ALTERNATIVE ENERGY

How to Install Solar Panels: Your DIY Guide to Green Solar Energy

Solar panel construction
David Dawson
Written by David Dawson

Constructing a solar panel does not have to be expensive because ways on how to install solar panels are made easy by the construction guides that are given below. Most would know what solar panels are, but for those who may be hearing of such for the first time, they are apparatuses that transform light into electricity and they get their energy from the sun, hence the word “solar”.

Cheap solar panels are the answer to high electricity bills that plague every household on a regular basis; in fact, solar cells for the construction of a solar panel are becoming cheaper yearly and even ready-made solar panels are available on the market; however they are quite expensive and may not be within your budget.

Building a solar panel yourself is the answer to the high cost of electricity bills and the expensive retail price of a ready-made one. Aside from saving energy, you gain the knowledge on how to construct a low-cost solar panel.

Constructing a basic solar panel

Buy cheap solar cells – you can purchase solar cells from different sellers. E Bay, for instance, sells it for a low price, so see what they have to offer online. Chinese solar cells are also at a bargain that would normally give good results, but there is no actual guarantee that they would last.

Japanese solar cells are also available at reasonable prices and past performance proves that the Japanese ones are a good variety. American solar cells are likewise available at a higher price but with the best output and guarantee. So before you purchase solar cells search for products online that would suit your budget and purpose.

Solar cells

Once you have your solar cells, carefully unpack them because they are very sensitive and fragile. Get the following tools, so you can begin constructing your solar panel:

  • Solder
  • Soldering iron
  • Solder flux or solder paste – to remove the grease from the wires
  • Saw
  • Wooden boards
  • Protective glasses
  • Pencil and ruler
  • A multimeter – for voltage and amperage measurement

Design your solar panel system by placing the solar cells on the wooden board and marking separate lines carefully. After you finished planning how the solar cells will be placed on the board, solder the wires to the solar cells and with each other.  Link the cells in series by soldering the positive lead to the negative lead of the following cell. Soldering should be done until you reach a voltage of 12 or 24 volts.

However, it is advised not to exceed this voltage because it would be dangerous and you might get electrocuted. You do not need more that the specified amount of voltage because the power which it will generate will be the same.

Stick the cells to the wooden board slowly. It is recommended that you build a frame so that the solar cells can be individually inserted, and provide you with the convenience of replacing the defective ones. Drill holes for the wires separately then connect busses along the positive and negative leads. Connect the buses (thicker wires) in a matching pattern (plus to plus, minus to minus) to come up with a parallel connection that would increase the amperage.

Building a solar panel

You are finished! You have built you first solar panel. To make sure that it is working, take it outside to observe whether it will generate power by measuring the voltage and the short-circuit amperage. Your ammeter must project the solar cells’ nominal power of 108W at 12V, which is equivalent to 9 amps.

Your solar panel can now be used to power electric devices that operate on the DC current like car batteries. You can do another solar panel if you succeeded doing the steps described above. The more power you require would mean that you also have to get a bigger inverter.

The most difficult part in building a solar panel is the care and quality you need to do to connect the panel to a pack of batteries and connecting it to an inverter. A UPS or uninterruptible power supply will do. However, you will need more power to provide the electricity you need for your home. Batteries for this purpose do not have to be new, but they may not last long because these are lead-acid kinds. Purchase batteries that are crafted especially for power storage and deep cycle operation.

Building an effective DIY solar panel

Assembling the parts

Buy the cells – solar cells come in various types, but the polycrystalline cells are best at a low price. Purchase as many as you need, depending on the amount of power you would like to generate. The specs must be listed when you buy the solar cells. Purchase extras, so replacing damage ones will be more convenient. You can purchase the cells from your local hardware store if they have some or you can get them online.

Tool for constructing solar panels

When the solar cells you bought online arrives in wax, clean them off by dipping them in hot water (not boiling water).

Measuring and cutting the board

First, you will have to measure a thin board that is a non-conductive material. Attach the cells and lay them out in the kind of arrangement you will use. Measure the dimensions and cut the board accordingly. Leave an extra one or two inches at the ends of the board, which will be used for the wires that will link the rows together.

Then, measure and cut the tabbing wires. Your polycrystalline cells have numerous small lines that flow into one direction (the long distance) and the two bigger lines flow into the opposite direction (short distance). Connect the tabbing wire to the two bigger lines, and then connect it at the backside of the next cell in the series. Measure the length of the bigger line and double the length, then cut two pieces for every cell.

Measuring

Next is to use a flux pen on every three squares or strip of each line. Usually two or three lines are done at the rear of the cell. Then, use a thin coat of solder on the squares or strip on the back of the cells. This procedure may not be necessary when you buy pre-soldered tabbing because the amount of time needed to cut it is minimized, saving on the solder. Then, you will have to heat the first half of the tabbing wire atop the soldered squares or strips to attach it to the cell. Do this for all the strips.

