OK, let’s start making a traditional solar panel.
Today I am going to give you easy-to-follow directions on how to make a solar panel at home without any professional help.
It doesn’t matter if you want to get off the grid, or just want to experiment, this Practical Guide contains all the information that you need to build your own photovoltaic panel and generate electricity from the sun.
This guide contains step-by-step guidelines, blueprints, high-quality pictures and diagrams, tools, and almost everything that one need to complete solar panel project.
So, are you excited to generate ‘FREE’ electricity from the sun by learning how to make a solar panel? This is where you can take the help of this guide.
About The Author:
Being a DIY enthusiast from childhood, I always wanted to make something that can provide benefit to my family. Soon I realize there’s nothing better than creating something that can reduce my family’s monthly expense.
And Solar Energy was that ‘something’ from which I can reduce our monthly electricity bills.
After going through lots of videos, research papers, books, and courses, I finally able to construct solar panel for my room that can power 10 x 6-volt lights, fan, TV and enough power to charge my laptops and smartphones.
Since all the information was available at different resources, that’s why I decided why not I should create a complete practical guide where I can provide each and every information about how to make a solar panel so that people don’t have to waste their time in researching.
So, here it is, this guide is in front of you now. Take help from it as much as you want. It is free and will always remain free. (That’s my promise)
Here’s the list of chapters you will find in this guide:
Without further ado, let’s start this how to make a solar panel guide with a very crucial component
Chapter 1 — Solar Cells:
A Solar Cells is the semiconductor device that generates DC (Direct Current) when stimulated by the protons. The efficiency of a solar cell is measured as the ratio between input energy (radiant energy) and output energy (electrical energy).
There were many studies conducted in the past, and some still going on to develop techniques and materials to increase the efficiency of solar cells.
One of the most significant breakthroughs came when one research proved the best operating temperature of the cells. The research says, the hotter the cells get, the less current it produces. That’s why it is important to mount cells in such a way that they get cool as soon as possible. And this is why MIT researchers came up with 3D solar array.
Silicon is the most widely used material in these solar cells, but gradually the trend is changing as thin-film amorphous technologies are showing greater efficiency using the material such as copper indium diselenide, gallium arsenide, and cadmium telluride.
Flexible Solar Cells:
Flexible Solar Cells have gained great popularity in the past due to their flexible nature that can easily be fit on a backpack or on other articles such as hats, etc.
People are using these flexible cells in their real estate projects, trains, planes, and many more.
You can easily mount them on curved surfaces.
These are available in low-efficiency silicone or high-efficiency non-silicone thin film.
Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline Cells:
Monocrystalline and polycrystalline cells have an efficiency of 15% and 8% respectively. Out of these two silicone cells, Monocrystalline produces more electricity in the given area as compared to polycrystalline cells.
However, Monocrystalline cells are more expensive as well.
Both of these cells are fine for the construction of the solar panels, but if you want to generate more electricity in a given space then go for Monocrystalline cells.
Both of these cells come in many different sizes. Some of the common shapes are round, square, pseudo-square, and rectangle.
Solar Cell Output:
A solar cell produces 0.5 volts, more or less, doesn’t matter how large they are. However, the size of the cell does affect the output. The large surface area gives more current.
For instance, a 2” square cell produces less current as compare to 4” square cell, if other parameters are same.
This needs to be considered when constructing a solar panel.
If you need a lot of battery charging power (amp) then your cells should be high current output cells. However, if you live in a fairly sunny area, then you can also do well with lower current cells.
Cells with the high current output are usually more desirable, but they are expensive. High current cells charge batteries quickly in cloudy weather, and suitable for those areas where sunlight remain low on most of the day.
This is a very important point that one needs to consider when selecting solar cells for constructing his solar panel.
Another important consideration is how much energy you will take from the battery on a daily basis, how much time will it take to charge them, and how much battery is drained.
Watt Rating Of Solar Cells:
Before purchasing solar cells you will notice a voltage rating and current rating (amp). These are also called open-circuit voltage and short circuit current rating.
If you multiply the current by the voltage, you will get power rating of the cell.
