You Can Make Your Own Solar Panels, and It’s Easier Than You’d Think – CNET

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The fact that solar panels can create electricity from sunlight and turn it into energy is complicated and magical. But the technology behind making the actual solar panel is surprisingly simple. 

In fact, the process of making your own solar panels is quite straightforward. The supplies are readily available and inexpensive, and no professional skills are required beyond a little soldering. 

“It’s amazing that we have devices with no moving parts that create electricity, just by sticking them outside,” said Joshua Pearce, a professor at Western University in Ontario and co-author of To Catch the Sun, a free ebook on DIY solar systems. “But while turning sunlight directly into electricity seems like magic, really anyone with even modest technical skills can get involved, whether they’re building their own modules from individual cells or building their own photovoltaic systems from commercially available modules.”

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If you’ve got some technical chops and the patience to learn, the (solar) power is in your hands. Here’s what you need to know to start building your own solar panels.

Can you make your own solar panels?

“People can absolutely make their own panels,” said Pearce, whose ebook describes the steps to make solar systems and shares stories of people around the world who powered their communities with the sun’s energy.

The basic components of a solar panel are the photovoltaic cells, tab wires and a material to encapsulate them, typically glass. All of these materials can be ordered online or purchased at hardware stores, and they’re available in varying sizes.

a small solar panel charging a smart phone

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It’s best to start small, not only because it’ll be simpler, but because buying larger panels is actually cheaper than making them. Pearce recommends a good starting project would be a smaller panel, enough to power, say, a water pump for your yard. This way, you can practice your soldering skills and familiarize yourself with the materials.

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“It’s very simple. We’ve taught fifth graders how to solder the cells together, put them on a piece of glass and make electricity,” said John Burke, chair of the American Solar Energy Society’s photovoltaics division, who has done a number of workshops on assembling solar modules around the world.

But still be careful when undertaking such a project, as you’re working with electrical components and tools that can burn. “There’s a minor risk of wiring it up wrong, creating a short somewhere or burning yourself with the soldering iron, but it’s not terribly dangerous one way or the other,” Pearce said.

Can you put together a solar panel system yourself?

When you’re ready to take on a bigger project, it’s entirely possible to put together a solar panel system to provide most of your home’s energy needs. And good news, DIYers: The economics are in your favor, Pearce said. It’s about half the cost to install solar panel systems if you do most of the work yourself and just have an electrician attach them to the grid than to call a solar installer to power up your home.

First, buy premade solar panels — it’ll be pricier to assemble ones from scratch yourself — then fit them into racks (you can build your own) and angle them toward the sun. This kind of system can power direct current, or DC, devices. Or, if you’re more handy, you can connect it to an inverter to convert the electricity to alternating current, or AC, the standard for American electrical devices. 

Be sure to test the system with a multimeter. However, it’s recommended to hire a licensed electrician to make sure the system functions properly. In either case, hiring a licensed electrician will be required to connect your system to the electrical grid.

In many parts of the world, a solar energy system is a key part of subsistence, particularly when natural disasters strike. In poorer regions, tracking down a certified electrician to put up solar panels after a hurricane knocks out the electric grid is simply not an option, Burke pointed out. 

Can you buy solar panel kits?

A variety of kits are available for purchase online or in stores, ranging from DIY solar-powered toys to more extensive kits with multiple panels that cost thousands of dollars. Pearce recommends getting started with an educational kit, like this $25 solar-powered robot kit we found on Amazon.

How to make your own solar panels

If you want to learn how to make your own solar panel and feel confident enough in your soldering skills, here’s a broad step-by-step guide to assembling a solar panel, based in part on this guide created by DIY solar panel project Biosphere Solar and Burke’s instructions. Please exercise caution when working with a soldering iron, and avoid contact with live wires.

1. Purchase solar panel components, including solar cells, tab wires and encapsulation material (like glass).

2. Put on gloves and safety goggles.

3. Measure, stretch and cut the tab wires.

4. Solder tab wires to the front and back of the solar cells to create strings.

5. Test the connections with a multimeter.

6. Pull wires away from the cells so they’re not sealed inside.

7. Encapsulate the strings in two applications of liquid silicon.

8. Either laminate the cells for a short-lived panel or encapsulate in glass. Clean the glass, place the cells on the bottom sheet and carefully place the other piece of glass on top.

9. Seal the panel with caulk or glue.

10. Connect your DIY panel to a DC-powered device, then give yourself a high five for powering a device with the sun.

Maintenance of DIY solar panel systems

In theory, maintaining a DIY solar installation should require “nothing more than your regular panel,” according to Burke. 

Personal experience says it may be worth double-checking all your connections and seals on your own work and doing so more frequently. Doing certain processes by hand rather than with industrial machinery can sometimes mean a looser connection or seal. 

two small solar panels on the ground in a garden. two small solar panels on the ground in a garden.

There isn’t much to worry about with solar panel maintenance. 

Kwangmoozaa/Getty Images

Pros and cons of DIY solar panels and solar panel kits

In most contexts, making your own solar panels is a satisfying educational experience. Should disaster or some other unforeseen condition hit and both electricity and manufactured solar panels become hard to come by, you may be able to get the lights back on with the right supplies and skills or perhaps by repairing older panels. 

The reality is that DIY panels can’t compete with the cost and efficiency of mass-produced solar modules, especially when bought in bulk. Although it’s possible to find the materials to build your own panels relatively easily and inexpensively online, the cost is almost certain to add up to more than the cost of simply buying a mass-produced panel, especially when you factor in your time and labor.


  • Build up your emergency preparedness and technical skills.
  • Potentially be able to repair broken panels in an emergency.
  • Relatively inexpensive and simple process.
  • A fun learning experience.


  • DIY panels are still more expensive than mass-produced panels.
  • No warranty.
  • Working with electricity is still dangerous. Some caution and basic knowledge required.

DIY solar panel FAQs

Are DIY solar panels worth it?

Only if your primary interest is becoming more familiar with the inner workings of solar panels. They can be a fun educational experience, but aren’t going to be cheaper than buying mass-produced panels from a manufacturer.

Do you need to be an electrician to install solar panels?

Not necessarily, but it is certainly advisable, especially if you don’t have full confidence in your own skills and ability to complete the job safely. 

How much do DIY solar panels cost?

It depends where you track down the components. Buying in bulk can lower costs. Expect to pay more for the supplies than you would for a mass-produced panel, plus you’ll be providing your own labor for free. 

Is it cheaper to build your own solar panels?

Almost definitely not. It’s difficult to compete with the economies of scale involved in mass-produced panels. 

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