When you install solar panels, your home produces its own clean, zero-emissions electricity. If you’re DIY-minded, you can build your own solar power system. In some cases, you can even build your own solar panels, although the amount that you can effectively DIY home solar depends on how much you want to power.
Making your own solar panel is a time-consuming process and requires some electrical skills. However, it can also be very rewarding – learning to build your own PV panel is a great way to understand how solar electricity is generated.
Before you can build your own solar panels, you first need to understand how solar cells generate electricity. The vast majority of solar panels in use today are made of crystalline silicon wafers, which typically measure six inches square. When the sun shines on those wafers, the electrons in them start to move. This flow of electrons is an electrical current.
A single full-sized solar panel, like the kind used in rooftop solar power systems, will have 60 silicon wafers. You can also make smaller panels if your electricity needs are low. Once you’ve bought individual solar cells (they can be purchased online), the basic process for building your own solar panel goes like this:
Prepare the backing for your panel. Many DIY solar panel builders use a wooden board as the base for their solar cells. You’ll need to drill holes in the board so that the wires for each cell can pass through.
Wire your solar cells together. This requires some experience with electrical work. Use a soldering iron to attach wire to the solar cells and then link each of the cells together.
Attach cells to your backing. If possible, affix each solar cell to the backing individually. This makes it easier to replace a single cell in the event that becomes damaged or is not operating properly.
At this point you have a functional solar panel that can produce electricity when the sun shines. However, a solar panel by itself is not useful. If you are trying to generate electricity to power devices in your home, you need to pair your panel with an inverter that will turn direct current (DC) power from the sun into the alternating current (AC) power used in most modern electronic devices.
For a standalone off-grid system, you will also need to include a battery pack and charge controller in your DIY solar setup. The battery pack serves to store excess energy, and the charge controller manages the amount of electricity that flows through the battery.
If you want to build a solar panel system that will power your home, the process is significantly more complicated. A standard grid-connected solar PV system that can power your home will have around 20 solar panels, each of which will need to be wired together and mounted to your roof (or in an unshaded ground location on your property). Most importantly, a qualified electrician has to confirm your system has been built correctly before your utility will allow you to connect your panels to the electric grid.
Whether you DIY your own solar panel system with a solar kit or work with an experienced solar installer depends on why you want to install solar.
For small-scale off-grid installations, you can DIY it
Solar panels are portable and convenient for a variety of off-grid uses. You don’t even have to build your own solar panels if you don’t want to – there are inexpensive solar panel kits for sale that include each of the components you’ll need for a DIY solar installation. Building your own solar panel system is a good option if you want to construct a small off-grid system to power a cabin, RV, boat, or tiny home.
For a whole-home solar panel system, work with a solar installer
When it comes to installing a full-scale solar power system on your property, working with a solar installer with significant experience can save you both time and money in the long run. Some of the top solar companies have been installing solar energy systems for decades – experience that no amount of online research or DIY guides can replicate. Your solar installer can also help you find the financial incentives available in your area and complete the permits and applications necessary to get your solar energy system up and running.
To get a sense for how much you can save by installing a solar panel system for your home, review an instant solar estimate from EnergySage’s Solar Calculator. If you’re debating between building your own solar power system and working with an installer, get a few quotes from local solar companies to see what it would cost. You can easily compare options from qualified installers in your area for free by joining the EnergySage Solar Marketplace.
Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the solar installation quote that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.
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