It is easy to build a 12V solar panel if you know how – there are only 5 major steps involved. The sequence of these steps is especially important. If you follow it, you will have fewer problems constructing your solar panel and it will get easier as you build it.
The information here is specific to 12V solar panels or similar small voltage photovoltaic panels, not for large solar power generators that can power your home. If this is what you're looking for, read on …
Step 1 – Source for solar cells
You can purchase new solar cells, salvage used or broken ones or you can even make them at home.
If you intend to use your solar panels for a considerable length of time, you'll be better off buying new solar cells. This is the most expensive option. Yet new solar cells are more effective and have a longer lifespan. In the long run, buying new cells can likely be cheaper than the other options.
Used or broken photovoltaic cells can be used. But you may have to replace them after a few years because they'll be worn out. But if you intend to make a solar panel just for fun, used or broken cells will do fine. They will definitely not be the most professional looking solar energy panels around, but who cares, you're just having fun!
You can even make your own solar cell by heating up copper plates to form cuprous oxide, which is a form of semiconductor. But these homemade solar cells are inefficient at best and only produce microwatts of power per cell.
Step 2 – Soldering the solar cells
Soldering twenty-four photovoltaic cells in series gives us a 12V solar energy supply. This assumes each solar cell produces 0.5V. However there are some solar cells that are not rated at 0.5V, so it'll be good for you to check the specifications before purchasing.
Having a 12V supply is only part of the equation. You also have to consider the output current. Only with the correct voltage and sufficient current can we have enough power to drive the application of your choice.
Step 3 – Pasting solar cells onto a substrate
After you join the solar cells electrically, you'll have to paste them onto a substrate. Many hobbyists prefer to use silicone caulk. But if you're a beginner, you'll need to learn the correct technique to do so. Otherwise the cells may be strained after only a short period of use.
Step 4 – Putting them into a protective box
After the photovoltaic cells are fixed onto the substrate, you'll have to make a box to hold the substrate. This can be made of wood, plastic or metal – each has its unique advantages and disadvantages.
I personally prefer to construct the protective box last. This is because we can be flexible to change our solar panel design halfway if we need to, without the limitation of the already-prepared box. For larger solar panels, you'll be better off making the box first.
After the box is completed, you can hold the substrate in the box using blobs of silicone caulk.
Step 5 – Cover the solar panel box
The final step consists of covering your protective box with a transparent plastic or glass. This keeps precipitation and dew from damaging your solar cells. This is the only part of the solar panel that needs maintenance – wiping the outer surface with a soft, damp cloth.
After completing these 5 steps, your 12V solar panel is ready to produce electricity for you.