The sun is the primary source of energy on Earth and sunlight can be converted directly into electricity using solar panels. Electricity has become indispensable in life. It powers the machines that most us use daily.
So, what are solar panels? What if you can create your own?
In this article, we will show you a straightforward method of building your own functional solar panel.
A solar panel is usually manufactured from six (6) components namely the PV (photovoltaic) cell or solar cell which generates the electricity, the glass which covers and protects the solar cells, the frame which provides rigidity, the backsheet where the solar cells are laid, the junction box where the wirings are enclosed and connected, and the encapsulant which serves as adhesives.
Since most people does not have access to equipment in manufacturing solar panels, it is important to note and understand those six components in order for anyone to be able to plan the materials needed to create a do-it-yourself or home-made solar panel.
The materials needed on how to make a solar panel must be available for purchase locally or online and should not exceed the cost of a brand new solar panel or does not take a long time to build.
1.) PV Cell
The first thing to consider when building your own solar panel is the solar cell.
Photovoltaic (PV) cell or solar cell converts visible light into electricity. One (1) solar cell however is not enough to produce a usable amount of electricity much like the microbot in Baymax (Hero 6) which only becomes useful when combined as a group. This basic unit generates a DC (direct current) voltage of 0.5 to 1 volt and although this is reasonable, the voltage is still too small for most applications. To produce a useful DC voltage, the solar cells are connected in series and then encapsulated in modules making the solar panel. If one cell generates 0.5 volt and is connected to another cell in series, those two cells should then be able to produce 1 volt and they can then be called a module. A typical module usually consists of 28 to 36 cells in series. A 28-cell module should be able to produce roughly 14 volts (28 x 0.5 = 14VDC) which is enough to charge a 12V battery or power 12V devices.
Connecting two or more solar cells require that you have a basic understanding of series and parallel connection which is similar to connecting batteries to make up a battery storage system.
There are two most common solar cells that can be bought in the market; a monocrystalline cell and a polycrystalline cell. These two can have the same size, 156mm x 156mm, but the main difference would be efficiency. It is important to purchase additional cells to serve as backup in case you fail on some of the cells i.e. bad solder, broken cell, scratched, etc.
Monocrystalline solar cells are usually black and octagonal in shape. This type of solar cell is made of the highest and purest grade silicon which makes them expensive. But they are the most efficient of all types of solar cells and are almost always the choice of solar contractors when space is an important factor to consider in achieving the power they want to attain based on their solar system design.
Polycrystalline PV Cells are characterized by their bluish color and rectangular shape. These cells are manufactured in a much simpler process which lowers the purity of the silicon content and also lowers the efficiency of the end product.
Generally, monocrystalline cells are more efficient than polycrystalline cells but this does not mean that monocrystalline cells perform and outputs more power than polycrystalline cells. Solar cell efficiency has something to do with the size of the cells and every solar panel or cells have an efficiency rating based on standard tests when they were manufactured. This rating is usually in percentage and the common values range from 15% to 20%.
The glass protects the PV cells while allowing optimal sunlight to pass through. These are usually made of anti-reflective materials. Tempered glass is the choice of material nowadays even for unknown and new manufacturers although there are still those who utilize flat plate glass on their solar panels. Tempered glass are created by chemical or thermal means and is many times stronger than plate glass making it more expensive to produce but the price of manufacturing them today is reasonable and cost-effective. Flat plate glass creates sharp and long shards when broken as opposed to tempered glass which shatters safely in small pieces upon impact, that is why they also call it safety glass. It should be noted here that most amorphous solar panels uses flat plate glass because of the way the panel is constructed.
Tempered glass is what manufacturers use in mass producing their solar panels. In our DIY project, we suggest to use Plexiglas also called acrylic glass which is safer than the regular normal glass from your local hardware store. It is a bit expensive than regular glass but is weather resistant and does not break easily. The Plexiglas can also be screwed or glued easily to the frame.
A frame is usually made of anodized aluminum which provides structure and rigidity to the solar module. These aluminum frames are also designed to be compatible with most solar mounting systems and grounding equipment for easy and safe installation on a roof or on the ground.
The frame in a factory-built solar panel is usually the aluminum part where all four sides of the solar panel sheet are inserted. Think of it as a skeletal rectangular frame. The solar panel sheet by the way is composed of the other 4 components and are layered and laminated in the following order from top to bottom; the tempered glass, top encapsulant, the solar cells, bottom encapsulant, then the backsheet. In our DIY solar panel, we will be using a wooden frame and the end-result would be something analogous to a picture frame where the picture is the solar cells glued to a non-conductive board, the glass for the Plexiglas top cover, and the wooden part as the frame and backsheet.