How do you build your own solar panel system?
Solar panels are a great option for renewable energy generation, and you can even build them on your own.
Building your own solar system to harness solar energy is a big undertaking, but for many DIY-ers or anyone interested in engineering, it can be a fun and rewarding project.
Building an entire system yourself will take a lot of research and planning, including sourcing the right materials and getting the proper permitting from your town.
It makes the most sense if you want to build a panel for a small project like as backup power for an RV. We do not recommend building your own solar panel system for use on your home, there are too many errors that can occur and lead to unsafe panels.
We will walk you through what you need to know, review the pros and cons of DIY panels, and why working with a professional installer may be a safer bet.
Is it possible to build your own solar panels?
Yes, it is possible to build your own solar system. and even the solar panels. from scratch. However, it can be risky since faulty workmanship will lead to breaks and system failure.
Solar panels are made by soldering together solar cells into strings, joining these strings together, and connecting them to a junction box. Once joined together, the components must be sealed so that the active parts of the solar panel are waterproof. Then the front is sealed with a transparent waterproof product for protection. Silicon is then used to seal the panel around the edges so that moisture does not get in.
It is not technically difficult to make a single solar panel, it is mainly soldering wires and solar cells.
The biggest issue is finding quality material to build the panels. Normally, the materials are purchased in an ad hoc fashion from many different distributors, so quality is hard to track. Building solar panels from non-quality equipment can lead to damaged panels or risk of fire from faulty craftsmanship.
If you want to build your own panels, we recommend building them on a smaller scale, for things like running electricity to your shed, instead of an entire house. Small projects will keep power demands low, which makes DIY installation manageable and less likely to break.
For someone with little to no experience in solar equipment, it can be dangerous to build and install a system large enough to power your home.
How do I build a solar panel system?
You can follow the step-by-step process below.
Note, before sourcing your equipment, it is important to keep in mind that solar cells offered on websites are usually seconds that didn’t make it past quality control. They can be chipped, blemished, or otherwise damaged, which is definitely not ideal.
Design and determine the size of your system based on your energy needs
To determine how many solar panels you will need, you need to know how much energy you plan to use on average per month, and how much sun exposure you can expect throughout the year. Once you know that, you can pick out which brand and model of solar panel will make sense for you.
If you are building panels for a small project or appliance, you will need fewer panels. Simply determine the kWh the appliance will require, then figure out how many panels to build from there.
Purchase the components that make up a solar panel
- Solar cells
- Pre-soldered wiring
- Non-conductive material (wood, glass, or plastic)
Solar cells are what converts the sun’s energy into electricity, each solar panel consists of about 36 solar cells.
Buying pre-soldered tabbing wire will cut some steps out of the process, but you will still need a soldering iron to solder the wiring to the back of the solar cells and string the wire correctly to connect the solar cells.
Non-conductive material to attach the cells to, like wood, glass or plastic
For DIY solar panels, wood usually works best as backing because it is easy to drill holes for the wiring. Once you have your solar cells wired together, you can glue these to the wood backing and then attach all of the wires and solder each solar cell together.
After wiring, you then connect these wires to a charge controller, which regulates the volts of energy. Wood can also be used to build a box to protect the solar cells and then to lay the plexiglass on top for moisture protection.
Seal the solar panel with plexiglass
Once your solar cells are wired and glued to the wood backing, you need to seal them with plexiglass for protection from heat, debris, and moisture.
Purchase additional solar equipment like inverters and racking
If you do not trust yourself to build solar panels from scratch, you can purchase a solar panel kit which will come with more specific instructions (and usually racking) to help secure your panels. Purchasing a solar kit might actually be more useful since it will include racking already.
Racking is tricky, you will need to determine which racking equipment works for your specific roof type or ground mount. There is almost an overwhelming amount of options of clamping and mounting equipment available if you look at wholesale distributor sites.
Install the racking for your solar panels
When purchasing racking, choosing which option to buy depends on where your panels will go. For instance, will they be ground mounted, or on your RV? This will determine the type of racking you need to buy. Once you pick your racking, you need to map out where you will drill the holes to secure the racking to your structure.
