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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