Can You Really Make Your Own Solar Panel?

If you fit solar panels to your domestic electricity or hot water system then you’ve found a great way of saving money while making a contribution towards reducing our reliance on fossil fuel for our power generation. After all, we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. Any responsible householder needs to consider their environmental responsibilities and, if the action we take means we can save money too then so much the better.

You may have investigated on the internet or perhaps contacted a local supplier and found that commercial solar panels can cost upwards of $4000 for a single house. Now, no matter how committed to the green energy movement you are, four thousand bucks (probably more) is an awful lot to shell out on something that might take ten or fifteen years to cover its original cost. Sure you’ll be benefiting the planet from day one, but let’s be realistic, most of us can’t afford that sort of money for something that has such a low return on investment. 

But, of course, it only has such a low ROI because it is so expensive in the first place. If a solar panel cost, say, $200 rather than $4000 then the whole economics begin to look very different. So, is it possible to get a fully functional solar panel for this sort of money? It sure is!

There are people out there who have dedicated their lives to finding low-cost solutions to our energy problems and now details of everything they have learned, designed, built and tested is now available to the rest of us. To be realistic, for most householders, the only way they are going to get a solar panel is to build it themselves.

So is it possible to build you own solar panel? Well, if you are competent do it yourself-er, can follow simple instructions and can use a bit of imagination and initiative when it comes to sourcing components, then you could have your first DIY solar panel up and running in a few days.

There are of course two types of solar panel. I referred to these above. 

A) There is the flat plate solar collector that is essentially a matte black box containing a network of (also matte black) copper pipes. As water from your hot water system passes through the pipes it is heated by the sun’s rays. In strong sunshine a panel like this can make the water very hot indeed, far too hot to hold your hand in. And the beauty of these systems is that they even absorb indirect solar radiation on cloudy days, so they are very effective. To build one of these you need to be able to build a wooden box and do a bit of pipe bending and fixing. There’s not much more to it than that.

B) The photovoltaic array. Typically these are large collections of glass (an increasingly, plastic) plates coated with a semiconductor material. The semiconductor material varies, and new types are becoming available all the time. The DIY process usually involves securing a supply of used, broken or imperfect solar cells and effectively recycling them into a working solar panel. It’s not difficult and can be very cost effective.

So you can see, if you have basic DIY skills, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to build your own solar panel. And if you do, then both your wallet and the planet will thank you for it.