A Guide to Building Solar Panels for Your Home
Since we have been zapping out earth’s fossil fuels at an alarming rate, the need for alternative sources of energy has never been so high. There is an increased emphasis on using renewable forms of energy like solar and wind to generate electricity.
Building your own solar panels is a great alternative to paying the high costs of a professional setup and installation. And once you succeed, you are cutting down your electricity bills and being eco-friendly at the same time!
But is it something that you can do on your own? Let’s find out how to build solar panels for your home.
The specifics of solar panels
Solar panels are categorized by either their size or their capacity and both these factors are interdependent to a great degree. For example, one way to increase the overall current generation is to use large solar panels so you have more surface area to harness the energy.
The second method is to use super-efficient solar panels that convert most of the sunlight it gets into electricity. However, we have not quite cracked the efficiency barrier of solar panels.
When we look at the commercial panels available today, all of them top out at 15% to 22% range.
In other words, even the most efficient solar panels are only able to convert 22% of the sunlight falling on it. This isn’t to say that it will be the same in the future.
Developments are certainly happening in the field of solar energy and we can expect more efficient panels in the future.
How many panels do I need?
To produce solar energy, you need solar panels. And as we discussed already, you can increase the solar power capacity by adding more panels.
The first and foremost data that you need is the total energy consumption of your home and this information isn’t hard to get. Your electricity bill will have labeled your monthly power usage.
Regardless of your electricity bills though, an average home in the US uses about 900kWh a month.
Let’s assume that you want to completely offset this energy usage using solar power. Then, you would need a solar power equivalent of producing 11,000 kWh a year.
This figure is determined after adding a 25% increase to the actual requirement to factor in for the variables. Now that we know the power requirements, it’s easy to figure out the number of solar panels required.
A typical solar panel for home measures around 65 inches by 39 inches. There will be a slight variance depending on the brand you choose. But, overall, the sizes remain almost the same.
A solar panel is made from individual solar cells and these are available in only select sizes. The difference in panel size arises from the decisions made by the manufacturer, like how many cells should a panel have and the construction of the panel.
Normally, residential solar panels see a solar cell count of 60 units.
To reach the goal of 11,000 kWh, you will need somewhere between 18 to 40 solar panels. This number seems excessive considering the output of a solar panel, but do remember that the panels will not receive sunlight all the time.
There will be variances and understanding them is important.
How to build a solar panel yourself
We would recommend that you first try out creating a single panel, with which you can perfect your techniques rather than jump into massive panels. So let us start slow!
The building block of a solar panel is the solar cell. They are available in a few standard sizes and tiers. The different tiers of the solar cell represent its power generating capability.
The most common solar cell used in home applications is 1.75 watts. There are powerful models available for more cost, and the ultimate decision of choosing one rests with you.
The next step of the process is to attach a tab wire to each of the contact points of the solar cell. If you are not comfortable with this process, it’s better to buy pre-tabbed solar cells.
They will cost you a little more money and take out a bit of the DIY prowess but add a great deal in terms of convenience.
Once you finish attaching the tab wires, the solar is ready for their initial testing.
The concept of testing solar panels is easy because all you have to do is check if they produce a current when the cells are exposed to sunlight. To measure the current, you will require a multi-meter.
Connect the negative end of the solar panels to the black lead of the multimeter and connect the positive end to the red lead of the multimeter. Now set the multimeter to measure the volt, amp and the watt readings.
If you are using a 1.75-watt solar cell, then your reading should be 0.5 volts, 3.5 amps, and 1.75 watts respectively. If the solar cell is unresponsive or if it has lower than rated values, then the solar cell may be defective.
The actual build part consists of creating an enclosure for the solar cells. We recommend using clear acrylic on the front and white acrylic on the back.
You can then place the solar cells in row and columns and wire them together. A bus wire then unifies the connections.
As we discussed before, diving straight into building large solar panels for your home may not be the best way to approach things. Start with building small scale off-grid projects that you can use to power some light devices like a solar fountain or solar gardening equipment.
Such projects will help you understand the complexities involved in building solar panels. Once you are experienced enough, you can move on to more complex projects.
Let’s pay our dues for recklessly handling the resources of our earth. Solar energy is the future and we need to embrace it.
With an ample amount of DIY guides available online, you will have no trouble starting a project. As always, the first step is the tough one.