There are a lot of ads for build-your-own solar panels on the internet, including on this site. I have no control over what ads do or do not appear, but felt a bit of research as to whether DIY solar panels were possible or cost effective was in order.
Solar Panel Price Comparisons
When sites say ‘build solar panels for under $100!’, they often seem to be comparing the materials cost of the homemade panel to the cost of an entire solar photovoltaic system which (for a house) usually includes multiple panels, an inverter, a charge controller and sometimes batteries. This is not comparing the same thing. A true cost comparison would be one of two things: the cost of the entire system, or the cost per watt of power produced by a single panel.
The full cost for a DIY solar photovoltaic system includes the number of panels that you wish to build as well as buying or building all the other parts of a system. Also include your time that you will be spending building the panels and mounting racks and then wiring and installing everything. A single solar panel by itself is not much use for home applications without an inverter and charge controller, and one solar panel will not power an ordinary house. Costs for solar panels are usually a little over 1/3 the price of an installed system, so while they are a major component they are not the only component.
Comparing Solar Panel Prices: Price Per Watt
The usual method of comparing the prices of solar panels is price per watt. For example, if a 60 watt panel is built for a materials cost of $104.85, as the maker of mdpub.com did, the price per watt is $1.75. The average price per watt for a commercially made module of over 125 W is $4.39 as of September 2009. Prices for smaller modules are generally higher per watt, so the home-made panel looks pretty good. So yes, it is possible to build a solar panel for less money than you would pay for commercial one. But there are several caveats:
- This is presuming no materials were ruined while you learned how to make the panel
- This is presuming that you manage to make the panel work properly
- This is counting your own labor cost as $0
- This is assuming the you do not have to buy soldering equipment or paint, plexiglass, wire, or screws in order to make the panel since the author of this site had them on hand
- The person who made the solar panel used as an example has also built a wind turbine and a jet engine
DIY Installation of Solar Photovoltaic Systems
Once you have made your panels, will you be installing and wiring everything yourself or will you get someone else to do it? The level of skill required is an important consideration because installing solar photovoltaic systems means working with electricity, which has a certain amount of inherent danger involved. On-grid residential solar power systems usually involve high-voltage electricity, which increases the danger if you do zap yourself.
So is Building Your Own Solar Panels For You?
I would not want to try this myself, nor do I have the equipment I would need. If you have to go and buy the equipment and then teach yourself how to use everything I would not advise attempting to do it yourself. If, on the other hand, you are an electrician with a large workshop looking for a project, building your own photovoltaic system might be worth another look.