Connecting the cells

Paste the cells to the board and put a little amount of glue at the back-center portion of the cells and press them on the board. Tabbing wires must run in a straight single line across every row. Ensure that the ends of the tabbing wire come up in-between the cells and are free to move. Make sure that only two pieces are protruding up between each cell. Remember that one row must run into the opposite direction to the one next to it, making the tabbing wire stick out at the end of one row and another on the opposite side of the succeeding cells.

Remember that solar cells must be arranged on a rectangular board horizontally in long rows with fewer columns. For example: 12 solar cells of equal dimensions must be place in a 4 x 3setting. So that would be four (4) cells horizontally (row) and three (3) cells vertically (column). And you also have to leave an extra inch from the solar cell to the edge of the board at all the ends.

Soldering the cells together

Put flux on the length of the two thick lines on every cell. Then, get the free segments of tabbing wire and fuse them to the full length of the contact pads.  See to it that the wire for tabbing is connected to the rear portion of one of the cells, which should be connected to the following cell’s front portion.

Cross section of solar_cell

In this case, you will have the link to your solar panel’s first row through the bus wire. Beginning at the initial solar panel row, you can start soldering the tabbing wire to the front of this first solar cell. Tabbing wires must be about one inch longer for allowance than what is asked, so that they can cover the lines and will be able to stretch going into the space given before the board’s edge.

Start welding the two wires using the small portion of your bus wire that has to be of the same size as the distance located at your solar panel’s edge, while the next or second one should be farther in the succeeding row.

You can start preparing the solar cell of the next row using an extra length of the tabbing wire, as what you have done for the first. You can continue joining the next rows of the solar cells until you have reached the very last one, which you will have to link again using a bus wire.

Building the panel box

Measure the panel cell by getting the entire dimensions of the panel board where you placed your cells to know the measurement of the panel box you will construct. Add an extra inch on all sides of the measurements you have taken, to have space inside the box for bus wires. After, cut a piece of plywood according to the measurement you have taken in the first step. A table saw or a jigsaw can be used depending on what is available.

Following, you will have to construct the sides of the box by measuring 1x2s for the long side base of the box, and then measure two additional 1x2s for the shorter sides of the box that will be placed between the ends of the two long pieces.

Building the panel box

After cutting the pieces according to your measurement, secure them tightly altogether on the flat board (in number 2) using deck screws and butt joints. Use the deck screw to attach the pieces on the flat board on to and at the bottom. Using three screws per side will suffice, but the number of screws you will need depends on the side lengths of the box. Then, you can start painting the box with the color of your choice. It is recommended that you paint it with white or other types of reflective colors, as this will help sustain a cooler temperature for the box.

Solar cells perform better and last longer when they are kept cool. Make use of paints that are for outdoors and which will protect the wooden box from environmental elements. Attach you panel of solar cells into the box that you have built. Secure it properly, making sure that the cells are facing up to absorb sunlight.

Wiring the panel

Get a diode which should be bigger than the solar panel’s amperage, and then you will have to connect it to the bus wire. Then, you will have to secure these parts using a silicone sealant.  Remember that the white striped end of your diode should be facing the direction of the negative charge or end of the battery, while the other is connected to the negative portion or end of the solar panel/s.

Arranging the wires this way will stop the energy from flowing back through the panel from the source of power or battery when it is not being charged. Link the wires by joining a black wire to a diode, and then you will have to attach it to a terminal block which should be mounted on the side of the solar panel box. Then, join a white wire from the short bus wire on the terminal block opposite end.

Connecting a small solar panel

Buy a charge regulator/controller and then connect the solar panel to it. Make sure that the negative and positive are properly linked. Now run the wires from the terminal block going to the charge controller. Use a color coded wire to be aware of the charges within your solar panel. If you have more than one solar panel, separate the negative and positive wires. Then, connect the positive and the negative wires together to come up with only two (2) wires.

Purchase batteries that will function compatibly with the size of the solar panel you built. Attach the charge controller to the batteries according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. After you have connected the batteries and charged from the solar panel, you can use the batteries to run you electronic equipment or devices. The amount of power you will need depends on how much you need in order to make them work.

Sealing the box

Buy a piece of plexiglass and cut it to fit inside the box you constructed for your solar panel. Plexiglass is available in the local hardware store or from a specialty shop. Be sure to get plexiglass, not glass, since glass is susceptible to breakage and chipping. Next is to cut 1×1” blocks of wood to be used as stops, that will fit the in the corners of the box. Each block must be high enough in order to fit above the terminal block; however it should be below the lip of the box, to a depth that is a slightly thicker to your plexiglass.

