When I was a writer for a well-known internet publisher, I noticed several titles in the article title bank that just kept coming up, time after time. One of these was 'DIY solar panels.' It made me wonder if there really was a contingent of hobbyists out there that were sold on the idea of building their own panels. It seemed like a lot of work to me, especially considering the fact that there are so many types of panels to choose from these days, as well as kits that appear to be the best of both worlds. When I started my website, I decided to do a little digging to check out the DIY sites for those who prefer to create, rather than purchase, their solar panels.
The DIY Solar Panel Enthusiast
My first question was: what was the motivation for these people? I found out that there were basically two reasons to make solar panels yourself. One was cost. Many aficionados claimed that you could save thousands of dollars by taking the DIY route, which made me wonder exactly how many panels they were talking about. Surely, building enough of these panels to constitute a residential solar power system would be a life's work! Anyway, the other, more common reason seems to be the challenge itself. These people are less concerned about costs and are more concerned with building a working system with their own hands. Since 12V solar panel kits are quite widely available and affordable, it seems to me that this latter motive is probably the overriding one.
Who are the DIYers of the solar panel world? Often, I found that they had advanced degrees, generally in engineering, not that a degree seems necessary for this particular project. Also these guys were not reinventing the wheel, or, more specifically, the solar cell. Everyone used the same methods to obtain cheap solar cells
with which to start their project, once they had decided the size and wattage of the panel they were going to build.
How to Build Solar Panels
The solar cells were usually bought directly from the manufacturer as 'seconds' or the DIYers bought damaged panels, usually on eBay, from which they scavenged the still-usable cells. These harvested cells must then be attached to some kind of backing, then framed. The anchoring method of choice is usually gluing them to a board, then soldering them together, in series. Framing is sometimes wood, but more often metal, like aluminum. Plexiglass or glass covering lets the sun shine in, while keeping the rain out. Before this final step, the set-up is checked with a voltmeter to make sure everything is tickety-boo and working well.
Could I Build Solar Panels?
The directions above are, of course, very general. I asked myself if I would be capable of building a home-made panel, and decided 'probably not.' Sure, I could learn to solder and do tons more research, bother? There are many small solar panels and kits around today, so, if I felt the need to concoct my own work of solar panel art, I would start there. New panels are much more efficient anyway, and the seconds and used cells the DIY people purchase can't be close to matching new. Imagine how long it would take to come up with a system to power even half of your household! Not very efficient. For those who love a challenge, though, it sounds like a fun project. Just be careful with that lead solder!
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