Connect the solar panels to the racking equipment
To secure solar panels to the racking equipment, you will need clamps, or connectors, that are made for the racking you choose. Buying them together and from the same distributor is a good way to make sure they are built for each other. Solar panel kits generally come with racking but if you buy everything separately, make sure you do the research to build a fully functioning solar power system.
Install the proper solar inverter
Installing a solar inverter takes expertise because it will need to be hooked up the electrical grid. For this, we recommend utilizing the help from a professional installer, as they will do this safely and effectively with the right permits.
Are you skilled enough to build your own solar panels?
Solar panels are relatively simple enough to build, but for them to remain functional for a long period of time, they need to be built with extreme precision. Solar panels need to be able to maintain their integrity in harsh weather conditions and from consistent exposure to heat and sunlight.
Safety is the biggest concern with homemade solar panels. Moisture can get inside and ruin them and there is the potential for improperly built panels to catch fire from the sun’s heat. Mastering the soldering and electrical wiring is a challenge that generally takes the knowledge of a skilled electrician or engineer.
Building a system requires a willingness to research, make mistakes, and gain experience in electrical wiring skills and soldering techniques. So if you are an experienced engineer or electrician, this can be a bit easier to master but it is definitely not a quick weekend’s worth of DIY-ing.
What are solar panel designs used for?
After a sale has been made, a solar design, also known as the “final design,” is completed during the planning stage to produce engineering drawings or the “plan set” for a project. These drawings are utilized to provide information on equipment selection, installation rules and permitting requirements.
The three types of solar panel design methods are three-dimensional (3D), two-dimensional (2D) projected views and two-dimensional overlays.
Three-Dimensional (3D) Solar Panel Design
Certainly the most accurate in my opinion, 3D solar design methods leverage 3D models of structures, whether obtained from a third party or modeled by the user from field measurements, to perform solar module layouts. The solar module representations themselves are aligned to and placed on the 3D model, essentially creating a to-scale digital twin of the project in CAD. This methodology eliminates potential errors with adjusting solar module sizes to account for roof pitch, but does require a level of spatial ability by the designer to operate in a 3D environment. Because this method yields a digital twin of the structure, AutoCAD can generate many different views of the project to be included in the plan set such as, a holistic top-down view, 2D projected views or even 3D renderings.
Supported CAD Software: AutoCAD, SketchUp, and other popular CAD programs
Suggested CAD Software: AutoCAD
Suggested EagleView CAD Deliverable: Standard DXF file
Use Caution: When aligning the module representations to the roof facet to ensure the modules are not floating above the 3D roof facet as this may lead to accuracy errors.
Benefit: Speed, Accuracy, Consistency
Tip: To quickly and accurately place solar modules on a 3D roof facet, the “Align” command in AutoCAD is a single function that will move and rotate the solar modules in 3D space.
Two-Dimensional (2D) Projected View Solar Panel Design
As the more traditional method of solar design, 2D projected view solar design originated from when the most common practice to obtain roof measurements was sending a technician on the roof with a tape measure. These technicians typically provided perimeter measurements to the designer of each facet so that it can be redrawn in AutoCAD. While this method works very well to convert field measurements to a solar panel layout, some third party measurement providers do not provide CAD files in this format and furthermore, obtaining a top-down holistic view of the structure can be difficult to achieve (when configuring the location of each 2D roof facet to mimic the subject structure, the roof facets themselves do not match on each edge, much like laying an orange peel flat on a table-top).
Supported CAD Software: AutoCAD, SketchUp, and other popular CAD programs
Suggested CAD Software: AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT
Suggested EagleView CAD Deliverable: DXF file w/ 2D projected view
Use Caution: When forcing each roof facet projection together to obtain a holistic top-down view of the solar design as the roof geometries and the accuracy thereof can become compromised.
Benefit: The user and software can operate solely in a 2D environment
Tip: Instead of forcing 2D roof projections together to achieve a holistic view of the structure from the top-down point of view, EagleView’s new DXF file includes both a 3D model of the structure as well as 2D roof projections so that the designer can leverage either the 3D or 2D overlay methods to achieve the desired holistic plan view result while still being able to include 2D facet views in the plan set.
How much does it cost to go off grid with solar?
First, the standard disclaimer: every off-grid solar project is different, and your costs will vary (™). To put together a custom off-grid solar package that suits your needs, reach out to us for a free PV proposal.