In the above picture, the rated voltage is 0.5V, and the rated current is 1.32A, and if we multiply them (0.5*1.32) then we will get rated power that is 0.66W. (This is the calculation of one single cell, the above set comes in 50 pcs/lot that gives 0.66*50 = 33W)
Normally, cells range from milliamps to 5 amps output. For most projects, cells range from 1 to 4 are sufficient. Two or three amp cells are more commonly available at a reasonable price in Aliexpress.
(For information, the cost of the above lot is little above $10)
Testing Solar Cells Output:
Before constructing the panel, you need to test each and every cell that you are going to use in your project. If you are working with off-spec, then cells need to be categorized in low, medium, and high output. One low current cells can bring the output level of other high current cells to the low rating.
Although, you don’t need to get the exact output from each cell, but they should be a level of what the panel is capable of producing.
For the best results, cells need to be tested in the bright sunlight when the sun reaches above your head. But, you can test the output level of cells at any time of the year. Keep in mind, the output level will vary according to environment and weather.
Tools For Testing The Solar Cells:
For testing the output of the solar cell, you need a multimeter that will give you current output (amp) and voltage reading. All multimeters have these two readings.
It is good to have a stand that can hold the solar cell in the direction of the sun. Although, you can hold the cell in your hand, but that will be clumsy.
The Testing board you can see in the picture above contains a piece of copper-clad circuit board to put my cell on. With this arrangement, I can connect the back of the cell by touching the probe of my multimeter to the copper on the circuit board.
To take the reading, touch the negative probe (black) to one of the cell fingers on the face of the cell and the positive probe (red) on the back of the cell. Note down the current reading and the voltage reading.
Make sure you test all your cells on the same day because you may get different readings even if it seems the environment looks the same. Pollution, moisture, particulates, all affect the out of the cell.
Chapter 2 – Solar Panel:
Most simple series connected solar panels divided into three categories:
- 15 to 16 volts – usually 30 to 32 solar cells
- 16.5 to 17 volts – usually 33 to 34 solar cells
- 17.5 to 21 volts – usually 35 to 36 solar cells
15 to 16 volts panels are referred to as self-regulating panels because they don’t overcharge batteries, as a results charge regulator is not required for these panels. These panels used where there is limited use of energy like an electric fence and other low power applications.
16.5 to 17 volt panels required for full-fledged power systems in locations that get a lot of sun throughout the day.
The most preferred panels for most solar power systems are 35 to 36 solar cells panel that delivers 17.5 to 21 volts open-circuit voltage. This is also best for very hot climates to offset the power loss due to high temperature.
I usually construct panels of 36 cells for a basic 12-volt lead-acid battery. One of the benefits of creating your own solar panel is you can design the solar panel according to your need and then later you can increase it if you need extra power.
Solar Panel Ratings:
Solar panels are rated in many different ways. The rating provides a baseline of what power output will be under a variety of different conditions. Some of the designations that manufacturers using are Wp (peak watts) and Pmax (maximum power).
If you are using off-spec cells in your panels, then you will not know where a panel will land in IV or voltage-current until it is finished, and you test it.
When you have a finished panel, you will get a better (still not perfect) reading of output because you are not testing your panel in the laboratory where temperature and light is absolutely controlled.
The truth is, you will never know how your panel will perform until it is installed in the system where it will be used.
Finding and Choosing Cells for Solar Panels
Each solar cell has its own characteristics and I recommend you to don’t mix cell type. Each panel should contain only one type of cell.
By understanding about your solar cells, you will save a lot of time and money in the long run.
Different supplier offers the same cell at different prices. If you are looking for the best price then remember, the quality of the cell and good customer service is more valuable than low price alone.
Solar cells are fragile, and it is important to know about the replacement policy if cells arrive broken from shipping. Do not buy from a supplier if shipping is not insured, or they are not providing a replacement for cells broken in shipping.
Tab and Bus Ribbon:
Tab ribbon is used to connect solar cells to each other in series or parallel fashion. Tab ribbon is narrow than the bus ribbon. Tab ribbon is usually the same size of silvered fingers on the faces and backs of solar cells.
Bus ribbon used to connect strings of series or parallel connected cells to other strings of cells, and from the strings of cells to the power box. However, a bus ribbon can also be used to connect cells in parallel.
