Build Your Own Solar Panel – Part 4


Bringing It All Together and Finishing Up


Last time we saw how to mount your solar cells within our home built housing and now its really starting to look like a professionally built solar cell array panel. But there's a few more steps before we will be ready to put our solar panel outside.


First we need to test our wiring, so place the panel somewhere in the light – preferably in direct sunlight, so we can check our panel produces the full voltage. If your are following our example blueprints here you will be building a solar panel which uses an array of 36 solar cells. Each cell produces 0.5V, depending on the incident light so our solar generator will produce around 18V in full sunlight. If you are getting significantly less than this or nothing at all, check the series connections between each solar cell carefully.


Now, we need to fit an electrical part called a diode in series connection with our solar cells (remember our definition of series connection? - daisy chain one to the next). The diode is essential to prevent your solar panel draining a connected battery during cloudy conditions – it ensures power can only flow in one direction. Your diode should be of a type that is rated for at least 1A (A is short for amp). The diode has a band around it on one end. Connect the end without the band to the positive wire from your solar cell array. Solder on some red/black extension wire to a convenient length. Now I recommend you use a polarized Jones Plug on the end of your cable, but it is not essential if you other ideas in mind.


Now our panel is electrically complete and working, but we have one vital step left, and that is to fit the plexiglass (perspex) cover over the wooden frame to keep rain and moisture out of our box. Use screws into the timber frame to hold the plexiglass cover in place, however be very careful when drilling the plexiglass, as it is very easy to crack.


Your solar panel is now ready for action! A solar generator of this size is perfect for charging a 12V gel cell lead acid battery, and the battery in turn can supply all sorts of things. I suggest you let your imagination run wild – solar powered pond pumps, garden lights, and of course all this naturally leads to expanding your system and powering your life and home with cheap, readily available solar power from the sun. When you are ready to take the next step, you can learn ways to use aluminum (aluminium) housings for your solar panels, even cheaper broken or un-wired solar cells that you can get for peanuts or even for free, and how to wire up an array of solar panels, and use inverters and deep cycle batteries so you can generate serious power and use your 120V or 240V household appliances and household lighting with your solar power system.


This series of articles has hopefully given you a fun and practical introduction into solar power for your home, and detailed, step by step, guides are how I recommend you proceed. Grab yourself a good, well tried and tested guide (they are available on the internet) and don't be afraid to start the solar power revolution in your home – you cando it for less than the big companies will have you believe. Good luck and remember to have fun!


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Residential Solar Panels

Build Your Own Solar Panel – Part 3


Wiring The Panel


Today we continue our series of articles on how you can slash your electricity bills by making your own homemade solar panel out of readily available materials. You can get into this exciting technology without spending a fortune – in some cases, you can scrounge everything you need to get started. In part 3 of the series, we will take our solar panel housing we made in the part 2 article and get down and dirty with mounting the solar cells onto the substrate.



And now a brief lesson on electricity and different ways of wiring electrical components up – don't worry – it's very easy. If you are following the suggested sizing presented in this series and are building a solar panel array with 36 solar cells within it you will achieve about 18V from your panel from the 0.5V or so you will get from each cell, and 18V will be great for, say, charging a 12V battery. To get 18V from the panel each solar cell must be wired to it's neighbors in series connection, which means the positive or + from one cell is wired to the negative or – of the next. At each end of your string of cells you will have one free positive wire and one free negative wire, and the voltage between these two wires will be about 18V when the panel is active. The other method of electrical connection other than series connection is parallel connection, and you might need this if you plan on connecting together finished panels so that you still only have 18V but also have more current (measured in amps) produced by your setup. To connect panels in parallel you will connect the positives (+) together and the negatives (-) together of each 18V solar panel.



Now, back to the action. Depending on the particulars of your solar cells that you have purchased (or scrounged), it may be easier to wire the cells together in series connection before mounting them onto the substrate. If this is the case, make sure you leave enough wire between the middle two cells in the series (between solar cell number 18 and number 19) to cover the distance between the top area of the solar panel housing and the bottom area underneath the central strengthening crossbar. Mount the solar cells individually onto the substrate using one dab of silicone caulk per panel in the middle on the back of the cell. Don't spread silicone caulk all over the solar cell or all over the panel, because the expansion and contraction of the solar cell with temperature may very well crack the cell if it is glued in more than just one central point.



