How to Make Your Own Solar Panels on a Budget

How to Make Your Own Solar Panels on a Budget

How to Make Your Own Solar Panels on a Budget

Introduction

Making your own solar panels can be a great way to start generating your own renewable energy and reduce your electricity bills. With some DIY skills and the right materials, it is possible to build solar panels on a budget. In this guide, I will walk you through the entire process step-by-step and share tips to keep costs low.

Things You Will Need

To build DIY solar panels, you will need the following materials:

  • Solar cells – These are the main components that convert sunlight into electricity. You can purchase individual cells or pre-tabbed cells that are ready to wire together. Monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon cells are the most efficient.

  • Backing boards – Plywood, plastic boards or aluminum sheets to mount the solar cells on. Make sure they are sturdy, weatherproof and non-conductive.

  • Wires – You will need thin copper wiring to connect the solar cells together. Bus wire works well.

  • Soldering iron and solder – Used to solder the wiring connections between cells.

  • Silicone – Used to laminate and weatherproof the panels. Clear 100% silicone works best.

  • Junction box – Houses the connections and terminals for electrical output.

  • Plexiglass – A clear protective layer on top of the panels.

Optional items:

  • Charge controller – Regulates power from the panels to batteries or appliances. A PWM controller is affordable.

  • Batteries – Store power produced by the panels. Deep cycle batteries are designed for solar systems.

  • Inverter – Converts DC output to standard AC power, if needed. A modified sine wave inverter is cost-effective.

  • Mounting equipment – For installing panels on a roof or rack.

Calculating How Many Solar Cells You Need

The number of solar cells you will need depends on the desired wattage capacity of your DIY solar panel system. Follow these steps:

  1. Determine the total wattage you want your solar panel system to produce. For example, 200 watts.

  2. Check the wattage of the individual solar cells you purchased. Many are 3 watts to 5 watts each.

  3. Divide the total watts by the wattage per cell to get the number of cells needed. For a 200 watt panel using 3 watt cells, you would need 200 / 3 = 67 cells.

  4. Add a couple extra cells to allow for imperfections and inefficiencies. For our example, 70 cells would be ideal.

Also consider panel voltage when wiring the cells together in series vs. parallel. Many DIY panels use 12 volts or 24 volts.

Wiring Solar Cells Together

Once you have your solar cells and materials, you can start assembling the panels:

  1. Plan the cell layout and wire connections. Cells can be wired in series to increase voltage, or parallel for more amperage.

  2. Cut and solder interconnect wire between the cells, paying attention to polarity. Bus wire works well for connections.

  3. Lay out the cells and wiring on the backing board according to your plan.

  4. Solder the bus wire connections between each cell. Use flux and heat carefully to avoid cracking cells.

  5. Once all cells are wired in series or parallel, wire leads should extend from the end cells to be connected to the junction box terminals later.

Tips for Proper Cell Wiring:

  • Use a thin copper wire gauge like 14 AWG or 12 AWG.
  • Apply flux to wire connections before soldering.
  • Allow space between cells for air flow and cooling.
  • Check polarity before connecting cells.

Laminating and Waterproofing Panels

Once the cells are all wired together, you need to laminate and seal the panels:

  1. Coat the top of the cells with clear silicone and spread evenly.

  2. Lay down the transparent plexiglass protection layer.

  3. Use masking tape on the edges to hold the plexiglass in place.

  4. Flip panel over and repeat silicon coating and plexiglass on back.

  5. Let the silicone cure for 24-48 hours.

  6. Apply clear silicone sealant around all panel edges to waterproof connections.

Proper lamination seals the cells from harsh weather and protects the wiring underneath. Take time to fully seal edges and drill holes for wires.

Attaching a Junction Box and Wiring

The junction box on the back of the panel collects all the wiring and allows connection to your battery bank or appliances:

  1. Drill holes in the panel backing board to feed wires into the junction box.

  2. Securely mount the junction box to the back.

  3. Connect the wire leads from the solar cell circuit to the terminals on the junction box.

  4. Connect an output cable like 10 AWG wire to the other junction box terminal.

  5. Secure the lid on the junction box and seal with silicone all around.

Be sure junction box connections are tight and insulated. Only a licensed electrician should connect panels to a home or cabin electrical system.

Mounting and Installing Solar Panels

Finally, you need to mount and position your DIY solar panels for maximum sun exposure:

  • Use strong mounting racks designed for solar panels and properly anchored.

  • Face panels south (northern hemisphere) at an angle equal to your latitude.

  • Consider seasonal sun angles and adjust tilt accordingly.

  • Maximize sun hours – avoid shade from trees/buildings.

  • Wire into a charge controller first before batteries or directly to appliances/lights.

With proper mounting, your budget solar panels can start producing free renewable energy for decades!

Conclusion

Constructing your own solar panels is a manageable project for a DIY builder on a budget. Use recycled materials when possible, buy supplies in bulk, and take time to seal panels thoroughly. With some planning and elbow grease, you can build an efficient solar array to reduce energy costs and your environmental footprint.