Tab and bus ribbon is a copper foil that has coated with a thin mixture of tin or tin/lead mixture. Copper foil is highly conductive, which make an excellent choice for soldering to cell terminals (fingers). Stranded wire can also be used to connect cell terminals.
For tab ribbon, a thickness of .003” is easier to use, but .005” work well for higher current cells, and it is a little slower to solder to terminals.
I believe the first and most crucial step of how to make a solar panel is choosing the right panel frame.
There are a wide variety of materials that can be used for photovoltaic panel construction. These factors are essential to consider when choosing panel material:
- Method of construction
- Cost of materials
- Weatherability and durability of materials
- Easy availability of materials
Panel frame materials must be strong enough to withstand temperature extreme, moisture ingress, wind, and precipitation. Panel material must be rugged enough to protect the cells and protect them from physical impact when panels are installed.
The panel frame should withstand hail, snow, and wind pressure. If the panel is not exposed on a daily basis, or it is portable or used occasionally to charge batteries, or for a school project, then you can get away with inexpensive materials.
Glass In Solar Panel:
You can use different materials to protect solar panels. One of the materials you can use is the low iron tempered glass. It has good light transmission (about 91%) and doesn’t break readily. However, low iron tempered glass is expensive.
You cannot buy tempered glass and cut it according to your panel size. If you do so, it will shatter. You have to order the exact size according to your panel size.
Don’t use a regular glass window because it has poor light transmission qualities (about 83%) for solar cells. It also shatters easily with hail.
Tempered glass is also five to six times stronger than regular window glass.
Solar Panel Backing and Sides:
I prefer to use materials that readily available from a nearby hardware store. These materials are:
- Aluminum for panel backing, channel chips, and sidebars
- Stainless steel long nuts and screws
- Silicone bonding agents
- Fiberglass screen to electrically insulate cells from the back of the panel.
By using these materials and constructing solar panels with proper techniques can give you panel that can last for many years.
Planning The Panel Wiring
Every solar cell has a positive and negative lead (or terminal). They are marked with “+” for positive lead and “-“ for negative lead. The face of the solar cell (the blue side faces the sun) is the negative side, and the back (the other side) is the positive side.
Solar cells are usually connected in strings. In the example given below, each string consists of four cells, and the panel consists of five strings of cells connected together.
Cells can be connected in two ways:
- Cells in strings can be connected with each other in series which adds the voltage of each cell
- Cells can be connected to each other in parallel adds current of each cell.
See the picture below for the difference between series and parallel connection.
Cells Connected In Series – a string of four .5 volt 2 amp cells connected in series will have the output of 2.0 volts, and 2 amps at the end leads. To connect cells in a series, connect the string from the back of one cell to the face of the next cell, and so on.
Cells Connected In Parallel – The same four cells when connected in the parallel can produce 8 amps and 0.5 volts. To connect cells in parallel, join the faces together. In order words, the positive side connect to the positive side of the next cell, and the negative side connect to the negative side of the next cell.
Customizing Panel Output:
Solar panels that are available commercially consist of strings of series-connected cells. In other words, strings connect to each other in series. The panel project mentioned below has the same wiring configurations: series/series.
However, you can customized connections between the cells and the connection between the strings to get customized panel output.
Voltage and Distance To The Battery:
In most commercial plots, high current cells are connected in series to produce enough voltage to charge a 12-volt battery system. Of course, you can configure cells to produce 24 volts and 48 volts in a panel.
Higher voltage allows great travel with less voltage drop. If the distance between the panel and battery is around 100 feet, then you may need 24-volt panels. If the distance between the panel and battery is around 300 feet, then you need a 48-volt panel.
Panel Arrays and Connection:
I always recommend starting with a smaller 12-volt panel. They are not oversized, and one person can easily handle them. Two 12 volt panels can be connected together in series to make a 24-volt system or four 12 volt panels in series to create a 48-volt system.
To get more current, you can connect four panels in this way; make two pairs of panels by connecting each pair in series; then connect two pairs each other in parallel.
Panel Size and Shape:
You can make a panel with few cells as you like, with as many cells as you want to suit your particular needs. You can make a panel in any shape imaginable.
