With rising electricity prices, more people are looking to solar power to offset their energy costs. Building your own DIY solar panel can be an affordable and fulfilling project with the right materials and information. In this comprehensive guide, I will walk through the complete process of constructing a solar panel from scratch for under $100.

What is a Solar Panel and How Does it Work?

Before diving into the DIY build, it helps to understand exactly what a solar panel is and how it works.

Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic (PV) panels, are devices that convert sunlight into electricity. Solar panels are made up of many individual solar cells, which are made from silicon. When sunlight hits these cells, the solar energy knocks electrons free from the silicon atoms, allowing the electrons to flow and produce an electric current.

The current generated from the solar cells flows to metal conductors on the panel. These bundled together conductors lead to a solar charge controller or battery, where the electricity can then be consumed, stored, or fed back into the grid.

So in summary:

Things You'll Need

To build a DIY solar panel, you will need the following materials:

Solar Cells

Solar cells are the main component of a solar panel. For this DIY project, monocrystalline silicon cells are recommended as they are the most efficient. You will need around 36 3"x6" solar cells connected in series to achieve 12V output. Expect to pay around $35 for a batch of cells.

Plexiglass Sheet

Plexiglass, or acrylic glass, will form the transparent front layer of the panel protecting the cells. You need a 24"x24" sheet at least .12" thick. This will cost around $20.

Backsheet Material

On the rear of the panel, we need a protective backsheet layer. Roofing felt or heavy canvas works well. Get a 24"x24" sheet for about $5.

Male/Female Connectors

To join the solar cells together into a working circuit, you will need connectors. You'll need male and female connectors, which will cost around $5.

Silicone Sealant

Silicone will be used to laminate the solar cells between the plexiglass and backsheet. A 9oz tube will be plenty at around $3.

Epoxy Resin

Epoxy resin is used to seal and hold the connectors in place. A small 5oz package will work for around $8.


Step-by-Step Build Instructions

Now let's get into the step-by-step instructions for assembling the DIY solar panel:

1. Gather and Prepare Materials

Gather all the materials listed in the previous section. Make sure the plexiglass sheet is cut down to the 24"x24" size needed. Clean all dust and fingerprints off the plexiglass using rubbing alcohol and a lint-free cloth.

2. Layout Solar Cells

Start by planning the layout for the solar cells on the backsheet. Arrange the 3"x6" cells so they overlap slightly in long rows covering the entire 24"x24" area. This full coverage will maximize energy generation.

[Diagram of solar cell layout]

TIP: Offset the rows by half a cell so we can run our connections easier.

3. Solder Cell Connections

Following the diagram layout, solder the connections between the cells using thin copper wire. Connect each row together first. Make sure your solder joints are solid.

Attach the male/female connectors to the ends of each row to allow connecting between rows. The positive and negative sides must not touch!

4. Seal Cells to Backsheet

With the cells wired together, carefully seal them to the backsheet using a thin layer of clear silicone. Flip the whole piece over and fill any gaps on the back with silicone.

Allow the silicone to fully cure overnight before moving to the next step.

5. Prepare Plexiglass Front

The plexiglass will form the transparent protection for our cells. Measure and mark the area we will seal the cells to. Mask off the rest of the plexiglass sheet.

Thoroughly clean both sides of the masked area with rubbing alcohol.

6. Laminate Panel Layers

We will laminate the panel by adhering all the layers together:

7. Waterproof Connections

Check that all the cell connections are electrically sound. Use a multimeter to confirm flow between rows.

Waterproof each connection using marine-grade epoxy resin. Fully cover each joint and allow curing completely.

8. Add Output Wires

Solder positive and negative output wires to the free contacts coming off the panel. Insulate these wires fully with heat shrink tubing.

Attach solar connectors at the wire ends to enable hooking up batteries and controllers.

9. Mount and Test Panel

The solar panel can be mounted in a fixed location or to a moving track. Point it towards the sun and connect your load or charging equipment.

Carefully check the output voltage and current. Your DIY solar panel is now ready to start harvesting free energy from the sun!

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to build a DIY solar panel?

All the components can be sourced for $75 to $100. The most expensive items are the solar cells at around $4 per cell. Reclaimed or recycled materials can reduce costs further.

What tools do I need to build a solar panel?

Soldering equipment, silicone & epoxy, clips, and basic materials for fabrication. Common household tools like screw drivers, plyers, and wrenches may also help.

How long does it take to build a DIY solar panel?

Plan on around 4 to 8 hours for construction. Allow additional time for connecting, mounting, and testing the finished panel.

How difficult is it to build a DIY solar panel?

The process involves basic construction and electrical skills like soldering and wiring. Attention to detail is important. Overall it's very achievable for DIY-minded individuals.

How much power will a DIY solar panel produce?

A 36 cell panel around 24"x24" should produce 50 to 80 watts. This is enough to charge batteries or run small electronics. More cells can be added to increase power output.


Constructing your own solar panel from scratch is a fun and empowering project. Following the guidelines above, you can build an effective solar energy generator and save on your electricity bills. The entire project costs less than $100 using common tools and basic skills. With some care and patience, you'll have a valuable DIY solar panel producing free, clean electricity from the sun.