By doing a few key things, you can make a photovoltaic panel for significantly less than you’d pay for a newly manufactured PV panel. Manufacturers and distributors of PV equipment sell damaged or blemished PV cells cheap. Connecting and mounting them in a series allows you to make a working PV panel that you can be used to power appliances or other equipment in your home.
The first step in building your own PV panel is to determine how powerful the panel you want to make will be. Next, find PV cells that will produce that much power. Contact manufacturers to see if they will sell you damaged cells directly, or go to e-Bay and search for damaged PV cells. They’re usually offered in stacks or bricks. Mike Davis, who has detailed instructions for building a PV panel at his web site, www.mdpub.com, recommended that you find PV cells prewired with tabs to help minimize soldering.
After you get your PV cells, you need to design a box to house them in—the lighter the better. You can build a box out of plywood with extra venting as Davis does. Or you sandwich PV cells between layers of Plexiglass. Davis’ method leads to a much heavier, but vented PV panel to ensure that moisture will not collect in the panel and damage the cells. If you choose to make a lighter panel by sandwiching the cells between two layers of Plexiglass, use silicone glue or weather stripping to make sure moisture can’t enter into the panel.
Draw out how your PV cells will be arranged on the base of the panel. This will make it easier to mount them later. Now you can start soldering the individual PV cells together. Handle them carefully—they are fragile and brittle. On the back of each cell, there should be a number of positive contacts. Solder the tabs from the next cell—which connect to the negative anodes on its surface—to the positive contacts. Do this with each cell to create a row of cells.
Place a small spot of silicone glue in the center of each cell and then place the row onto the panel’s surface. Press each cell down lightly to allow for some growth and shrinkage. Repeat with each string of connected cells.
Run a wire across the top of the panel, soldering it to the negative contacts on each cell. At the bottom of the panel, solder a wire to each positive contact. Connect the positive and negative wires to insulated wires that will be used to hook the panel up to an appliance, inverter or charge controller. Run a bead of silicone caulk around the base of your panel, then place the top cover over it, and you have your own, homemade, PV panel.