Chapter 3 – Connecting Solar Cells:
Choosing Solar Cells Carefully:
As mentioned previously, solar cells come in different sizes and types. The price of solar cells varies depending on their output and manufacturer. When you are purchasing solar cells, then make sure you ask for broken and dead cells. These cells are great for practicing soldering and learn how to handle them.
However, don’t use any substandard solar cells in your panel. Sometimes cells that have hairline cracks appear to be functioning well, but when they go into the panel, they break easily because the panel is exposed to the weather.
If any solar cell breaks then the whole panel has to be taken out to replace the bad cells. This is why you have to inspect solar cells even before soldering them.
If you are working with PV cells, then you have to be very gentle with them as they can break very, very easily. During soldering, many people break them by applying too much pressure on them. Solar cells are heat-sensitive; that is why it is essential to test soldering on a broken or dead solar cell before do soldering without damaging the cells by applying too much heat.
Preparing The Tab Ribbon:
Usually, commercial tab and bus wire come with slightly tinned; however, more tinning is required on the areas where the tab or bus ribbon will connect to the other wire or cells. The idea is to avoid having a shouldered ribbon or bus wire that doesn’t stick due to lack of tinning.
Tinning is very easy. All you have to do is to take the solder and melt it on soldering iron when it is up to heat. Then, coat the areas of tab or bus ribbon that will connect. To do is, you have to rub the iron with the solder on the tip of it against the length of the tab ribbon that you want to coat. Try getting a smooth layer with no bumps. Do not tin the edges of the ribbon.
Fluxing is very important. Before attesting the tab ribbon to the cell or tab ribbon to bus ribbon, it is essential to flux to clean and prepare the area for the bonding that will allow the solder joint to form and hold. If you don’t flux then many of your joints will not develop or adhere. Although it doesn’t happen every time, most of the time it is.
Flux comes into pen or paste form. I prefer using a flux pen because it is easy to use.
Just before using flux pen on the solar cells, you have to first push the spring-loaded tip against the surface to soak up some flux from the body to the pen. Don’t push the tip against the cells as it can easily break the cell. You have to do this on areas that will be going to joined.
You don’t need to flux that much – just enough flux to cover the surface.
Soldering is easy if you learn a few tips. You can also get a soldering station with a digital meter with temperature control.
Although just about any soldering iron will work, but the tip of temperature controlled iron lasts much longer. They are also able to maintain exact soldering temperature.
The best type of soldering tip is to work with the screwdriver or chisel tip. Soldering tips come in different sizes and it is important to have a spare tip that will be the size of the tab ribbon you will be using. It is even better to match the soldering tip to the size of the surface that will be soldered.
When using the soldering iron, always use a light layer of solder between every soldering task. For example, to attach two ribbon wires to the cell, solder one ribbon on, and before you put the iron down to solder other ribbons, wipe each side of the chisel tip with the wet sponge. Then, coat the tip with solder by rubbing each side of the tip on the edge of the wire. This will protect the tip from oxidation and corrosion.
Before soldering the other tab of the cell, it is essential to touch soldering tip to the solder and get a little more solder on the iron tip before applying to the next tab ribbon. This is important because solder iron doesn’t usually work unless it gets solder for each task.
You can avoid getting solder every time, but it will create a huge difference in speed and efficiency in getting a proper connection.
The most common mistake people do is not using flux or enough flux and not keep solder iron wet with solder. Another mistake is not using enough solder on the tab or bus ribbon for the second tinning. You will not need too much solder, but it should be sufficient to cover the joint.
Types Of Solder:
For most of my solar projects, I prefer using 60/40 solder. What this means is, solder iron contains 60% tin and 40% lead. It remains solid at about 361 °F and turns into a liquid at 374 °F.
Chapter 4 – Making A Solar Panel:
With enough tools and a proper technique, you can make a solar panel that is comparable or better with the one available in the market. So, In this fourth chapter, I am going to give you each and every step on how to make a solar panel.
Once you are done building your first solar panel, you can improvise with other designs and materials to improve the shape and performance of your solar panel. You can also build a custom-designed solar panel by using the techniques and steps I have provided in this chapter.
