In recent years there has been a surge in websites and manuals for Do-It-Yourself Solar Panels. There have been some impressive claims as well. "Say adios to your utility", "Go 100% Solar", and "Reduce Your Electricity Bill for Pennies" is probably my favorite. As an experienced Solar professional, I can tell you all of these to-good-to-be-true claims are more fiction than fact.
In this article I will discuss what a DIY Solar module is and will help you determine when it is and isn't appropriate to use.
What is a DIY module?
A DIY Solar module is created when solar cells are soldered together in series and parallel. The common module size you see on the market is a 36-cell configuration. At the end of the series and paralleled cells will be two leads used to connect the module to either additional modules or a load. At this point you will need to add glass, an encapsulant, and a frame. This entire setup becomes your solar module.
From this point, a basic knowledge of electricity will be required. Some specific skills and terms you should be familiar with are:
Ohm’s Law (Volts = Amps X Resistance)
Series vs parallel wiring
Basic carpentry or fabrication
Please keep in mind that this is strictly to create the Do-It-Yourself Solar module and not what you are going to do with it once completed.
You can use DIY solar modules only in limited situations. When there is a building department, insurance company, or utility company involved your DIY Solar Panel will NOT be able to be used. Solar Panels must be tested to UL1703 standards. Once you've constructed a solar module from an assembly of parts, this new assembly is not UL listed. Since the above depicts the majority of DIY situations, for safety and legal reasons, we strongly suggest that you do not attach your DIY Solar Panels directly to your house.
So what can you do with DIY Solar modules? You can use them for portable power that do not involve the situations listed above (building department, utility and insurance company). For example, you could connect your DIY solar module with a charge controller and battery bank. Now you have what is considered a basic DC off-grid system. This is great for remote water pumping.
Do not fall victim to the idea that DIY solar modules will slash your electrical rates. When In fact, DIY solar modules are illegal to tie into your existing electrical system if you are connected to a Utility.