How to Build a Solar Panel

Solar Panels, Heating, Renewable Energy, Ecology

Have you ever considered installing solar panels? If so, you might know how expensive they can be. While the price is decreasing as the technology becomes more widely adopted, they can still be quite an investment. 

Homeowners all over the planet are starting to wake up to the fact that the materials they need to construct their own solar array are relatively inexpensive and easy to assemble. By building your own solar panels, you’ll be able to combat climate change while saving money on your electricity bills.

You can build your solar panel for a fraction of the price of professional installation. Multiply that by the number of panels you’ll need for a complete solar system, and the savings add up.

Of course, there’s another way you save too: on the cost of electricity which only keeps going up year after year. You don’t even have to switch over in one fell swoop. Add one panel every so often, and before you know it, you have a complete solar system.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know to build your own 63-watt solar array. Once you have it up and running, you’ll be able to use it to power your household electronics. 

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Buy your components

 Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 36 Solar cells
  • Non-conductive backing board material
  • Non-conductive planking
  • Deck screws
  • Tabbing wire
  • Bus wire
  • Diode
  • Terminal blocks
  • Charge controller
  • Batteries
  • Soldering gun
  • Solder
  • Flux pen
  • Weatherproof glue
  • Tape measure
  • Digital multimeter
  • Jigsaw or table saw
  • Plexiglass
  • Woodblocks
  • Silicone sealant

The most cost-effective option for solar cells is those made from polycrystalline. 

It’s often a good idea to buy at least a few extra cells because they’re fragile. While you can buy your cells online through sites like eBay, you might be able to purchase them from your local hardware store. When you do this, consider using the carbon-neutral credit card the Aspiration Zero to make your hard work for our planet go further.  

Sometimes the manufacturer ships the cells with protective wax. If this is the case with the cells you buy, carefully dip them in hot (but not boiling) water to remove the wax.

Step 2: Build your backing board

The backing board is what you attach the solar cells to, and it should be made from a non-conductive material such as plastic, wood, or plexiglass. 

The most common material for a backing board is wood because it’s easy to drill through.

Lay the 36 cells out in a rectangular configuration, and then measure the board to that exact size and cut it. Leave two inches at both ends of the board. You’ll need this space for the wires that connect the rows together.

Step 3: Affix tabbing wires

Look carefully at your cell array. You should see lots of tiny lines going in one direction. This is the long distance. 

You’ll also see two bigger lines going in the other direction, which is the shorter distance. Measure the length of the bigger line, double the length, and cut two pieces of tabbing wire for each cell.

Use a flux pen to run two lines of flux down the length of the back of each cell strip. One line should be left of center, and the other should be right of center. The flux will keep the heat of the soldering from oxidizing the tabbing wire.

Use a soldering iron to melt a little solder onto the flux. When soldering, wear gloves, so you don’t burn your hands. Heat up a piece of tabbing wire with the soldering iron. Bond two wires to the back of each cell.

Solar Panels, Solar, Renewable, Electricity

Step 4: Connect the cells

Place a small drop of glue to the back of the cells in the center, and press each cell firmly onto the backing board. Leave 2.5 inches of free space at both ends of the board.

Apply some flux to the two lines on top of each cell. Then, take the free tabbing wire sections and connect them to these lines with your soldering iron. The wire connected to the back of one cell should connect to the front of the next.

Connect the tabbing wire at the front of each row to a bus wire the same size as the distance between the two lines on top of the cells.

Link the end of the first row to the beginning of the second with a piece of bus wire. This wire should be big enough to extend between the wire at the edge of the panel’s edge and the wire that’s furthest away in the next row. Continue connecting the rest of the rows with bus wires.

Use a digital multimeter to ensure that the solar cells are connected correctly. You should be getting around 0.5 volts for each cell.

Step 5: Build your panel box

Measure the dimensions of your cell array but add one inch to each side. You’ll want your panel box to be at least this big. Ensure there’s enough space for the bus wires at the end of each row.

Cut a piece of plywood to this size using either a jigsaw or a table saw. Cut two 1″ by 2″ pieces of plank, so they’re the length of the box’s long sides. Cut two more planks to fit in between the short sides. Secure the pieces to the box and each other using deck screws and butt joints.

Paint the box white or a reflective color, which helps keep the box cool and protects the wood from the sun’s harmful rays. Solar cells work better when they’re cooler. Use paint designed for outdoor use. Glue the solar array to the box.

Step 6: Seal the box

Cut a piece of plexiglass that’s the exact size of your box. Don’t use glass because it’s liable to break.

Cut 1” by 1” blocks of wood that can fit in the corners of your box. They should be low enough to fit below the lip of the box. Glue these stops onto the plexiglass.

Put the plexiglass on top of the box so the glass rests on the blocks. Carefully screw the plexiglass into the blocks. Use silicone to seal the box edges and any gaps you find. Make sure the box is watertight.

Step 7: Do the wiring

Get a diode that has slightly more amperage than that of your array. Use some silicone to connect it to the last bus wire in the array. 

Ensure that the light-colored end of the diode points to where the battery’s negative end will go. Wire the other end to a terminal block on the negative side of your panel, which will be on your left as you face the front of the box.

Run another wire from a terminal block on the positive side of your array, and connect the panel to a charge controller using the two wires. Use color-coded wires to keep track of positive and negative.

Connect the charge controller to your batteries. Connect your household electronics to the batteries.

Step 8: Mount your panels

You can mount your panels on a cart, which allows you to easily alter the direction you want your panels to face. That way, you can ensure the panels get the maximum amount of sun each day. Of course, this means you’ll have to move the cart at least a couple of times throughout the day.

The most common way to mount solar panels is on the roof. You can even mount your panels on a satellite stand. You can program your panels to move with the sun if you do this.

Small changes add up to a big difference

There’s power in doing the little things. Over time, all these tiny steps can result in a huge positive change.

One way to put that principle in effect is by switching to an eco-friendly financial solution such as Aspiration. We’re a neobank that provides a sustainable alternative to traditional banking. 

Every time you buy something with our Aspiration Zero carbon-neutral credit card, we’ll plant a tree on your behalf. 

If you want to join us in our fight to help make this world a better place, apply today for Aspiration Zero!

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