How to Make Your Own Solar Panels With Household Items

How to Make Your Own Solar Panels With Household Items

Making your own solar panels at home can be a fun and rewarding project. With just a few simple materials readily available at home or your local hardware store, you can build a small solar panel capable of generating usable electricity to power small devices and charge batteries.

What You’ll Need

To build a basic solar panel at home, you’ll need the following materials:

  • Solar cells – The most essential part of a solar panel. You can salvage individual solar cells from broken solar powered calculators, garden lights, phone chargers etc. Try to collect at least 6 similar sized cells.

  • Tabs – To connect the solar cells together electrically. Copper tabs/strips work best. You can salvage these from various household items.

  • Wires – For connecting the solar cells in series and drawing current from the panel. Thin gauge insulated copper wire will work well.

  • A soldering iron – To solder the tabs and wires together.

  • Plexiglass/glass – A transparent protective top layer for the solar cells. Old picture frames make a ready plexiglass source.

  • Sealant – To weatherproof the panel. Clear silicone caulk works great.

  • Frame – A frame to mount the solar cells and plexiglass into. Can be wood, plastic or metal. Needs to be non-conductive.

  • Epoxy resin – To encapsulate and adhere solar cells to the backing. Two part epoxy resin is best.

How to Build the Solar Panel

Follow these steps to build your own solar panel:

1. Design and Layout

  • Decide on the size of solar panel you want to build. Smaller panels of 3-6 cells are easier to work with.

  • Sketch a layout for the solar cells in series, ensuring correct polarity. Allow space between cells for solder tabs.

2. Prepare the Solar Cells

  • Clean all the cells thoroughly using isopropyl alcohol.

  • Test each cell individually with a multimeter – discard any faulty ones.

  • Use a permanent marker to note the positive and negative sides for reference.

3. Solder Copper Tabs

  • Solder a copper tab cleanly on the back of each cell’s negative and positive side.

  • Use lead-free rosin core solder and flux. Avoid overheating cells.

  • Once all tabs are soldered, test voltages again.

4. Mount Cells and Connect

  • Place the cells face down on the backing material (plexiglass/FRP/wood). Ensure cells do not touch each other.

  • Solder the copper tabs together to connect cells in series as per design.

  • Once soldering is complete, insulate connections using electrical tape.

5. Encapsulate the Solar Cells

  • Prepare your selected epoxy resin by mixing as per directions.

  • Pour the resin carefully over the mounted cells, ensuring they are covered evenly.

  • Let the epoxy cure as directed before moving the panel.

6. Add the Top Layer

  • Once cured, trim any overhanging wires or tabs flush with a razor.

  • With silicone caulk, adhere a piece of plexiglass/glass as the transparent top layer.

  • Clamp and let the silicone dry completely before use.

7. Test and Use Your Solar Panel

  • Take your finished solar panel outdoors on a sunny day and test the output voltage.

  • Connect to a small motor or LED lights to see your homebrew solar panel in action!

  • You can connect multiple home-built panels together to generate more power.

With a DIY solar panel, you’ll be able to learn hands-on about solar energy generation. While homemade panels are less efficient than commercial ones, they can be very useful for powering small devices and gaining solar skills.

Tips for Maximizing Efficiency

Here are some tips to get the most out of your homemade solar panel:

  • Use solar cells meant for solar panels, not small misc. cells. Efficiency is higher.

  • Carefully solder connections – Redo any overheated/questionable joints.

  • Arrange cells close together without gaps to maximize surface area.

  • Face panel south and tilt for optimal sun exposure throughout the day.

  • Use thick copper strips or braided wire to handle higher currents.

  • Keep your panel in direct sunlight and free of dust, dirt and shade.

  • Add a glass top layer instead of plexiglass for higher light transmission.

  • Build a panel sized for your specific purpose so optimal voltage is generated.

Safety Precautions

Take these safety measures when working on your solar panel project:

  • Solder in a ventilated area – Avoid fumes from solder and flux.

  • Wear eye protection when soldering – molten metal can splash.

  • Exercise caution when handling solar cells – their edges are fragile.

  • Do not leave panels unattended when charging batteries. Risk of overheating.

  • Only connect panels of the same voltage when linking multiple units.

  • Insulate exposed wiring and solder points completely to prevent shorts.

Conclusion

Building DIY solar panels can be an enlightening and enriching experience. The ability to generate electricity from the sun using simple household items is rewarding. While homebuilt panels require more effort than commercial ones, the costs are low and educational value is high. With proper safety precautions and techniques, you can successfully make a useful solar panel with recycled items at home.