Except for the PV cells, tab and bus ribbons, other tools and materials required for building this solar panel are easily available in any hardware store. You can get PV cells, bus and tab ribbons from Amazon or eBay or Aliexpress.
Following is the list of tools, materials, calculations, and steps for building a series wired solar panel.
Here is the list of tools and material required:
Figuring Panel Output
As this is our testing project, that’s why we are going to use 4” crystal PV cells that produce 0.89 watts. Although, the current rating and amperage can vary, but doesn’t matter, either big or small, a PV cell can only produce 0.5 volts (half a volt). To calculate watt output, multiple volts to amperage.
For instance, 0.5v x 1.78a = 0.89 watt
Most commercially available solar panels contain either 32 or 36 cells. A 36-cell solar panel will give more voltage than 32-cell solar panels. The higher voltage is necessary to put solar panels in those locations that remain cloudy because they tend to produce more watts in less sun.
Calculating The Number Of Cells You Need
You need to calculate how many cells that will add to the voltage you need for your solar panel. For this project, I am going to use 32 solar cells, each will produce .89 watt and will be 4” square size.
This will make my solar panel to produce 16 volts at 2 amp which will be enough to charge a 12-volt car battery.
Plan The Panel Layout
Since we now know we will get 16 volts and the size of each cell is 4”, so next, we will plan the panel layout. Since it is 32 cells panel layout, that’s why we can lay them out in the pattern of 8 down (horizontal rows) and 4 cross (vertical columns). So, 8 down and 4 cross makes (8 x 4 = 32).
Any size will work, but this is the most efficient shape to use the space. The biggest advantage of making your own solar panel is, you can make the solar panel in any size or shape.
You can also make the solar panel in circle or triangle shape where typical rectangular shaped solar panel doesn’t fit. However, most of the time you will be working with a square or rectangular shape solar panel.
This is how the panel will look:
Overall Panel Length:
Total Length Of Cells – To calculate the total length of the cells, you have to multiply the size of the cell (4”) with the number of rows (8). So, you will get, 4 x 8 = 32 inches
Space Between Cells – Next, you have to calculate the space you have to add between the rows. So, there are eight rows and there will be seven spaces between them and ¼ inch will be enough. So this will make, 7 spaces x ¼ space = 1 ¾“
Frame Allowance – The panel will be framed with 1” wide and ¼ “ thick aluminum bar stock that covers aluminum metal back sheet and Plexiglass front cover. The width of the bar (1”) must be added to the top and bottom. So, it will make, 2 bars x 1” = 2”
Top and Bottom Space – Some space is required on the top and bottom of the panel between the end cells and the bar stock for the tab and bus connector. For this reason, 1” inch in the top, and ¾” will be sufficient. So, this will make, 1” (on top) + ¾” (on bottom) = 1 ¾”
So now we add all the above calculations,
So finally, the total length of the solar panel will be 37 ½. We will round it up to 38”. The aluminum sheet and Plexiglass should be at 38”
Overall Panel Width:
Total Width of Cells – To calculate the total width of the cells, we multiply the width of the cell (4”) with the number of vertical columns (4). So, this will make, 4” (width of cell) x 4 (vertical column) = 16”
Total Space Between Cells – Again we need to add ¼” between the cells. So, to get total space, we have to multiple ¼” with the number of spaces (3) between the columns. So, this will make, ¼” (space) x 3 (number of spaces) = ¾”
Frame Allowance – We need to add aluminum bar stock that will be 1” in width on both sides of the panel. This will make, 1” (width) + 2 (sides of panel) = 2”
Left and Side Space (clearance) – Since there will be no bus and tab connectors on the right and left sides, that is why ¼” will be enough. So, this will make, ¼” space x 2 (sides) = ½”
Now, we have to combine all the totals to get the final total of the overall panel width.
So finally, the total width of the panel needs to be 19 ¼. We will round it up to 20”. The aluminum sheet and Plexiglas should be at 20” in width.
Bar Stock Length:
Four pieces of bar stock will be needed to construct a solar panel. Two pieces of bar stock for the width of the panel (20”), and two pieces of bar stock for the length of the panel (38”) minus the allowance for the two horizontal bar.
