The screen shots above were taken from Michael Harvey’s product where he teaches with more than 2 hours, in high quality videos, on how to make you own solar panels.
Video Transcription for How to Make Your Own Solar Panels
DAN: Hello there I am your host Dan Rojas.
DENISE: And I’m Denise Rojas, and today we’re going to make our own solar panels.
DENISE: This is the famous harbor freight solar panels that we’ve used in many of our previous videos. Today we’re going to be using cells of a different type.
There are three basic types of cells used in most solar panels.
DAN: The least efficient and least expensive of these cells is the amorphous cell. Now, this is what the Harbor Freight system is.
This, the cells are deposited on glass usually, and there are kits that come with this. They are really tricky to work with. I pretty much don’t advise you to try to make these.
The nice thing about these because they are deposited on glass even though they are less efficient than the other type of cells is the fact that you can just dunk these in water. You can pretty much do anything with them, and they’re really, really durable.
There’s also monocrystalline. Those are hexagon cells. Those are the most efficient and the most expensive. The cell that we’re going to be working with today is polycrystalline.
These cells are about a watt and a half, almost two watts a piece, and you can get these in lots of a hundred or you can get them in just about any size. These cells you have to tab them together. Now, one thing about these cells is they are very fragile, and you can see.
DENISE: That didn’t take much for you to break that.
DAN: Not much at all, so you’ve got to be really careful when you work with these because that was about a $2 break that I just did right there.
So, now one thing about these cells is they are like I said, about a watt and a half to two watts a piece, but they are 0.5 volts, so in order to get your voltage up to charge a battery, say to 18 volts or 20 volts, you need to chain together 36 of these or 40 of these depending on what voltage you’re looking for.
DENISE: So what we’re going to be doing is tabbing these cells together today.
DAN: There’s basically three different things that you need for this. You need tabbing wire which is a thin wire that’s got a deposited metal on it. This actually solders to the cells. There’s also a buss wire. It’s basically the same thing as tabbing wire, but it’s. . .
DENISE: It’s a little thicker.
DAN: It’s a lot thicker, so it handles more amperage, and you use this to tie your strings of cells together. There is also some silver solder which basically you use to enhance the soldering joints. You also are going to need a soldering iron. Now, they usually recommend that use a 65 watt iron. We’re going to use one a little bit less than that. We’re going to show you the basics for this, and in future videos we’re going to show you how to add a lot of components to the solar panels. So we’re going to get started. I am going to plug the soldering iron in.
DENISE: One thing that Dan forgot to mention is that he’s going to be using this flux pen.
DAN: Now, this pen it, it actually smells like rubbing alcohol and what it does is it opens up the cell so that way it can accept a better soldering joint.
When you get your cells, they usually come in a bundle like this, and as I said they are extremely fragile. This is another one that I broke. So you want to be very careful with these and handle them with care, and I am going to show you a close up of these and explain exactly what’s going on with them.
What you’re going to notice with these cells is there’s a series of small white lines and two big lines. This is where your tabbing wire goes.
Now, on the backside, there’s also six little joints where you solder the tabbing wire to. Most solar cells like this are usually negative on the front, positive on the back, so in theory you could take a bunch of them and stack them together like batteries to build up the voltage.
The problem is only one cell would get the sunlight, so you can’t do that. So what you end up doing is you end up taking tabbing wire, and you run it down the length of this, and you leave some extra, and the next one attaches to the back of the next cell, and you go from there, so you end up tabbing them together like this in long chains.
And we’re going to lay it flat like that, and then you take your flux pen, and you basically just go right up and down it. Now, it’s a good idea not to drink a lot of coffee the day you do this like I did because the steadier your hands are, the better off you are.
You want to have your tab wires to be twice the length of the cell. Now, I went ahead and cut these in advance. You basically just measure it, double it over. It’s a good idea to do all of your tabbing wired in advance. That way you don’t have to come back and do this step. Also, be careful with your soldering iron. I just grabbed it in the wrong spot and burned my fingers, so I am going to have two nice blisters, but you basically try to get it started, so you know where you’re going to end, and you hold it down, and the tin that’s on the outside of this should adhere to this, and you can see that that locked down. Now, you’re going to hold it the length just like I have it. You take your soldering iron and you hold it flat like this, and you just gradually work it down the length of the, the cell.
[pause] Now that you have two of these tabbed, you’re going to take them and flip them over, and you’re going to attach them like this. You’re going to want to get his tabbing wire nice and flat, get it nice and straight, and you’re going to arrange them like this. Now, it’s a good idea to have a setup of exactly what you’re doing. Some people will build a little form so that these are in a perfect, straight line and they don’t look like crap whenever you’re done, but what you do is you bend the wire up and you take your flux pen, and you want to put it on, get it going, put it on every single one, like that, and now. This is an area where the solder actually comes in, and you can actually use it for this. Basically, get yourself a nice little bead of solder on there.
[pause] And what you’re going to do is [pause] get your tabbing wire positioned. Now, I am going to use a little clamp to hold it down because this wire does build up some heat. I am going to get the first one in place over here.
