How to Make Your Own Solar Panels From Scratch

How to Make Your Own Solar Panels From Scratch

Making your own solar panels from scratch can be a fun and rewarding project. With some basic materials and tools, you can build a functional solar panel that will generate electricity from sunlight. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to make DIY solar panels from start to finish.

What You Will Need

To make your own solar panel, you will need to gather some basic materials and tools:

Materials

  • Solar cells – These are the main components that convert sunlight into electricity. You can purchase individual solar cells or pre-tabbed cells that are ready to wire together. Mono-crystalline and poly-crystalline silicon cells are common options.

  • Plexiglass sheet – This will form the transparent top layer of the solar panel to allow sunlight to hit the solar cells underneath. You will need a sheet sized to your panel dimensions.

  • Wood – Sheets of plywood or boards are needed to build the frame that will house the solar cells.

  • Wires – You will need wiring to interconnect the solar cells in series and parallel. Copper wire works best.

  • Solder – Solder will be used to attach the wires to the solar cell tabs.

  • Silicone sealant – Used to weatherproof the panel when done. Clear silicone caulking is ideal.

Tools

  • Safety gear – Gloves, eye protection, etc. to stay safe while handling materials.

  • Soldering iron – To solder the connections between cells.

  • Drill – For drilling holes in the wood frame pieces.

  • Screwdriver – For assembling the frame.

  • Clamps – To hold materials in place during assembly.

Size and Design the Panel

The first step is determining the size and layout for your DIY solar panel. Some factors to consider:

  • How much electricity do you aim to generate? Larger panels can hold more solar cells and produce more power.

  • What size solar cells are you using? Fit the panel layout to your cell dimensions.

  • Where will the panel be mounted? Limit size to fit the installation location.

  • What is your budget? Larger panels cost more due to increased materials.

A small 12V, 20-watt solar panel can be a good beginner size, made with a 6 cell x 3 cell layout. For a larger 50-watt solar panel, a 12 cell x 6 cell layout is common.

Sketch your panel size and solar cell layout on paper. Also plan out your wooden frame dimensions to fit the panel. Leave a 1/4 inch border around the edges of the cells.

Wire the Solar Cells

Next, you will need to interconnect the individual solar cells with wiring so they work together as a panel.

  • Wear gloves when handling solar cells to avoid fingerprints and smudges.

  • Layout your solar cells face down in the planned arrangement.

  • Use thin copper wire to string the cells together in series. This increases the voltage output of the panel.

  • Solder the + and – connections between each cell using a soldering iron. Work carefully to avoid damaging cells with excess heat.

  • After soldering cells in series, you can also wire sets together in parallel to increase current.

  • Double check polarity – watch that + and – connections match from cell to cell!

  • Lay out the cell wiring neatly and trim any excess wire.

Build the Panel Frame

With the solar cells wired together, you’re ready to build a frame to house and protect them:

Assemble the Frame

  • Cut four pieces of wood to size according to your planned outer frame dimensions.

  • Use a corner bracket or wood screws to fasten the frame pieces together.

  • Drill holes as needed, e.g. for wiring to pass through.

  • Make sure the frame is square by measuring diagonals – adjust until equal.

Add the Back Layer

  • Cut a piece of plywood to fit the back of the frame and nail/screw in place.

Mount the Solar Cells

  • Place the wired solar cells face down into the frame.

  • Secure the cells to the plywood back layer, e.g. with silicone or double-sided tape.

  • The cells can’t move or they may disconnect!

Add the Top Layer

  • Cut a piece of clear plexiglass to cover the frame front.

  • Screw or nail the plexiglass into the frame top.

  • Seal the edges with silicone to weatherproof.

Connect Wiring and Waterproof

Almost done! A few final steps will get your solar panel working:

  • Attach output wires to the positive and negative panel connections.

  • Test output voltage! Cover cells and verify >12V, uncover and should see >18V.

  • Seal all exposed cell connections thoroughly with clear silicone to waterproof.

  • Allow silicone to dry fully before continuing.

  • Attach a junction box to the back for a clean wiring interface.

  • Your DIY solar panel is complete and ready to be mounted and used!

  • Consider wiring in a blocking diode to prevent reverse current flow at night.

With proper care and some occasional cleaning, a homemade solar panel can provide free sunlight-generated electricity for many years. Building your own is a fun way to learn about solar energy. Experiment with different cell arrangements or panel sizes to expand your solar power system over time.