Make sure you allow at least 24 hours for the silicone caulk to cure completely before any further steps. We are almost done! We just have a few final steps and our fully functional, low cost, solar panel is finished and ready to usher in a new age of cheap available power.



During the 4th and final article we will put the cover on, finish up the wiring, test the solar panel, and talk about a few options for using your new solar power generation setup, and also improvements you can make for your next project.


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Residential Solar Panels

Build Your Own Solar Panel – Part 2


Building the Frame


In the second article in this series designed to help you create and assemble a very low cost homemade solar panel at home we will discuss the construction of the housing that will hold our solar cells. We've already covered the basic materials you will need to collect, and now it's time to start our journey towards lower electricity bills and green power generation using solar energy.



The base plate material you selected will need to be cut down to the basic size to hold the right number of solar cells plus a little room in between the cells and some room for the border or wall construction around the edges that will form a box. Each solar cell is approximately 3 by 6 inches, and as an example we will size up materials to fit 36 cells in an array of 6 across by 6 down. We will use half an inch separation between each solar cell and between the solar cells and the edges, and we will have about three quarters of one inch for the wall thickness at the edges and we will allow for one wall across the middle of the box to help with the strength and to prevent the plexiglass or perspex covering sagging too much. With these numbers you would need 6 x 3” +7 x 0.5” + 2 x 3/4” = 23 inches across and 6 x 6” cells + 8 x 0.5” gaps +3 x 3/4” walls = 42 and a quarter inches total down.



Cut the three quarter inch square edge timber to size and fix to the base board to form the box walls. You can of course adjust all the dimensions given here to suit your materials you have, but try to avoid making the panel too big and bulky as this will make it hard to mount, and too high walls will affect the efficiency of the solar cells mounted at the edge of our box. Also cut to length the horizontal wall we will install across the middle of the box and fix into place using screws and wood glue.



Now we have the box ready made we should prepare and paint the surfaces to protect the timber against moisture, as the solar panel will only be useful outside! If you want to build the solar panel to last, you should take great care with this step, and make sure you use several coats of paint and let each coat properly dry before applying the next.



In the 3rd part of the series on building your own homemade solar panel out of cheap readily available solar cells, we will get to the good part! We will be mounting and wiring up our cells to bring our creation to life.


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Residential Solar Panels

Build Your Own Solar Panel – Part 1


Build Your Own & Slash Your Electricity Bill!


Putting together a solar panel array for your home and cutting your electricity bills to peanuts or even eliminating electricity bills altogether is tremendously rewarding – both financially and in terms of the achievement and satisfaction involved. Of course you can pay a great deal and get a contractor to do all or part of the work, but putting together your own panels is simpler than you might think – if you have the right guidance. This series of articles will outline the basics involved in assembling a solar panel, with an overview of the steps, from start to finish.



This first article of the series will deal with the materials and tools you need to build your solar panel at home (don’t worry – anyone could do this).



Materials

  • A number of smaller solar cells
  • Substrate to mount the cells on
  • Tools
  • Wire

First, consider the solar cells you are going to assemble into an array. How much you spend on these is up to you, but you can often get chipped or blemished solar cells from a contractor or eBay for very little or even no money in some cases as these are often considered waste. Unblemished and brand new cells are also available in bulk packs, complete with interconnections in some cases. Even brand new cells can be had for much less than the cost of a ready assembled panel.



You’ll also need a good substrate material to mount the cells on – this is also up to you but masonite or plywood can be good introductory and readily available material you can purchase from the local hardware store. The substrate makes it easier to handle a set of cells, and lets you place the whole lot into the solar panel housing without having to mount each cell individually into the bulky housing. If masonite is used as a substrate, be sure to paint the panel to ensure moisture doesn’t seep into the masonite. The housing itself we will make out of plywood with a three quarter inch square timber frame around the outside. To cover the array, plexiglass (Perspex) can be used. Other materials you will require include Jones Plugs (one of the few specialty items needed – but don’t worry, they are easy to get), Silicone caulk, super glue, some exterior paint for sealing wood surfaces, and some aluminium section or wood to form the surrounds of our solar panel box (ideally about 3/4 inch square, but this is not critical).



Tools you will need are a hand saw, some screwdrivers, and a soldering iron is preferred, but not absolutely necessary.



In Part 2 we will assemble the shallow box to hold the cells, and move towards mounting and wiring up our panel.


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