Solar energy produces electricity by converting sunlight into energy using photovoltaic cells. Since 2002, solar energy has been increasingly used at a rate of 48% each year making it one of the fastest growing energy sources to date. With the ever-increasing knowledge and study of this source of energy the materials used to produce solar cell arrays has also become easier to come by for home energy use. Solar heating, solar electric, and solar hot water are the most common ways this power source is being utilized today. Many home owners are interested in having a green home since an energy efficient home is not only environmentally friendly but the potential savings are substantial.
Building home solar panels is actually not as difficult as one would think, provided you have the materials needed. One such material that is probably the biggest stumbling block when it comes to building your own solar panels is the solar cells themselves. Its not the sources of the panels you need to worry about, it’s the pricing and the quality that you must be sure of before deciding to buy. The best source for finding solar cells is eBay but you must be aware of who you are buying from. New cells are available but you will pay dearly to get them.
Therefore, the best option for getting your hands on suitable solar cells is to buy a set of broken or chipped cells that come bundled together. Buying broken cells may not sound like much fun but as long as you thoroughly research the seller as best you can you should be able to get a good idea of the quality you can expect when buying solar cells. The most commonly used cells are 3×6 mono-crystalline; make sure the panels you buy are tabbed cells. The cells will more then likely come to you covered in wax, they are dipped in wax in an effort to better secure them for shipment since the cells themselves are very fragile and thin.
Once you have the solar cells the next step is to create a shallow box to house them. Typically, a solar cell is comprised of 36 cells, which come out to needing roughly a 46″ x 24″ box structure to be built. Using simple materials like plywood and 1″ slats will more then suffice for this. Your overall design for the structure of the box is entirely up to you, basically the function of this piece is to just hold the cells in place and allow them to soak up the sun’s energy so don’t get to worried over the minor details.
Once you have your shallow box built its time to begin soldering the cells together. This is done with a string of ribbon wire usually. Simply attach two 10″ sections of ribbon wire to each cell with the excess wire hanging off the bottom of the cell. Once you have all the cells soldered with at least an extra 5 inches of ribbon wire hanging off them, you simply turn the cells over and connect the ribbon wire to the tabs on the back of each cell accordingly down the line until you have a string of 6. Make six of these cell strings to complete the basic structure of your panel.
Now that you have 6 cell strings, next step is to attach them to a panel that will fit into the shallow box you made earlier, best is to use a white panel to attach three of them to and make two half panels. Run a copper braided wire across the bottom of each panel and attach each string. Include an at least 3.3 amp blocking diode in series to prevent the panel from discharging your batteries overnight. Using a good silicone to secure the wires and cells is a good tip, make sure you allow it to thoroughly set in before you complete the project by covering and sealing the enclosure with plexiglass. Place your panel in direct sunlight and let it begin charging a few 12-volt batteries. Building your own solar panels is not only much cheaper but a rewarding and enjoyable experience.