A solar panel is the workhorse of any solar power system. A home solar energy system consists of one or more (usually a goodly number) solar panels plus the wiring and regulatory devices necessary to turn the energy they generate into electric power. The power generated is either used directly in the home or sold to an electric utility through net metering for credit used to buy power later. Whether your system is on or off the grid, the solar panels are the most costly part of the equipment necessary to build your system.

You can save a lot of money on your solar system by installing it yourself rather than hiring a contractor, but even so the cost of the solar panels can run to several thousand dollars for a complete system capable of meeting all your energy needs. But you can shave off a lot of that cost by building your own solar panels from scratch.

Parts For A Solar Panel

A solar panel requires a frame box, a plexiglass cover, solar cells, and wiring. It’s also necessary to have certain tools on hand, including a saw, screwdriver, screws, a soldering iron, and fine grade solder. If you have all these tools on hand already, great; if not, they can be acquired at a hardware store for not too much money. You will also need some adhesive to attach the solar cells to the frame, unless you find and purchase self-adhesive cells.

The size of the frame isn’t crucial, but how big it is will determine how many solar cells it can hold and how much electricity each panel will produce. The most common size of solar cell is 100mm x 100mm, generating roughly 1 – 2 watts. A panel with 100 solar cells will produce some 100-200 watts of power and be 1 meter square, plus a little. Exactly what size to make your panels will depend on how much space you have available on your roof. Another advantage of making your own panels is that you can customize the shape.

Buying Solar Cells

The best way to get solar cells to make your solar panels is to look for a bargain directly from the manufacturer. You can also sometimes find good deals on EBay or Amazon. If you go to the manufacturers, however, often you can buy cells with cosmetic manufacturing flaws at a discount. These cells perform as well as perfect cells, but they aren’t as pretty. The manufacturer can’t use them in a solar panel for commercial sale, and will probably be happy to sell them to you at a discount.


You can find plans on line to describe the process of making your own solar panel for less than $50, often for free. The plans should go into details about how to connect your solar cells to each other and how to connect the assembled panel to a home energy system. The remaining tasks involved (constructing the frame and attaching the solar cells to the frame with adhesive) are more intuitive and require less in the way of detailed information.

What Goes Into A Home Solar System?

Besides the solar panels themselves, a solar system for your home will require certain electronic equipment. Much depends on whether you want your system to be on-grid or off-grid. An on-grid solar system requires less in the way of equipment. You need a converter to turn the DC current produced by your solar panels into AC current, a regulator to keep the energy load stable, and a connection to the power lines running into/out of your home. You will also need to make sure the utility sets you up with a net metering arrangement. This will allow you to “sell” power to the utility during the hours of peak production (i.e. daylight hours) for a credit that you can use to buy power from the utility during hours of peak use, which are unlikely to coincide with those of peak production.

If you want to go off-grid and become completely independent of the electric utility, that requires quite a lot more. You will need storage batteries capable of putting out sufficient current for your home to use, and regulators to protect the batteries from over- or under-charging, as well as most of the equipment you will need for an on-grid system. All of this can run a few thousand dollars in addition to the cost of the solar panels themselves.

Which is better? That depends on what you’re looking for and also on where you live and what’s available in that area. In terms of convenience, an on-grid system is probably better. It’s also cheaper in that it requires less equipment than an off-grid system. So why go off-grid? There are two reasons. One is that you will become completely independent of the electric utilities. There will be no more concerns with brownout’s or loss of power (unless your own system fails, of course). You will not be subject to political changes that might alter the terms of your arrangement with the utility.

The other reason to consider going off-grid is if you live in an area where electric power is unreliable or unavailable. In that case, going off the grid is the only viable option.