There is constantly new ways of becoming more efficient surfacing everyday. Who wouldn't want to conserve energy and precious fossil fuels? Well now, thanks to inventing solar panels, you can build a solar panel right from home. Solar panels are quite expensive and it can cost thousands to build one powerful enough to power a house. So the first thing you have to decide, is how much you are willing to invest and what kind of project you want to energize with a solar panel. As an Electronics Major trying to save, I started a project for an 18 volt power supply to test my small electronic projects with. Eighteen volts are more than enough voltage to power most electronic devices.
How Solar Panels Work?
Before I get into the real construction of a solar panel, I feel like you should know how a solar panel works. Solar panels absorb light from the sun and convert it into energy. Each solar panel is capable of producing .5V, which is a considerable amount when you have several solar cells wired in series. Solar Panels work best when they are in direct sunlight through a majority of the day. If you live in the Southern half of the hemisphere you would want to place your solar panels facing North. If you live in the Northern half of the hemisphere, you would face your solar panels to the South. This concept gives you an idea of where you are going to get the most sunlight. Now that you understand a little about how they work, we can now begin the construction.
How to Build a Solar Panel Step 1: Getting Materials
Once you know what you want to build, the first step consists of getting everything you need for the project. After reading reviews about how solar panels are best shipped, I chose the easier shipping option. Solar Panels can either be shipped covered in wax or in some other bubble type material. The wax is the safest option, as solar panels are very fragile, but the wax is a pain to get off without damaging them. I ordered mine in bubble wrap. They had some chips on the corner when they arrived, but it wasn't enough to affect the voltage rating of the solar panels. The number of solar panels you buy also depends on your project. For an 18 volt project, you would need 36 solar panels. If you remember from earlier every solar panel puts out .5V. When you do the math based on that, you can decide how many you will need to reach your desired voltage. Everything else you need is basically for construction of the enclosure you put the solar panels in and the soldering equipment for the wires on the solar panels. Everything needed is as follows:
*Solar Cell Wafers
How to Build a Solar Panel Step 2: Building Enclosure
Now that you have everything you need, the actual constructing can begin. I would leave the solar panels somewhere safe, until the end of the project when you really need them to avoid unnecessary damage. The bulk of the project will be constructing the enclosure. It is important that the enclosure is built to protect the solar panels from elemental damage and moisture. The enclosure must also be built thin enough for the solar panels to fit flush, maximizing the amount of sunlight the solar panels can absorb. The plywood needs to be cut to accommodate all the solar cells and 3 X 4 strips of wood placed around the edges. The 3 X 4 strips of wood needs to be glued and screwed to the plywood forming a border. Holes should also be drilled in the back of the plywood. This is done so air can flow through your enclosure so moisture doesn't accumulate inside. These holes are drilled in the back of the plywood so rain can not fall directly in the enclosure, since the holes are on what will eventually be the bottom of the solar panel. Once you have your border and plywood cut to the right size, you can now measure the space left between the borders to cut the plexiglass. The plexiglass will go over the solar cells to protect them from elements. Glass can also be used, but is breakable, especially during something like a hail storm. Plexiglass is your best option. Now that you have cut your plexiglass to size, every inch of the wooden enclosure should now be painted with some sort of weatherproof paint. Types of weatherproof paints are endless. You just want to get one that will do a good job. The main idea is to keep the wood from warping, bowing, etc. If any elemental damage occurs to the enclosure, then the solar cells could also be damaged.
How to Build a Solar Panel Step 3: Placing Solar Panels
The next step is a very delicate step. This is where you actually place the fragile solar cells in the enclosure and solder the solar cells together. Soldering the cells together can be tricky. I found the only way, was to place the solar cells upside down and solder as many together as you could and still be able to flip them back over with ease. When soldering the cells together, the positive end should be soldered to the negative end of the new cell being placed. This is repeated until all cells are accounted for and connected in series. When you have finished soldering all the solar cells together, you should have a positive and negative end that isn't accounted for. This will be your positive and negative voltage source outputs. Once you have all the cells soldered together, you are now ready to glue them inside the enclosure. You should only use a few gobs of glue when gluing the solar panel. If you use too much, the solar panels will fit to tightly. When the enclosure or the panels themselves expand from the heat it could cause them to break. I suggest putting a glob at the corners and in the middle of the solar panel to leave room for expansion.
How to Build a Solar Panel Step 4: Testing and Running Wires
Once you have your solar panels in place, you should run a black wire from the negative voltage source and a red wire from the positive voltage source. A hole should be drilled in the 3 X 4 border or the back of the plywood, big enough for both wires to fit through. When you have your wires through the hole, fill the hole with silicon. Again this is to keep the box weatherproof. Testing should also be done before placing the plexiglass you cut earlier over the solar panels. Testing can be done with a voltmeter. I was building a solar panel to put out 18V, so when I tested the positive and negative outputs, my voltage came to 18V. Of course this was with it sitting in the blazing sun. Depending on the amount of solar cells you used, if they are all soldered correctly, you should get your desired voltage. Now that I have tested the solar panels and everything is correct, we're ready to close it up.
How to Build a Solar Panel Step 5: Finishing Touches
Now that everything is working and ready to go, the finishing touches can be applied to the enclosure. With your solar panels in place and working, you can now put your plexiglass cover on. I strongly suggest drilling small holes in the plexiglass where you are going to put your screws. The screws should be drilled within the 3 X 4 border. Drilling holes in the plexiglass first will keep the plexiglass from breaking when trying to drill through it. Once you have the plexiglass screwed securely in place, all that's left is sealing off places moisture can come in. This is where the silicone is used the most. All cracks should be sealed completely off around the enclosure. The only place you should have open is on the bottom where you purposely drilled holes for ventilation. You also still have the naked ends of the voltage source. I attached alligator clips to mine, as I was using it for a power supply for electronics projects. You can choose to add a female or male plug for whatever project you decide to build. Once you have completed this, your solar panel is ready for use.
There is a large variety of projects you can do with solar panels. I chose to do a power supply for financial reasons. It was one of those around the house projects I didn't really want to invest a lot in. Whatever you decide to build, I hope these step by step directions help you successfully build your project.