Knowing how and where to buy solar cells can save you money and possibly needless frustration if you're planing on making your own solar panels. If cells are purchased wisely, they can save you money on your DIY project.
Here, you'll find helpful tips on where to buy solar cells to make sure you always get good value for your money. But, before we discuss buying them, let's consider the possibility of making your own cells.
The obvious reason that people search for cheap solar cells for sale is the belief that homemade, used, or broken photovoltaic cells can help to lower the cost of building solar panels from scratch. But do they? Let's find out.
Learning how to make your own solar cell with some thin copper sheeting, glass, and a simple frame offers a great way to learn solar power basics.
While this is an interesting and fun project from an experimental standpoint, the primitive dye-sensitized cell you end up with won't be very practical because the total wattage it produces will barely be enough to power a tiny light bulb.
Still, the process will help you to learn about photovoltaic energy and basic PV panel design if that's your goal.
But, if your main goal is to build PV panels that can actually power home appliances, like a small television or a portable refrigerator, you cannot realistically use homemade solar cells.
To generate the electricity you would need, you will have to buy solar cells that are lots more powerful for their size than any you could make on your kitchen table. You'll need the silicon-based kind that are much too costly to make at home.
Broken photovoltaic cells can be purchased very cheaply online, often for only a few dollars a bagful.
However, what first seems like a bargain, might not be. It's common for bulk orders to contain recycled pieces damaged beyond any repair. They are absolutely worthless if they cannot be made to generate electrical current.
Those fragments that can generate electricity might do so far below their efficiency rating, so you will need to purchase more of them for your project than you had originally planned and go over budget with the added cost.
Before using broken PV cells to build your own solar panels, always test each piece with a multimeter to determine its voltage. Plan to purchase extra quantities to ensure that you'll have enough functional pieces on hand to finish your PV panel project. Otherwise, it's caveat emptor, buy at your own risk. You get what you pay for!
The truth is you're best to avoid them.
Some diehard solar hobbyists persist in saying that you can build a PV
panel with damaged cells, but it's never a cost saving measure in the
long run. You will actually save money if you buy new high efficiency
silicon PV cells that are 100% intact and have been properly voltage
rated. Their increased electrical power output will more than make up
for their extra cost!
Broken PV cells might seem tantalizingly inexpensive when you see them being advertised for pennies on eBay, but after factoring in the waste of receiving non-working pieces, the extra cost of solder and wire to assemble the broken bits, plus the hours of painstaking effort involved in making them functional, you are best to forego them and purchase new ones that are intact and "guaranteed" to have a predictable, rated voltage output.
The only excuse to use a broken PV cell is if you're simply wanting to experiment with photovoltaics while learning how to build solar panels. They are only suitable to provide a low cost learning experience.
By recycling photovoltaic cells and panels, you help to keep the heavy metals used in their manufacturing process out of the landfills, potentially harmful metals such as cadmium, tellurium, and indium.
Local solar panel installers are often a good source for cheap, recycled PV cells in near-new condition, or they can sometimes give you a tip on where to buy solar cells from other installers.
Offer to purchase any that become available when they scrap old or damaged PV panels during a new installation or when upgrading an existing array. You might even get them for free if you save the installer the time and cost of disposing the old components.
But, buying used isn't always the best deal, and there are potential problems that need to be avoided.
PV panels are sturdy yet still breakable, and their removal doesn't always go as planned. Expect to find damaged cells that cannot generate electricity or do so far below their rating.
Plan on testing each component before assembling your DIY solar panel. As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. You are, after all, buying a used and potentially defective item.
Overstocked cells, and those with minor blemishes (blems) that prevent them from being sold to branded solar panel manufacturers are often sold in bulk by wholesalers. Unlike damaged cells that have breaks in their circuitry, blems might display small imperfections on their surface, but they are otherwise, entirely functional.
Discontinued solar cells that are sometimes sold as surplus might be rated slightly less efficient than their newer replacements, but their cost savings could make them a good bargain for small projects.
A quick search on Bing or Google can help to locate both local and online vendors that sell new, used, broken, surplus, or wholesale solar cells. Also, seek out solar hobbyist forums where members can often give you suggestions on where to buy solar cells at low, bargain prices.
Ebay is a good online source for sales of used photovoltaic cells. By checking Ebay.com regularly, you are sure to come across some good deals. However, make doubly sure that the vendor is reputable and has a good history of sales before placing your order.
You could also email reputable vendors who sell new solar cells and ask for them to contact you if they should happen across a supply of quality blems or surplus product for sale. Some vendors might even be open to selling their returns at a discounted price.
As expected, Amazon.com is a popular online source for solar products including new PV cells. Give them a try. They stock nearly everything at reasonable prices, so simply search on their website for whatever you're looking for.
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Photo credit: ©123rf.com/Patrik Winbjark
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