Attach the stops properly into place by using wood glue or anything similar. After, fit the plexiglass by inserting it into the solar box panel. Use a drill and suitable screws. Fasten the plexiglass carefully into the wood blocks you made by using the screws. Seal the edges of the box by using a silicone sealant. Any gaps you see must also be sealed to prevent water from entering. Read the manufacturer’s instruction on how to properly apply the sealant.

Mounting the solar panels

There are certain ways on how to mount your solar panel and the techniques to choose will depend on your situation. Nevertheless, check out this short list to get started. First in the solar panels installation is to mount you solar panel or panels on a cart. While this will position the panel at a fixed angle, you can change the position of the panel from time-to-time to follow the direction of the sun. Using a cart will need position adjustments two or three times a day.

Mounting a solar panel

You also have the option to mount the panel or panels on the roof. However the angle must be consistent to the sun’s pathway. If you have more solar panels and a small roof space, then you might need to find some other place to put the rest. You can also mount the panels on satellites stands. Satellites stands can be programmed to move as the sun moves in the sky. Although a small number of solar panels can only be accommodated when using this option.

Additional information on solar panels

  • Tabbing and bussing are two types of techniques that join individual solar cells to make a solar panel, which also provide a way to convey power from the solar cells to a power output device like the junction box. Interconnection of solar cells happens when individual solar cells are fused together with a tabbing ribbon in order to form a cluster of solar cells.
    This process is called cell tabbing or cell stringing. Tabbing ribbons transmit the solar cell’s power to a bigger ribbon, which is the bus ribbon. Bus ribbons transport the power from the cluster of cells forward to the junction box, where the current is finally released.
  • Tabbing ribbons are usually applied as parallel strips that intertwine from the top of one cell to the bottom of the next one. It connects the positive terminals to the negative terminals in the cell series. Tabbing ribbons are soldered into the paste which was applied to the TCO. Tabbing applications create clusters of solar cells. After the cells have been tied up together with tabbing ribbons, they are placed in substrate made of glass.
    After that, the thicker bus ribbon is soldered to connect it to the tabbing ribbon for each cluster of solar cells. Tabbing ribbons collect electric currents from the cluster of solar cells, and then transports it to the bus ribbon. The bus ribbon conducts the total electric power taken from all the solar cell clusters to the junction box for the final output.
  • Standard or custom size for a solar cell is 156mm x 156mm. Solar cells must be cut in the custom or conventional size. After the cell is tested, it is cut by a laser cutting machine, which is fully automated.

Solar panel maintenance

After you have built your solar panels and have them up and running, you must keep them in good shape to make them last longer. If you want to ensure your solar panels will last, you will have to remember quite a couple of basic maintenance tips.

Maintenance of a solar panel

Clean the glass on the solar panel box regularly. Since the solar panel box is at the mercy of environmental factors, cleaning them is a must. Remove anything that obstructs the solar cell’s ability to capture the light of the sun.

Never use any abrasive materials to clean the glass of your solar panel to avoid scratching it. Use a biodegradable soap and a soft cloth instead to wipe the glass clean.  If your solar panel is situated on the roof, be careful when you climb to clean it, since the soap and water will make everything slippery.

Remove them from the shade. While you are cleaning your solar panels, make sure that they are not shaded from the sun. Any tree branch with leaves or bush that blocks it , or a part of it from direct sunlight must be trimmed, so that is can absorb sunlight more effectively.

Monitor the panels. If your solar panels were brought from the manufacturer, constantly observe the inverter display, because the green light must be steady. However, if the green light is blinking or it goes out then call maintenance. Record your solar panel’s performance regularly to make sure it is working efficiently.

Go green and save on energy, enjoy the natural benefits of your solar panels!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Dawson
David Dawson

David Dawson is a retired security specialist with over 20 years of experience. He worked for a secret manufacturing facilities and hospitals in Illinois. David's responsibility was to protect people in case of any disaster or cataclysm that might occur. Now he keeps on doing it through teaching others about how to prepare and survive flood, earthquake or even war.

  • Frank Shaw

    I’m going to install solar panels in my home soon because it saves money and conserve nature.Plus, solar energy might be the future of renewable energy. I see many startups are already manufacturing and installing solar panels, so maybe more people will eventually switch, and thus it will becomes cheaper and widely available.
    I’m merely speculating here, so I hope someone with better experience may enlighten me! Thanks!

    • David Dawson

      Solar energy is a resource that is not only viable for energy consumption, but it is indefinitely renewable,
      and solar panel installation is easy as long as you have the right skills.

  • James Slater

    Installing solar panels sounds awesome! I love your guide, and I am saying this after conducting a search for a similar article for days on end; this is truly a masterful guide.
    But, do you have any advice on how to evaluate solar panels, and should I install solar panels at all? I live in a sunny area of the country, but is the amount of sunlight the only factor when considering installing solar panels?

  • You can use a solar panel’s specifications to evaluate its durability, quality and performance.

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