How To Make Your Own DIY Solar Panels And Save Hundreds Of Dollars

A photovoltaic (PV) module that is composed of...

A photovoltaic (PV) module that is composed of multiple PV cells. Two or more interconnected PV modules create an array. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you been wanting to add solar panels, but are concerned about the high price?

That’s totally understandable! Buying PV solar panels and having them installed can be really expensive.

A quick Google price search for solar panels shows that for a small “starter” installation (around 50-100W), you can expect to be paying between $2-4/watt for the panels (so around $100-400), plus more for mounts and installation. In addition, you’ll be paying for cables, electronics, and batteries to store all the electricity you’ve harnessed from the sun. All this will typically add up to $1000 to $2000 if you were to get a “basic” RV setup from a solar energy dealer.

But the great news is… If you’re handy, you can save a ton! The more skill you have with basic installation and electronics assembly, the more you can save. In fact, if you’re able and willing to go the total DIY route and invest some of your own workshop time, you can build your own panels for just $1/watt or even much less.

The first tip for those of you who are willing to do some assembly and soldering is to purchase your panels in “kit” form. DIY solar kits come in a lot of different combinations, but you’re essentially looking at a boxed kit with panels, cables, mounts, and possibly a charge controller, which you’ll hook up to your own batteries using their instructions. To find these kits, just Google “RV solar energy kit” or better, “diy solar kit”.

English: Solar_Panel

English: Solar_Panel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Assembling your panels from a kit is a great idea if you like building things and would enjoy learning how the whole system works. You’ll save a bit of money in the process, in exchange for your own time and effort.

Really the best part, though, is that once you learn for yourself how a solar energy system works, you’ll be in an even better position to save a lot more on your upgrade. Once you’re comfortable with how the whole thing works, you’ll begin to figure out which of the modular parts are easy to upgrade and you can be on the lookout for deals on panels, cables, and electronics. In fact, if you buy a good kit, it probably has suggestions for upgrading.

Once you’ve gotten your head around how it all works, you’re in a position to really save a lot of money by assembling components closer to actually building them totally “from scratch.” Of course it will likely never be economical to actually create your own high-output solar cells, because the volume manufacturing process is what brings the cost down. But what you can do to save a lot of money is to buy the individual solar cells yourself and solder them together to make your own solar panel, at whatever wattage configuration you like. In fact if you’re smart about how you wire them together, you can even make them work better than the manufactured ones.

The easiest way to find individual solar cells is to search Ebay for ‘solar cells.’ You should be able to find packs of PV squares available for about $1/watt or less! (Get the tabbed kind to make it way easier on yourself.)

Watch the video below to get an idea how to solder them together. Basically all you need to do is series-connect together however many you need to reach your target voltage — around 14.8V plus a pre-chosen fudge factor of a few volts — and parallel a few lines of those to add wattage.

BUT what if you could save even more?? Let’s say, cut the cost down from $1/watt to about 30-40 cents per watt… Would you be interested in that?

If you’re a fan of dirt cheap “function over form” DIY, ie. if you don’t mind how things look if it’s way cheaper and works just as well…

Řezy solárního panelu.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A further way to cut your costs in half or even a third is to search Ebay for “broken solar cells”. What you’ll find is a few creative sellers who cater to DIYers who realize that broken solar cells work just as well as whole ones. They may be fragments, or they may have just a small chip in them — either way, they can’t sell them as “perfect” so they need to get rid of them.

Study a few listings and ask the seller questions to make you’ll be able to work with them. Since they’re broken, some or all of them may not have tabs, so you’ll have to solder them yourself. No biggie, but it does take more work. If you’re willing to put in the research, you can save a ton on panels, or for the same money, you could build a much bigger system.

Of course with a bigger panel system, you’ll need to upgrade the other components as well. You’ll likely want bigger cables, more battery storage, and a charge controller that can handle the higher current. Realistically, it would be best to plan your installation from the beginning to account for future upgrades. In another article I’ll explain how to calculate your needs and how to save lots of cash on the other components as well.

About the author:
“Boondocking vagabond” Mobile Rik is converting his Toyota Tacoma into a Homemade Truck Camper stripped of unnecessary “modern conveniences” and outfitted with sustainable hacks for desert camping, including electricity-free refrigeration, waste composting, and ample solar-powered cookery and computing. Stay tuned for the full article!

