Building your own solar panel system can be an affordable and fulfilling DIY project with the right materials and guidance. In this comprehensive guide, I will walk through each step to show you how I built a complete solar panel system for under $50 using mostly recycled and repurposed parts.

With some basic electrical knowledge and ability to follow instructions, you can harvest free energy from the sun to power small devices and learn the principles of solar energy in the process. The satisfaction of creating your own solar setup from scrap makes the project even more rewarding.

While this system may not power your entire home, it can handle powering small devices, charge batteries, and serve as a starter solar project to learn from. Let's get started!

Gathering Recycled Solar Panel Materials

The first step is sourcing recycled parts and bargain materials to build the system affordably. Here are the main components I used:

Solar Cells

This is the most important part - the photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity. I salvaged a dozen solar cells from a broken solar garden light. You can often find these lights or other small panels for free or cheap by asking around or checking classifieds, thrift stores, and garage sales.

Pro Tip: Check the solar cells with a multimeter to test their output before using. Make sure they produce around 0.5V or more in full sunlight.


For the main frame, I repurposed an old picture frame I wasn't using. The frame needs to be large enough to hold all of your solar cells. Plexiglass or glass works to cover the front.


For the backing, I used scrap pieces of plywood cut to size. This provides a rigid base for mounting the solar cells.


I salvaged electrical wiring from old appliances and electronics. You can also use spare hookup wire or purchase wire cheaply. You will need lengths of both positive and negative wiring.

Other Materials

That covers the main components. Now we can start building!

Step-by-Step Instructions to Build Solar Panel

Follow these steps to assemble your DIY solar panel system:

1. Plan Solar Cell Layout

First, test your solar cells and plan the layout inside the frame. Arrange the solar cells so they fit evenly in the frame and can be wired in series to produce the desired voltage when in sunlight.

Tip: Connect solar cells in series to increase voltage. For example, two 0.5V cells in series produce 1V total.

2. Prepare the Backing Board

Cut your backing board to size so it fits snugly inside the frame. Lightly sand any rough edges. Wipe it down to remove any dirt or dust.

3. Affix Solar Cells

Use a small amount of silicone adhesive to mount the solar cells onto the backing board in your planned positions. Press gently but firmly so they stick. Allow several hours for the silicone to fully cure and harden before moving to the next steps. The cells need to be secured in place before wiring.

4. Solder Cell Connections

Solder positive and negative wires between the solar cells to connect them in series according to your layout. Caution: Solar cells are fragile, so be careful soldering. Add a bit more silicone around each cell's edges for stability if needed.

5. Wire Terminal Connections

Solder longer positive and negative wires to the end terminals of your solar panel to serve as leads. Add some epoxy over the connections to waterproof them.

6. Assemble Into Frame

Place the finished solar cell panel backing into the picture frame, with the cells facing outward through the glass/plexiglass. Secure in place using hardware, glue, or other fasteners.

7. Test Output

Take your solar panel outside in full sun and use a multimeter to test the output across the positive and negative terminals. It should produce at least 4-6V. If not, check your wiring connections.

8. Use and Maintain Panel

Now your DIY solar panel is ready to provide free solar energy! Some usage ideas:

Keep the glass surface clean for best solar harvesting. Check wiring periodically for loose connections. Have fun powering gadgets with the sun!

Expanding the System

Once you have a single DIY panel built, you can expand by making more panels and linking them together for increased energy production:

Add a charge controller or regulators to control charging and convert to proper voltages for batteries, appliances, or other electronics you want to power.

With a few basic skills and recycled parts, the possibilities are endless for solar energy projects!


Building your own affordable DIY solar panel system is very achievable and rewarding using recycled parts and bargain materials. Follow the guide outlined above to construct a functioning solar panel for under $50.

Not only does this provide you with free renewable energy, but it also serves as a great learning experience for understanding solar photovoltaics hands-on.

The project can be scaled up over time by adding more panels and components to expand the system. I hope these instructions help you harness the power of the sun! Let me know if you have any other questions.