However, it can be useful early in the research process to look at some sample systems to help benchmark the costs of off-grid solar. Feel free to take a look at our off-grid solar kits in our shop for up-to-date pricing.
Please note that the kits in our shop do not include the cost of batteries, as the battery bank will need to be sized to match your energy consumption (we’ll explain how to do that in the Off Grid Solar System Design section).
Tax Incentives Polices by State
You are eligible to claim the solar tax credit if:
- You owe taxes for the filing year that the system was installed
- The system is installed at your primary residence
- You are the owner of the system (leases / PPAs do not apply)
Backup Generator Costs
While solar can handle your day-to-day power needs, most off-grid systems are designed for a single day of autonomy (days that you can fully meet your energy needs with solar). You will inevitably encounter stretches of bad weather where your solar panels can’t produce enough power to cover your needs.
For that, off-grid systems must include source of backup power. For most people, that means adding a backup gas generator to get through periods of low solar production.
Be sure to budget for a backup generator as part of the overall cost of your system.
We’ll help you design an off-grid solar system. Whether you’re converting an existing system to off-grid or starting from scratch, we can guide you to the best energy-saving solution.
Minimizing Off-Grid System Costs
Before you size your off-grid solar system, consider whether you can take measures to reduce your energy usage. Lower consumption means you can get away with a smaller battery bank and inverter, reducing system costs.
Two simple things to consider:
- Propane Appliances Consider outfitting your off-grid home with propane appliances to limit your electricity usage. We recommend looking for a propane stove, clothes dryer, wall heater and on-demand water heater; in our experience these are more cost-effective than running them off electricity. Be sure that you have reliable access to a propane vendor near you. Some places have propane delivery services, which are convenient.
- Stagger Appliance Usage Usage Off-grid systems are designed with peak consumption in mind.- how many electrical loads are run simultaneously. By staggering your usage of major appliances, you can reduce the peak demand on your system. For example, if you’re willing to run your dishwasher and laundry at different times, that will reduce peak demand and keep system costs in check.
Off-Grid Solar System Design
Off-grid living means you are fully responsible for your own power production; if your energy storage doesn’t live up to your needs, there’s no grid power to fall back on. For that reason, it’s critical to take all the factors that impact solar production into account during the system sizing process.
Factors that Impact Off-Grid System Design
Before we get into the system sizing process, consider the following:
Sun Hours Some parts of the country get more exposure to the sun than others. You’ll need to know how many sun hours you get in your location.- a measure of the duration and intensity sunlight in your region. Fortunately there’s no guesswork involved, thanks to the solar insolation maps provided by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Look for the DNI (Direct Normal Irradiance) maps and take a note of the average sun hours in your location. Most places in the US fall in the range of 4-5 sun hours per day. You may notice from the monthly maps that sun hour availability dips dramatically in the winter. Your solar production will fall below your needs in the winter months, and it will be up to your generator to pick up the slack. While you could theoretically oversize your solar array so that it works in those bleak winter months, it would be insanely expensive (think triple the system costs). It’s much more cost-effective to size your solar array to be effective most of the year, but let the generator take over in the winter.
Obstructions Solar panels work best in full sunlight, so you want to keep them free from obstructions that would cast shade on the panels. Check your build site for trees, chimneys, or anything else that could block sunlight from hitting your panels. Keep in mind that shadows get longer in the winter as the sun takes a lower arc across the sky. Make sure that your build site will be free from shade all year-round. If partial shade is unavoidable, the impact can be mitigated with micro-inverters or power optimizers. However, they won’t match the output of an array built with full exposure to sunlight.
Orientation Solar panels produce the most power when they face directly toward the sun, which takes a path in the sky that follows the Equator. So if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you want to face your panels due South. In the Southern Hemisphere, face them North. As you select a build site, make sure you can face your panels in the right direction. If you don’t have a suitable space on your rooftop, consider a ground mount away from obstructions to get the most out of your panels.
System Voltage Solar batteries come in a variety of voltages, including 6V, 12V, 24V and 48V. We recommend a 48V DC battery bank simply because it’s the most efficient and cost-effective option available. At lower voltages, you will need to buy more electronics and invest in more cabling to handle the higher amperage from the system (the amperage is doubled every time the voltage is cut in half). In an off-grid residence, 48V is the better option. For best results, it is most common to use 6V batteries and wire them in series for a total of 48 volts.
