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Menu -- The Secrets of Building Your Own Solar Energy

Lasted edited by Andrew Munsey, updated on June 15, 2016 at 1:00 am.

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Page first featured September 24, 2009

Image:GreenDIYenergy screen-shot 300.jpg

Seeing an Google AdSense advertisement pop up on our site, then reviewing, they looked pretty good to me, and I was considering adding this ebook to our advertisement portfolio on our sites. Especially convincing is the video near the top of the page, giving a "sneak peek". It appears to be a professionally prepared presentation. Also, I was born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, where the GreenDIYenergy team is based, so that was pretty cool too.

I then passed the link by our New Energy Congress for examination and got the following two comments, which throw some cold water on taking this approach. Here's their input:

On September 24, 2009, NEC member and solar expert, Congress:Member:Richard George wrote:

This is legit and doable but it doesn't make economic sense. First you have to get a supply of suitable cells and string them together. Then you have to make a frame. Then you have to laminate the cell assembly. A home made one would cost more and would have a much shorter life.

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On September 24, 2009, solar expert and former NEC advisor, Directory:James Dunn wrote:

It is basically true that you can make your own solar panels, but there are 3 key issues here:

1 - They won’t save you any money, even if you value your time at only $1/Hr. NOTE - current PV panels are selling for less than $2/W which is what the bare cells and other components cost you, unassembled.

Sorting and grading the cells is not easy and requires special calibrated equipment. Remember, the output of the total system is limited by the weakest cell.

2 – Home made panels are not eligible for state rebates, which is the key driver for most solar PV sales, which limits rebates to specific panels which have UL and CEC certificates. (Your homeowners insurance could also be invalidated, as well, if there ever was a fire.) Nor would they be eligible for utility credits via Net Metering, which usually requires an inspection and approval by a certified inspector, after you had filed your electrical permit.

3 – Most PV panels are guaranteed for 25 years. It is unlikely that homemade panels will last 5 years, particularly if they are not laminated. Painting the frames will not keep moisture from getting into the cells and wiring connections. There are many possible failure modes, like cold solder joints, which don’t often become a problem until the wind and rain have aged them a little. No mention was made of other requirements for grounding and lightning protection, required in many states.

Although this is an educational E-book, it is not recommended for the user who expects to use the panels made to produce power on his home, versus reliable certified industry panels that will last and qualify for state rebate $, which in many states cover most of the cost of professional certified panels and installation.

Response from

Before running this article, I wanted to give the people at

On September 24, 2009, Byron Walker responded to the above input:

I can respond to your news story, that is fine. But first I’d like to say that I welcome you to post it as is. I think news should be an open source of information and don’t believe in editing or trying to limit someone else’s views. You could include my response below if you would like.

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Many things you mention here are correct. It is true that if you build your own solar panels, you won’t qualify for any rebates. And yes, if you decide to build your own solar panels, you will have to buy supplies and do some labor to get everything installed. Users of our product can build a working solar panel, capable of producing around 75 watts in just a few hours and for under $100 total cost which is a substantial savings off of retail costs.

The basic solar panel construction we teach has a wooden frame and although you can primer and paint it to extend its life, it probably wouldn’t last 25 years in the harsh sun. We have another set of instructions that uses an aluminum frame and incapusulant which would provide the same life expectancy of a retail solar panel. This adds about $35 to the cost of the homemade solar panel.

If you were planning on offsetting your entire home’s energy usage, using DIY solar panels may not be the best option. However, it is a fun project and many “Do It Yourselfers” really enjoy building solar energy. Many people build a few solar panels for their work shed, water fountains, cabins, etc. There are many schools that have used our guide to teach students and many science projects have been completed with help from our guide. We are currently raising funds to travel to Uganda, Africa to teach remote villages how to build their own solar panels and provide power for homes that don’t currently have access to power. So while I agree that DIY solar power isn’t for everyone, there certainly are applications that make sense for some people.

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If you don’t already have our CD or download link, I can provide that for you [...] so you can take a closer look at our videos and guides, this may help show you the details and how this can be done inexpensively.

By the way, I’ve visited your website many times and think it’s a great resource for people. Thank you and keep up the great work.

Byron Walker

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On September 25, 2009, after reviewing the actual plans, Directory:James Dunn wrote:

The very first thing that I noticed in both designs, the PV and the Wind Turbine, is that the author is assuming that the user has a garage full of spare materials like plywood and Plexiglas or lexan, or lives next to a junkyard. If one had to buy these required materials alone, it could easily double the cost of the PV system – have you bought any Plexiglas lately !

I would ask the author to actually go buy ALL the items used at a local hardware store or Home Depot, and include that cost in his plans. That will change the economics dramatically.

In addition, he suggests that the 200W (MAX @ 30 mph) wind turbine ”incorporated within an existing electrical system can significantly lower your energy bill, by taking pressure off of household loads”.

Assuming that someone actually got one to safely run, and that you had suitable winds, I doubt if you would ever get more than 10-20 kWH per month in the very best case, which might save you $2-3 per month, MAX !! I would not consider this to ‘significantly lower one’s energy bill’. Nor would this be easy to ‘incorporate within an existing electrical system’, as the loads connected to the wind inverter and battery would have to isolated from the rest of the home’s electrical panel.

Also, I am concerned that the author leads people to believe that this is an affordable, safe, and easy way to generate power. Unfortunately, there are many issues that should be addressed here:

1 – This is a rather involved project with many parts and skills required to make anything that will produce any significant power, including several challenges like getting 3 homemade blades all made identically and perfectly balanced, which is necessary to keep the motor bearing from wearing prematurely, as the turbine vibrates while operating. (The motor bearing was never intended to be used this way, and could fail in less than one year).

2 – Although this is a very small turbine, on a small tower, most communities have regulations as to the construction and use of any wind turbine, and often require special permits (in advance of any installations) – my wind permit took nearly 4 months to get.

3 – Whereas solar power has a fairly consistent voltage, wind turbines are very erratic and intermittent, and subject to gusts which could easily produce surge currents which could damage the charge controller. Although the battery should provide sufficient capacity to buffer many of these variations, the selection of a suitable charge controller is a key element here, and could be very costly.

The wind turbine project is very misleading, but could possibly be offered as an educational project, with many disclaimers as to its use.

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"Green DIY Energy makes your neighbors jealous and mad, because it shows you step by step EXACTLY how to build your own solar panel system. You have it, they want it - simple human jealousy." (YouTube July 15, 2009)

Bad Idea

--Penny Gruber 17:30, 26 September 2009 (PDT)As Jim Dunn points out above building your own solar panels is a really bad idea. There is a lot that goes into building a high quality panel. Panels may look simple, but they are strictly high tech. The low iron glass, the anticorrosion alloy frame, the Tedlar backing materials, and Nema4 J boxes are not supplies you find at HomeDepot. Building your own solar panels makes no more sense than building your own anti-lock automobile brakes.

If you want to save money, a big chunk of the cost of a PV system is the rooftop installation. In a day of training almost anyone who is handy with tools can learn to do this properly and safely. Classes are offered for under $400. at various locations around the country. If you are contemplating an install I recommend taking a class whether you DIY or hire a contractor. DIY install can knock 1/3 to 1/2 the cost off the system. Whatever you do, avoid penny wise and pound foolish. A solar PV installation is a long term investment. Buy quality panels from one of the top tier manufacturers. This will add about $1./W to the cost versus the cheapest junk out there, but will pay back with better: output, reliability, and useable life.

Example construction 10 years ago