[pause] We now have two cells that are joined together, so we’re going to go outside and we’re going to see if this produces one volt real quick because you want to test these as you go along. The time to replace a bad cell is now versus once you’re completely done with your project. Now the way that you want to test these is you attach your negative lead to the front which is this tabbing wire here, and then you can touch pretty much anywhere on the back.
All right, so you basically take and we’re going to test it. We’re going to touch this to the back of this, we’re hooked here, and you can see that we’re getting one volt out of this which is, these two together produce the one volt, and if I cover ‘em up, they drop. So these two panels, these two cells are actually good-to-go. So what you’re going to have to do in order to get a something to charge 12-volt batteries, like these over here. What you’re going to have to do is you’re going to have to do this 36 times total. So you’re going to need 36 of them to get to the 18 volts that you need. So this is what we did just now. I’ve got a couple of blisters in the process, and you can see it’s a pretty tedious process to do. There is, doing it this way comes out to be $2 a watt, maybe a little bit less than that. As you can see these are very fragile.
DENISE: They break easily.
DAN: So you’ve got to encase them really good, so you need to put a glass cover over them. You need to seal this so moisture doesn’t get in there. There’s really a lot to the DIY process with this. You also . . .
DENISE: To encase it does somebody improve on that, or is there a professional case to use?
DAN: We’re going to be doing that in future videos. We’re going to be actually trying different ideas in order to. . . You basically make a frame, encase it in glass, seal it so that moisture doesn’t get in there. Some people will seal these in resins or waxes, and that’s a good way too. You just, it is a pretty tricky process. I personally don’t really see, I don’t really necessarily have the patience to do an entire panel. We’re going to do it for our video.
DENISE: Well, it seemed a little bit hard to get the soldering and the strips on there just right, but within time it would come a lot easier.
DAN: Yeah, it’s definitely a practice thing, and our soldering iron, by the way, is not a good soldering iron for this. You want to get a, you want to buy a good one that gets a really good heat buildup to it, and it’ll be a lot easier. This. . .
DENISE: It looks great, and so somebody would have to get this, how many times would they have to produce this?
DAN: For, to charge a 12 volt battery you would need to put these, 36 of them to get to 18 volts, or if you wanted 20 volts you would need to do 40 of these.
DENISE: So does it go in a row, or how does that work?
DAN: Well, what people usually do is they’ll do 18 of these, and then 18 of these, and then tie those together so that jumps the voltage up, and then the bigger panels if you want to increase these because 36 of these would produce about 60 watts, 65 watts with, so the Harbor Freight System that we have outside is 45 watts, so if you put 36 of these together, make sure I am doing the math, yeah, if you put 36 of these together, you would have a more powerful system than the Harbor Freight out there, so it would cost you probably about $100 to do that with these cells, the tabbing wire. You have into account that you’re going to break some along the way.
DAN: And then you have to add the case cost to it because sealing these, the Harbor Freight System has been out in the sun. It’s been out in the rain. It’s been dipped in water, some of the smaller panels, and they work fine. This is going to be up to you how well that works out.
DENISE: Can it be embedded in acrylic or is that too. . ?
DAN: Yeah, you can encase this in resin, you can definitely do that, or different types of resin. You just want to make sure that the contacts all stay good together, that sort of thing, and it’s really important to test these as you go along or they won’t work. Also, you also need to add some blocking diodes to this because you don’t want it to drain your battery. You need to make sure the voltage only goes in one direction. This process is good for somebody who’s on a budget, who has a lot of time on their hands, and who is very patient, and wants to do-it-yourself. If you’re not that type of person, buying a pre-manufactured system is going to cost you probably double or a little more than that, but that’s your call with it, so . . .
DENISE: Well, definitely I think it’s worth completing as many as we have, and embedding it into something for our future video.
DAN: Right, we spent about $400 on 150 cells, a little bit more than that, and that’s the equivalent of about 300 watts, so if we can get one together, a 300 watt solar panel is, well, we wouldn’t do one, but if 300 watts of solar panels is pretty expensive to buy, so . . . it’s just. . .
DENISE: Well, I think the challenge is worth the effort on it.
DAN: You do get better at this by the way. This was like the third one that I did, and again the soldering iron, crappy. If you go to our website we will have information on where you can buy all of this stuff. There’s different people that sell it on eBay, that sort of thing. We’ll have some links to that, and you can at least buy some cells, buy some of this stuff and see if it’s for you.
DENISE: That sounds great!
DAN: I am your host Dan Rojas.
DENISE: And I am Denise Rojas.
DAN: Thank you for watching and enjoy our videos. Oh, and don’t grab the soldering iron in the wrong place. That really hurt.
DENISE: So what we’re going to be doing is tabbing these cells together today. That doesn’t sound very good.
DAN: Ready, go.
DENISE: So what we’re going to be doing is tabbing these together today[d-.. That doesn’t sound good.
DAN: All right the first thing you want to do when you do this is take your flux pen and just push it down like this, and I just broke this one. And it’s also the least expensive. There’s also monocrystalline. Those particular cells are actually, ah, this is not monocrystalline.
DENISE: Oh, [beep] sorry. Excuse me.
DAN: What you’re going to want to do is you’re going to want to take this. You want, ahhhh! Ahmmmm!