As the price of electricity from the utilities rises and the cost of solar cells and solar panels drops, solar power for the home is becoming more and more attractive. But the cost of a fully-installed solar system is still high, and all of it has to be paid up front. One way to reduce these costs is to install your own solar system and so bypass the hefty expense of installation. But even so, making your own solar panels can reduce the price even more.

You can find some very decent guides on line to making your own solar panels and pay about $50 for the information. These are good step-by-step guides, and it might be worth the investment – remember you can expect to save many times that amount by making your own panels. But here is an outline of what you will need to make your own cheap solar panels.

First of all, you need solar cells. What’s the difference between a solar cell and a solar panel? A solar cell is a single wafer of silicon made to receive sunlight and convert it into electricity. A solar panel is made of multiple solar cells linked together to produce a usable amount of electric current.

So, in order to make your own solar panels, you need to have solar cells. Since you are going to be using a lot of them, the best approach is to buy them in bulk from a reliable manufacturer. An even better tip is to look for factory seconds: blemished or cosmetically damaged solar cells. These still work fine, but because they have blemishes and are not as nice to look at as perfect cells, they can be bought at a discount. Bear in mind that solar cells are wafer-thin and very fragile, so handle them with care prior to and during assembly of your solar panel.

From Scratch

You will also need a frame to mount the solar panels on or materials to make the frame, adhesive for attaching them, a soldering iron and solder to wire them together, and wiring, tabs, and clamps to complete the assembly. The frame is simply a shallow box that doesn’t block sunlight; three-quarters of an inch deep is fine, and about a 46 x 23 inch box will hold enough solar cells to generate a useful amount of current. Finally, you will need a transparent Plexiglas covering for your solar panel to protect the solar cells from the weather.

Once you have all the materials together and the frame is assembled, the next step is to attach the solar cells to the frame with
adhesive. Adhesives designed for the purpose are easily available, or you can use clear silicone caulk.

Don’t apply adhesive to the entire surface of the frame. Just dab a little to where the center of each solar cell will lie. You want to make sure that your solar cells have room to expand, contract, and flex with changes in temperature. Finally, you will need to connect the solar cells in series (NOT parallel!) using a low-powered setting on your soldering iron and fine rose n-core solder. Connect the negative tab on one solar cell to the positive pad on the next, and so on.

There’s more to building a solar power system than just the solar cells, of course.

You will also need a way to attach the panels to the roof, and some electrical equipment like an inverter/regulator and either a storage battery or a device to allow for net metering with your utility (or both).

But the heart of any solar system and the most expensive material component is the solar panel, so it’s worth spending some time on how to make your own.