Tuesday, April 30, 2013


For many years I have been interested in solar power.  Unfortunately, several years ago, information and supplies were limited and prices were quite high.  Wit lack of information, components and funds, other interests took priority and alternative energy was left to simmer on the back burner.

Not, things have changed.  Information is readily available, components are more readily obtained and, though prices aren't exactly cheap, by shopping around a bit, some decent prices can be found.  Over the last couple of years, I have done quite a bit of research; research that has led in many directions.  As expected, most sites with information are trying to sell something, giving enough free information to spark interest and a price tag for getting enough kno0wledge to make it work.

After looking at several of these sites, I was able to piece together a general knowledge of how solar energy works.  Details and components, however, were more elusive, unless one was willing to pay for the training program.  Being such a tightwad, I was not willing to pay for the information.

One evening, armed with some basic knowledge and a good deal of frustration (mainly involving the local power company), it occurred to me to search for solar cells instead of information.  Most sites were pricey so I broadened the search to include "CHEAP" solar cells.  I found several sites with much kinder prices, but one in particular caught my eye.

A site Called :"solarcells101.com", not only had quite a variety of B grade and damaged cells relatively cheap, but also carried other components.  Perhaps more importantly, they have a free e-book of instructions.  These may not be the most detailed instructions, but 6they seemed to make sense, and the price was right (even for a confirmed tightwad).

With the obstacles of information and components taken care of, that only leaves cash (or lack of it) standing in the way.  While barely making ends meet, it is hard to come up wi8th funding for more projects.  Question is simple, can solar energy be funded with pocket change?  With pocket change being about all that was left after paying the bills, I was determined to find out. I have long had a habit of putting pocket change in a can to build up for emergencies, so I started counting up change.

Before ordering solar cells and such, there were a few tools I needed to acquire.  First round of chance got a soldering iron for putting the cells together and a multimeter for testing Amps and voltage.  I already had most of the other tools needed.

Next time the pocket change allowed, it was time to order cells.  To be more precise, it was time to order cells, tab wire, bus wire and (just for good measure) diodes.  For this first order I chose the 75 broken cells Item (it takes 36 cells for a panel that will produce enough volts to charge a 12 volt battery), 20 feet of tab wire, 8 feet of bus wire and 4 diodes.  This choice was made in order to have relatively cheap components for practice.  This order came to $70 which was a bit more than the contents of the change can.  A couple of weeks later, however, the change was cashed in, deposited and the order placed.

A few days later, I was like a kid at Christmas, opening packages and playing with new toys.  At first, I was amazed at just how delicate and fragile the cells were.  Yes, I broke a few before getting a feel for how to pick up such thin delicate items with my large hands.  Soon, this became less of an issue, but soldering such delicate connections took a bit of practice.

I began by soldering tab wire to the bottom (gray) side of the cells, leaving enough tib wire to cross the top (blue side) of the next cell.  As a
point of information, the bottom is the positive side and the top is the negative.

With tab wires on bottom, the next cell is aligned with the first and the tab wire soldered to the top of the second.  Positive wired to negative is called connecting in series, which increases voltage, leaving the amps the same.

This process was continued until four rows of nine cells were created.   A few of the cells were broken to the point that two pieces had to be soldered together in parallel (positive to positive and negative to negative) in order to get the amperage up so they wouldn't weaken the whole panel.  The "repaired" cells were then soldered in just as normal cells.

Four rows of nine were placed side by side, and attached with bus wire, in series just as the individual cells.  Wires were soldered to the bus wires for making connection the panel to the inverter or battery.

Now all the cells were together and they were producing electricity when placed in the sun.  However, a group of solar cells tied together, do not a solar panel make.  Now they had to be enclosed to prevent the delicate little buggers.  There are three basic ways to encase the cells.  One method is to make a metal frame with a pane of glass, place the cells face down on the glass and fill the frame with a resin type substance called encapsulent.  Another method is to make a flat plywood box, glue the cells in it and cover with glass.  The other method (and the one that seemed most often recommended) was to place the cells between tow layers of glass and seal the edges.

Being a tightwad, I chose to use the resources at hand which included a pane of glass salvaged from a storm door and some good, thin plywood salvaged from an old shipping crate.  I cut the plywood to size, treated it with deck sealer which had been purchased at a surplus store quite cheaply.  When the sealer was dry, I attached the cells to the backing with silicone sealer, made spacers from pieces of an old pencil so the glass would not crush the cells, and placed the glass on top.  The edges were then sealed with silicone and later with waterproof tape for good measure.

Though not the most powerful solar panel ever made, the finished
product produces about 2 amps at 21 volts in full sun.  That translates to about 40 watts at peak, plenty to charge a 12 volt car battery or feed back through a grid tie. To make it even nicer, the actual cost after figuring in the remaining parts for future use, was under $60.

Now all that remains is to hook the new panel up and start producing power.  For the next panel, I will use unbroken, higher output cells designed to produce over 3 amps.  The supplies are already ordered (yes, from pocket change)and I can hardly wait to get started.