DIY Solar Panels for Home Use

DIY solar panels are not the automatic money saver that so many solar hobbyists make them out to be. Before deciding to try the do-it-yourself route, you need to add up the total expense in time and quality materials.

You need to make sure you have the right tools for the project. And you need to invest in a good, detailed manual or guide to solar power that will help you produce reliable, efficient homemade solar panels at a reasonable cost.

In this article, we'll consider the pros and cons of doing it yourself.

Can Do-It-Yourself Really Save Money?

Installed Residential DIY PV SystemInstalled Residential DIY PV System
(Source: © Le Queinec)

The Do-It-Yourself Alternative

Although green energy technology is constantly advancing and solar power is now readily available, its cost to us, the average consumer, is still considerable. DIY solar panels are a hot topic because residential photovoltaic (PV) power systems don't come cheap, and payback of your solar investment can take years.

Solar power is now the most popular form of renewable energy because of its greenness and ease of installation, but its big problem is its upfront cost. A commercially installed residential PV system to supply all the electrical needs for a typical family home costs approximately $50,000, and often more.

However, there is an alternative.

You DO have an affordable choice:

  1. You can buy and install quality brand-name PV panels yourself, a few at a time as your budget permits. The plan chosen by most consumers.

  2. Or, simply build your own PV panels. That's right, do-it-yourself solar panels!

Obviously, buying high efficiency PV panels and having them installed professionally is the best way to go if you have the money and want to invest in a quick and easy turnkey PV system.

But, if you are on a limited budget and have the basic workshop skills, the spare time, and the inclination to be self-reliant, then DIY solar panels can offer the cheapest alternative, especially for small-scale projects. But, the do-it-yourself route isn't for everyone.

The Three DIY Solar Questions Asked Most

  1. Where Do I Buy Solar Panel Parts?

    You can easily find specialized photovoltaic components at local solar supply stores or from vendors online, while the rest of what's needed can be purchased at building supply centers and hardware stores in your area.

  2. What Skills Do I Need?

    If you've got basic home workshop skills and some electrical knowledge, you can build your own PV panels. Step by step instructions and even videos are available online at a reasonable price to walk you through the building process.

    It's not over difficult to build your own PV panels, but it is time-consuming and exacting work.

  3. How Much Will It Cost to Build PV Panels?

    The cost of photovoltaic panel parts will vary by region and vendor, and by the size of your solar project, so it's not realistic to quote a dollar amount.

    However, you should be able to assemble a homemade panel for less than the cost of a comparable pre-manufactured one. That said, there are hidden costs that you need to be aware of.

Let's break those hidden costs down...

The True Cost of DIY Solar Panels

What do homemade PV panels cost to make? The answer to this key question is where the rubber hits the road. If you're only looking at the price of materials, then you are not considering the total expense.

Total Time Spent

One big expense that most of the how-to manuals ignore is the value of your time spent working on your DIY solar panels. It takes more time and patience than you would expect.

You will need to source the materials, make the purchases, study the detailed instructions, do the painstaking assembly work, troubleshoot the unexpected problems (and problems do arise, as things never go as planned), and then finally install the finished PV panel.

All that valuable time adds up. Naturally, if your time isn't of great value or if you've currently got more spare time than money, then learning how to piece together PV panels from cheap, broken solar power cells might be considered worth your while.

Tools and Materials Needed

You will also need to consider something else. Do you already have the tools and electrical testing equipment you'll be needing or will you need to "invest" money in tools? If you need to buy more tools that adds to the total cost.

And maybe you have access to free salvage materials that you think would be useful for your DIY solar panel project, but that might not be the case. Many of the "Build Your Own Solar Panels" articles found online glibly suggest using old glass shower doors, salvaged storm windows, or scrap Plexiglas® for the top of your homemade panel.

However, far from saving money, these kinds of makeshift materials are unsuitable for serious solar power projects, and they could end up costing you more in the long run.

For example, use the wrong type of Plexiglas®, and it will eventually turn yellow and brittle under the harsh rays of the sun, rendering it useless. And window glass that's not tempered or not thick enough to withstand the pounding it would experience during a hail storm will also not survive a fallen tree branch or the occasional stray baseball landing.

Some how-to instructions offer a list of basic materials and recommend buying broken solar cells in bulk on eBay at what seems to be below bargain prices. However, while it is possible to build a cheap PV panel by carefully soldering used and broken tabbed solar cells together, it won't be as cost-effective as it seems.

For instance, the electricity output from your broken solar cells will be unpredictable since you won't know how many damaged cells are next to useless.

Plus, you will need to invest extra money in copper wiring and solder to wire together all the broken bits and pieces to generate enough wattage to make your homemade solar panels useful. Even then, it will never have the efficiency and power output of a brand-name photovoltaic panel.

Bottom line: Damaged photovoltaic cells are best used as a learning experiment than a practical solar solution.

NEVER use scrap, salvage materials like these for your homemade solar panels unless you enjoy having to continually make costly repairs!

You might be able to cobble together a homemade PV panel for less than half the price of a brand-name panel, but if it can only produce half the wattage, where's the savings? The greater efficiency of the commercial panel will help it pay for itself in time.

DIY Solar Panels: What You Need to Know

Are you still considering DIY solar panels? Then follow the links below for vital information about insurance and warranties that you need to know before starting your project.

Homemade Solar Panels - Things You MUST Consider

How to Build Solar Panels - A Detailed Look at What's Involved

Where to Buy Solar Cells - Where Wrong Choices Can Cost You Money

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