So the calculation is, 38” – 1” – 1” – 36”
Cut The Tab Ribbon:
Now cut the tab ribbon that will connect the solar cells and the bus ribbon.
To calculate, we are using 4” solar cell for this project. So the tab ribbon will connect the face side (negative or blue) side of one cell to the back side (positive or silver) side of another cell. Additionally, there will be ¼ inch space between the cells and ¼ will be needed to crimp between the cells.
This makes, 4” + 4” + ¼” + ¼” = 8 ½”
Two lengths of tab ribbon will be needed for each cell, so for this panel of 32 cells, 64 strips of tab ribbons will be needed. (32 x 2)
- Total length of the tab ribbon = 8 ½”
- Total number of tab ribbons = 64
Prepare The Tab Ribbon:
The two areas of the tab ribbon that will connect to the solar cells will be tinned to prepare for soldering. Since the cell is 4” that is why 4” inch tinning will be applied on the each end of the tab ribbon but on the opposite side.
For reference see picture below,
Tinning is simply melting solder against the soldering iron tip, and then transferring it to the tab ribbon so that the layer of solder melts and attach to the cell when you run hot soldering iron on the tab ribbon. This will attach tab ribbon to the solar cell.
Proper Way Of Tinning:
For tinning, apply solder to the 4” from the top of the facing side of the tab ribbon. Then flip the tab ribbon, and apply solder covering 4” from the end opposite to the first end you have tinned.
The ½” in the middle of both side of the tab ribbon will remain free from tinning as this area will be crimped as showed in diagram B of the above picture.
The end product will be a piece of tab ribbon tinned on one side from the top to the 4”, and the other side tinned 4” from the end.
The reason for that is, the tab ribbon will connect the positive or back side of the cell to the negative or front side of the cell.
- Back Side = Positive Side (that is silver in colour)
- Front Side = Negative Side (that is blue in colour)
Crimp The Tab Ribbon:
To crimp the tab ribbon, you need to use needle-nose pliers or a small BBQ stick. The crimp should not be more than 1/8” high, positioned in the middle, and do not touch each other. See the picture above for reference.
The reason for crimping tab ribbon is, when the temperature of the solar panel rises or decreases, it will contract or expand tab ribbon. When crimping is there, it will reduce stress on solder connection that keeps connections intact, and prolong panel life.
Attaching Tab Ribbon To Cells:
Each solar cell will have 4 pieces of tab ribbon. Two pieces of tab ribbon will be on back side (positive side or silver colour), and two pieces of tab ribbon will be on the front side (negative side or blue colour side).
In the starting, you have to solder two pieces of tab ribbon on the back of each cell. The cell-to-cell connection will be soldered later. For reference, see the picture below.
Each solar cell comes with the soldering strips on both sides. You have to solder tab ribbon on soldering strips (some solar cells come with very thin soldering strips, but the process is same).
You have to place the tinned side of the tab ribbon on one of the soldering strips and run your hot solder iron tip to the length of the tab ribbon. This will melt the solder that already presents on the tinned tab ribbon and attach tab ribbon with the solar cell.
It is good to practice soldering first on the dead cells if you never did soldering before.
Although soldering is not difficult as all you have to do is to keep your hot iron solder tip constantly running as it is melting tin and don’t stop at one place as extra heat and destroy the solar cell.
Also, don’t apply too much pressure against the solar cells.
It is good to hold tab ribbon with the piece of wood, or any other device while soldering tab ribbon on the solar cell. This is because often tab ribbon moves out of alignment.
Soldering is easy – after several tries. As you practice more, you will able to solder fast and straight.
Pre-Tabbed Solar Cells:
If you got solar cells that come with tab ribbon already soldered on the front side of the cell then that needs a different approach. It is good to get solar cells that don’t have tab ribbon soldered on cells.
The End Of The Guide, New Beginning For You:
So, we have come to the end of this guide, and I hope you have learned the step-by-step method of creating and installing the solar panel.
I did my best to make this guide as simple as possible and show you every step for how to make a solar panel at home.
If there’s anything else that I missed out about how to make a solar panel, then please let me know in the comment box below. And don’t forget to check out 3D solar array video by clicking the image below. Thanks for coming and reading this guide.