and groove paneling you can find, I use Lowes. It comes in strips 3in by 8ft long if I remember correctly.
2. Laminating pouches 5in by 7in and 10 mil thick is what i used.
3. All your normal solar cell tabbing wire and materials (assuming you know already what is needed to solder solar cells together). No offense if you don't :)
5. Some kind of ironing surface like a cutting board shown in my picture
6. Laminating sleeve.
7. 6 small hinges.
8. About 6in of thin easily bendable wire of some sort.
9. Box of flat head thumb tacks
10. 4 short copper tacks
11. some super glue or other good adhesive.
Step 2: Cut Your Wood
1. Take your wood paneling and cut eight x 3ft. lengths. You'll most likely have left overs.
2. Glue two pieces together and then another two pieces together and so on....until you now have 4 individual pieces instead of eight. Lay them on a flat surface and let them dry over night. We want them strait as we can get them while they are drying. May need to add some weight on top to keep them nice and flat.
Now's a great time to tab your cells and laminate them. 6 of the solar cells will need to be tabbed a little different so go to step 4 for those directions. Let's go to laminating from here.
Step 3: Laminating Your Solar Cells
Probably not the best method to incase cells but trust me it really works and it protects the cells enough to handle them without fear of breaking them later on.
1. Your cells are roughly 3in by 6in so you want to cut your lamination pouches to be just a little larger, say like 31/4in by 61/4in.
2. Your lamination pouches will be cut on all four sides so they won't really be pouches anymore so you could actually use laminating sheets instead and have the same exact end results. Tabbing wires will stick out on the top and bottoms so we don't want the pouches to be connected on the side like they come in the box.
3. Set your Iron to very hot (no steam), gently place a tabbed solar cell centered in a laminate pouch with tabbing wires hanging out nice and strait. Place this pouch in the paper sleeve and gently apply the iron pressure and hold in place for about 10 seconds to laminate well. You'll have to do this at many points on the pouch to get the whole thing laminated...unless you have a huge iron surface to cover the entire thing. Get the edges really good. Be prepared to burn your fingers a little each time you remove the laminated solar cell. Immediately upon removing the hot laminated solar cell, i would quickly press the edges down with my fingers to really seal it especially where the tabbing wires protrude.
4. Do this to all 36 cells. Takes a while so face the television while doing it. The next step will describe how 6 of the 36 cells need to be done slightly different.
Step 4: Special Tabbing for 6 Cells Only
Look at the picture above and notice how the little white wire connecting the two solar cells is located at roughly mid point on both the cells. These two cells are where two separate columns of nine cells connect. So, on one cell (say the left one) it looks to be the positive side of the cell tabbing wire has to be fashioned on the back of the cell so that it comes out the side of the cell (prior to laminating). This will in-turn be connected to the cell on the right which would have the negative tabbing wires sticking out. You can do it another way if you'd like but this worked for me.
Just do this properly prior to laminating. This will take a little brain power and planning to avoid redoing things over and over and over like I did :)
This will have to be done at three points on your panel to connect the four pieces. You could extend this panel even more which would add more of these connecting points.
Step 5: Connecting All the Cells
Now that all your cells are laminated with tabbing wire sticking out. It's time to connect them in a series. Your cells are so easy to handle at this point and they won't break. They are even slightly bendable.
1. Connect a series of nine cells together with one end containing one of the special 6 cells. Make sure you use one that has the tabbing wires coming out in the right direction.
Your laminated cells need to be butted right up against each other and then solder the tabbing wires together. Trim and fold remaining tabbing wire to the back of the laminated cells.. Repeat this with the remaining cells but don't connect the columns yet. Just set them aside for now. Even your CAT can step on these and they shouldn't break!
Lets Prepare the panel for the laminated cells.
Step 6: Connecting the Panels Together
1. Use two small hinges to connect two panels together. Be sure to attach the hinges so that the solar cells will close on each other and not the opposite.
2. Now repeat this step to connect the last two panels together. Again, make sure that the cells will close on each other.
3. Now connect these two sets together but this time flip the hinges upside down so that when the middle gets closed, it doesn't close on any solar cells. Should be wood against wood when closed in the middle.
That was easy right? Lets put it all together now
Step 7: Putting It All Together
1. Set your cell columns in place on the hinged together panel and tack them down however you want. Just don't put one through the actual cells.
2. Solder about 2 inches of wire between each column connection (remember we have three and we used the 6 special cells for this). Use a tack right in the vicinity of the wire for extra durability. The wire will naturally loop up or down when you fold the panel. Solder these wires good!
3. The negative and positive ends of the panel have tabbing wire sticking out so just fold those to the back. Stick in the wood and then super glue two copper tacks at both the positive and negative sides of the panels and solder the extra tabbing wire to them.
4. With the exception of your own modifications, you're done.
I hope you like this. Let me know what you think.