Determine Your Energy Needs
There are three key factors to consider when sizing an off-grid system:
(“KWh” stands for kilowatt-hour, the standard measure of how much electricity your appliances consume while in use. You can find this rating on the appliance’s EnergyStar sheet.)
To start, make a list of each appliance’s wattage consumption. Then write down how many hours you plan to use each appliance on a daily basis. This information is necessary to move forward with the sizing process.
off-grid load calculator
We’ve got a handy off-grid load calculator to help you keep track of your appliance’s wattage consumption.
Important! 1,000 watts = 1 kilowatt. Be sure to convert watts to kilowatts before you make your kWh calculations, or your numbers will be off!
What is Your Peak Power Demand?
What are the electrical loads that you will need to run? Will they all run at the same time, or can you rotate the loads?
Your peak power demand is your total wattage usage when you are running all the electrical loads you need simultaneously. By staggering usage of major appliances at different times, you can reduce your peak power demand and bring system costs down.
Solar PV System Design Basics:
Solar photovoltaic modules create power, but they are only one of several components in a photovoltaic (PV) system. A number of different technologies must be in place before the power produced may be used in a house or company. Let’s take a closer look.
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PV arrays need to be mounted on a strong and durable structure that supports the array and can withstand decades of wind, rain, hail, and corrosion. These structures tilt the PV array at a fixed angle determined by the latitude of the area, the orientation of the structure, and the requirements of the electrical load. To achieve the highest annual energy yield, the module is oriented just south of the Northern Hemisphere and tilted at an angle corresponding to the latitude of the region. Rack mounts are currently the most popular method due to their robustness, versatility, and ease of construction and installation. sophisticated and cheaper methods continue to be developed. In the
In a ground-based PV system, a tracking mechanism automatically moves the module to track the sun across the sky, providing more energy and a higher return on investment. One Axis trackers are usually designed to track the sun from east to west. A 2-axis tracker allows you to keep the module facing the sun all day long. Of course, tracking has a high initial cost, and advanced systems are more expensive and require more maintenance. As the system improves, cost-benefit analysis increasingly supports tracking ground-based systems.
While the majority of solar modules are installed in specific mounting systems, they may also be incorporated directly into building components such as roofs, Windows, or façades. These are referred to as building-integrated PV systems (BIPV). Integrating solar into buildings might increase material and supply chain efficiency by merging redundant parts, as well as lower system costs by utilizing existing building systems and support structures. BIPV systems might power direct current (DC) applications in buildings such as LED lighting, computers, sensors, and motors, as well as grid-integrated efficient building applications like electric car charging. Although there are still technical and financial challenges to broad usage of BIPV systems, their distinct value makes them a potential alternative to standard mounting structures and construction materials.
Inverters are used to convert direct current (DC) generated by photovoltaic panels to alternating current (AC). Alternating current (AC) is used for local power transmission and most household equipment. PV systems have either an inverter that converts the power generated by all modules into usable electricity, or a microinverter that is connected to individual modules. Single inverters are generally cheap and easy to cool and maintain when needed. Microinverters can be used to operate each panel individually. For example, it is useful, for example, if you can shade some panels. Inverters are expected to need to be replaced at least once during the 25-year life of the PV system.
Advanced inverters, or Intelligent Inverters, enable two-way communication between the inverter and the utility company. This helps balance supply and demand, either automatically or via remote communication with the network operator. By gaining this insight (and possible control) of supply and demand, utilities can reduce costs, ensure grid stability, and reduce the likelihood of power outages.
Batteries enable the storage of solar photovoltaic energy, allowing it to be used to power our houses at night or when weather conditions prevent sunlight from reaching PV panels. Not only may they be utilized in the house, but batteries are also becoming increasingly significant in the utility industry. When consumers send solar energy back into the grid, batteries may store it and return it to customers later. The greater usage of batteries will aid in the modernization and stabilization of our country’s electric system.
What Are the Most Important Factors to Consider When Designing a Solar PV System?
Available Roof Area:
The first step is to assess the roof’s condition and the available mounting surface. If the building design is available and exact, the roof size may be determined. It is, however, advised that you measure the roof surface yourself.
