Sedona Creations

Building Your Solar Panel

Written By: Michael

arranging solar cells

Ok, so you decided to build a solar panel, congratulations!  Let’s get started.

Let’s start off simple, you decide you are going to do four rows with nine cells in each row.  That means your going to require thirty six cells, 4 x 9 = 36.  Never just buy what you need for the project maybe get 46 cells instead.   Every cell must be tested and every cell will vary in it’s readings, by having a few extra, you will be able to replace any bad cells.  The other reason why you want to have extra cells, they can brake.  I know I said I would be supper careful, it happened.   Have you ever soldered a potato chip?  That’s what it’s like soldering these cells.  If your soldering iron gets to hot, it can cause the cell to warp.

Let’s begin testing the cells.  You will need a multimeter.  A few words on multimeters, Fluke makes great meters, though with that said it can also cost you a pretty penny too.  For just experiencing making a solar panel, buy a meter that is inexpensive though be careful, the one I bought from Everbright was bad right out of the box.  It helps if you have two meters, that way if you are getting some weird readings you can check with the other meter.  I went with a medium price range Radio Shack meter.

testing a solar cell

correctly testing a solar cell

reading the multimeter

correctly set multimeter to test your cells

When you are testing the cells you will want to have the brightest of light, that way you can see the highest reading possible.  The picture on the right was done on a sunny day.  The majority of my cells were tested under a Halogen lamp, 500 watts.  Be careful it gets hot fast!  When your testing your cells it can be tricky almost like you need four hands and then one hand blocks the sun.  The gray side of the cell is positive ( t ) and the blue side is negative ( – ).

To test the cell your positive lead from your meter goes on the back of the cell and the negative goes on the silver line.  The silver line is called tabbing wire.  On the gray side of your cell, you will see six squares, you will want to have them all connected to do the test right.  Now you are probable starting to see what I’m talking about when I mentioned earlier you need four hands.  There is an easier way!  Buy a small piece of copper.  You might have to look around for this, I bought mine at ACE Hardware, of all the places you might think of getting it.  The have a small arts and crafts section look there.  As you can see in the picture on the right, I have the copper plate laying on the table.  Lay your solar cell on top of the copper plate, the positive lead of your meter then can be attached to the copper plate.  Make sure that the tabbing wire from the other side doesn’t touch the copper plate, you can short out the cell.  There is a pretty good video on YouTube that shows you how to solder your cells together, check it out.

Ok, you’ve tested all your cells now you’re going to need to put them in a frame.  What to know first before moving forward.   If you make your frame out of wood, the wood will become weather damaged over time and need repair.  If the solar cells are exposed to air, the air will shorten the life of the cells.  If you use plexiglass, over time the plexiglass can yellow or develop a haze, which blocks the sunlight.  If you use white plexiglass for the backing of your solar panel and seal it with chalking, eventually the seal will break and air will get in.  Solar cells work better when the are keep cool.  That’s right.   So, in the summer when your roof is hundred degrees or more, you will produce less electricity then in the cooler months.  The point here is you want the back of the cells to be sealed yet open to the breeze to cool them.  I’ll get back to that in a little bit.  The best material to work with is tempered glass.  Tempered glass can better protect your solar panel if a branch or something like that was to hit it.   I had a custom frame made for my panel.  I went to ASF and had the panel shipped to me.   I think it was just under $100.

Let’s take a look at the next section:   How big should my frame be?