Homemade Solar Panels for Beginners

An common way for a DIY beginner to build a solar panel is to assemble individual polycrystalline solar cells into an array. Like a battery, solar cells have positive (back) and negative (front) sides. Though a somewhat tedious process, connecting a small number of solar cells can generate a significant amount of power. For example, an 18-volt solar panel, comprised of 36, one-half-volt solar cells, is capable of charging a common 12-volt battery. Properly assembled and protected, a homemade solar panel can provide years of clean, renewable power.

Things You'll Need

  • 1/2 volt polycrystalline solar cells, 3-by-6 inches

  • Voltmeter

  • 65-watt soldering Iron

  • Tabbing wire

  • Bus wire

  • Lead-free solder

  • Flux pen

  • 5/8 inch plywood

  • 1 inch wide furring strips

  • 1/4 inch acrylic sheet

  • silicone caulk

  • rubber weatherstripping

  • varnish

Assemble Solar Cells into a Panel

Step 1

Run a flux pen over the two main bus lines on the front of a solar cell.

Step 2

Cut a piece of tabbing wire twice the width of the solar cell. Lay the tabbing wire over a main bus line so half covers the solar cell and the other half hangs off the edge. Repeat on the second bus line.

Step 3

Run a hot soldering iron over the tabbing wire along the entire length of each front-side bus line.

Step 4

Flip the solar cell over and place it side-by-side with a second solar cell, back side up. Align the parallel rows of square contact points on both cells.

Step 5

Wet the six bus contacts on the second solar cell with a flux pen and drip a bead of solder on top of each contact with a hot soldering iron.

Step 6

Fold the loose sections of tabbing wire from the first solar cell over the contact points on the second cell.

Step 7

Press the tabbing wire into the solder with a hot soldering iron. When the solder melts, the tabbing wire is attached.

Step 8

Test if the solar cells are correctly assembled by placing them in full sunlight and connecting a voltmeter to the positive and negative contacts.

Step 9

Repeat until the desired array size is reached. A compact 4-by-9 cell solar panel is acceptable for a 36-cell array.

Build the Solar Panel Case

Step 1

Add 2 inches to the length and width measurements of the array dimensions and cut a plywood base to size. Drill a small hole in all four corners of the base for ventilation.

Step 2

Fasten the furring strips to the sides of the plywood to form a shadow box. Attach rubber weatherstripping along the top of the furring strips.

Step 3

Center the rows of connected solar cells face-up inside the shadow box. Secure each cell to the plywood with a dab of silicone caulk.

Step 4

Connect the rows of solar cells in series with bus wire. Leave extra lengths of positive and negative bus wire for connection to a battery.

Step 5

Cut the acrylic sheet to size and mount over the weatherstripping to create a weather tight seal. Plug any gaps in the box with silicone caulk and protect exposed wood with multiple coats of varnish.

Tip

Have a licensed electrician or city official inspect DIY wiring to ensure compliance with local codes.

Warning

Contact with improperly-wired electrical equipment can cause damage to property, serious injury or death.

References & Resources