Not every roof, however, is easily accessible. In this situation, you may use a laser gauge to determine the roof surface, or you can hire a solar contractor to measure the roof. When darkened parts, dormers, Windows, and the like are subtracted from the available roof surface, the maximum mounting surface for the solar PV system is obtained.
To calculate the energy production of a photovoltaic system, the solar irradiation in the plane corresponding to the installation and the sun’s path at the location at different times of the year are required. The height and azimuth of the sun determine the position of the sun at any given time. The direction and tilt (inclination) of solar panels impact their performance, which influences the quantity of producible energy.
Unleashing the full power of a solar design software is quite a work? Check how solar labs design software is giving wonders among the installers.
Solar energy is greatest when the plate is perpendicular to the irradiation, depending on the tilt.The angle of departure from the geographical south of a surface, or north in the southern hemisphere, is the orientation of the photovoltaic module. Maximum variations of /-20 degrees are allowed. The fundamental guideline for solar panel installation in the northern hemisphere is that they must be oriented towards the true south (and in the south, the true north) in order to receive as much direct radiation as possible during the day.
The orientation angle of a solar panel is determined by only one angle: the orientation (or azimuth) of the panel. The solar azimuth is the angle created between the sun’s meridian and the place meridian (South in the Northern Hemisphere and North in the Southern Hemisphere). At noon, this angle is zero; in the morning, it is negative; and in the afternoon, it is positive. The azimuth angle (azimuth angle) of departure from the optimal direction to the south (in the northern hemisphere) or to the north (in the southern hemisphere) can be used to determine the orientation of the panels (in the southern hemisphere).
The climatic conditions and geographical location of the PV modules are critical factors in determining the optimal tilt angle for high energy output.
Solar radiation on a surface perpendicular to the direction of solar radiation propagation is always larger than if the identical surface is placed in any other location. Because the inclination takes into consideration the sun’s location throughout the year, its ideal position may change over time. As a result, for the installation of permanent modules, an inclination value for the maximum average power received yearly is often specified.
Solar panels must be set at an angle to aim straight towards the sun in order to convert the most light into solar power. Trackers, depending on how the panel is installed, can be set at a fixed angle or change throughout the year to optimize solar energy from the sun.
Software For Designing A Photovoltaic System:
It is clearly evident that many elements influence the optimal design and profitability of a solar PV system, and planning is undoubtedly a hard process. Solar structure design software or solar design software is very useful if you wish to do this more accurately.
Based on the supplied framework parameters, such software determines if the solar PV system can be run in a cost-effective manner using the available options.
Why Are Inverters Required On Modern PV Systems?
Inverters serve as the PV system’s brain. They continue to convert DC to AC, but they also allow for monitoring, decision-making, and control operations. Because of its intelligence, it is the component most adapted to fulfill the additional, critical functions required of modern PV systems.
The inverter’s duty is broad, and it will expand to serve the Smart grid of the future. In addition to managing its own output, it will be requested to offer reactive power assistance to the grid, improving system stability and efficiency. It will also be able to communicate with a utility operator’s SCADA system, be managed dynamically and remotely, and offer diagnostic data to assist operations and maintenance workers in diagnosing and correcting system faults.
These Smart inverters can be combined with energy storage for a more comprehensive solution that aids with grid stabilization. While there are battery-based inverters with grid management capabilities like peak shaving and ramp rate controls, the cost of storage continues to be a barrier to their general implementation. Nonetheless, the grid benefits of energy storage systems, such as lower peak demand and reduced heavy shifting, make finding a cost-effective solution to include this technology critical. Storage technology, like solar, is fast changing, and the industry is expecting to see smaller, more inexpensive, commercially accessible options in the near future.
The solar PV system is a wonderful way to harness the sun’s easily accessible, eco-friendly electricity. Its design and installation are simple and dependable for small, medium-sized, and large-scale energy needs. A system like this makes power available practically anywhere across the world, especially in isolated locations. It liberates the energy user from the utility and other energy sources such as coal, natural gas, and so on.
Such a system will have no negative influence on the environment and will produce energy for a long time after it is installed. The aforementioned systematic design and installation give important suggestions for our current world’s requirements for clean and sustainable energy.