How To Make A DIY Air Conditioner Out Of A Fan And Some Copper Tubing

cheap home made air conditioner from copper pipe and a fanHave you ever wondered how to quickly set up your own air conditioner in a pinch?

Here’s a nice instructional video by Amit Ranjan showing how he made his own air conditioner out of a few spare parts.

  • 1 fan
  • 1 ice cooler
  • 1 water pump
  • a few feet of copper tubing
  • a few feet of plastic tubing
  • a few zip ties

Home Made Air Conditioner (YouTube)
Continue reading

DIY RV Air Conditioning (Works Wonders In Dry Climates)

A misting fan

A misting fan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What if I told you that you don’t need to use a traditional air conditioner in the desert. (Crazy right? But under certain circumstances, totally true!)

For an RVer one of the most expensive drains on your reserve battery power is running the AC. And if you live in a hot climate, it might seem ridiculous to consider living without it.

If you live in a hot and HUMID climate you may be stuck with using expensive traditional air conditioning. (At least for a little while longer, until technology catches up.)

But if you happen to live in a hot and DRY climate, you can often get away with something that may be far cheaper.

The one essential ingredient to make this type of non-AC cooling system work is something that most of us have in such ready supply that we don’t even think about it: WATER.

Ironically, that’s the one thing that runs in short supply in HOT and DRY climates like the popular Desert Southwest snowbird destination.

But if you happen to have a full water tank or — much better — are close to a ready water source, then you can have the makings of a quick and dirty evaporative cooling system.

If you’re not from the American Southwest, you may not be familiar with the concept of “swamp coolers“. These are what residents of hot dry climates use to cool their houses cheaply, without the use of air conditioning. Essentially a swamp cooler — technically an “evaporative cooler” is nothing more than fan that blows hot dry air through a water soaked fabric mesh. As the hot air passes through the mesh, some of the water evaporates into water vapor, carrying some of the heat with it, up and out of the building. In a dry climate, a swamp cooler has the benefit of not only cooling the air, but adding some desirable moisture to the parched air as well.

(If you’re from the humid Southeast, you might be wondering why the heck you’d want to add moisture to the air! Trust me. If you ever visit Arizona you will figure it out within the first 24 hours, when you wonder why you’re so dehydrated.)

A typical home air conditioning unit.

A typical home air conditioning unit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A traditional air conditioner uses so much energy because it’s doing something that’s very difficult. It works on a heat pump principle, that uses some laws of how liquids and gasses behave at different pressures to force little bits of heat to go from a cold place to a hot place. A heat pump is always working “up hill,” and the steeper the temperature difference between the cold and hot place (think of your freezer) the more it has to work.

But an evaporative cooler only requires a simple and efficient DC fan, and sometimes not even that.

For illustration:

  • A great way to cool down your motorhome on the hottest and driest of days is to soak some towels and lay them onto the roof. If it’s really hot and dry, it may take a few buckets of water, but it’ll give you some quick relief from the “oven” effect.
  • To cool the inside, simply use a fan and a wet cloth. For a quick blast of cool air, lay a soaked towel over a fan.
  • For a semi-permanent “mini-installation”, hang a wet washcloth over your incoming air vent (with the fan on obviously) and spray it with water when it gets dry.
  • If you’re handy, you can turn this into a full swamp cooler installation by using a more efficient wicking mesh, a small water basin, and a small water pump.

A key thing is to make sure the air on the intake side is the dry outside air, so that it can absorb the water vapor. Once the inside air is saturated, you’ve hit your cooling limit.

Keeping the inside air dry enough to keep cooling it is where advanced air conditioning technology is required. There have been a lot of small developments in swamp coolers technology over the years, but getting past this hurdle has been a tough challenge for cooling engineers. (Check out the Coolerado system.)

But these ideas should be enough to get you started experimenting with evaporative cooling tricks. In future articles I’ll be discussing different plans for more sophisticated DIY camper cooling systems.


About the author:

“Boondocking vagabond” Mobile Rik is converting his Toyota Tacoma into a DIY RV Truck Camper stripped of unnecessary “modern conveniences” and outfitted with sustainable hacks for desert camping, including electricity-free refrigeration, waste composting, and ample sun-powered cookery and computing. Stay tuned for the full article!