GUEST POST: DIY Solar Projects – Simply Super

Our guest post on do-it-yourself solar is written by UK blogger, James Hawkins. What a fabulous concept, especially for those without enough capital to purchase a system. Give it a try with family, friend, neighbors.

There is a very large amount of energy available from the Sun. Every six hours, the Sahara receives enough solar energy to meet mankind’s needs for a year. Why then do many people not think of installing domestic solar panels when they can meet 50% or more of their property’s needs? The perceived investment required is likely the primary reason. Despite recent price decreases, to get an electricity-generating system installed professionally in the USA can still cost upwards of $4,400 even after government rebates. This has led to a rising culture of DIY solar enthusiasts keen to harness the power of the Sun by themselves!

Hot-Water Generating Panels

These are probably the simplest and cheapest type of solar panel to build yourself. Essentially, they are a wooden box, with a reflective back and a glass lid. Inside the box, water should be pumped through a copper coil. If cold water is pumped in, heated water will be pumped out. The finished product should look like this!

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How do you get here? You need to construct a shallow, open wooden box, which is fairly easy using just a few bits of wood and some screws. Then, inside the box, you need some sort of metal coil which is made of something that can easily transfer heat, such as copper, coiled to make sure it has plenty of surface area within the box to absorb the maximum possible energy. The perfect solution to this is the heat dispensing unit found at the back of an old fridge, so visit your dump to collect one of these:

Safety note: old fridges can contain CFC gases which will deplete the ozone and can be dangerous to human health. Most local dumps will remove the hazardous parts themselves, but do make sure before you start hacking bits off. The water from this set up can get, rather usefully, very hot very quickly – don’t burn yourself! Finally, don’t drink any of this water!

Electricity Generating Solar Panels

So you’ve seen the hot water panels and have decided you don’t want to get your hands wet – photovoltaic panels may be just the thing. Whilst the individual solar cells are very complicated, wiring them together is not as difficult as you may have imagined.

What will you need? Solar cells (it’ll cost roughly $85 for to cover a 5ft x 3ft panel), wood, clear perspex, screws, wire, and silicon caulk. The first step is to glue all of the solar cells onto a piece of wood or perspex, wiring them as follows:


You can use plain wire and a soldering iron to set them up like this, quickly and easily. Once they’re connected, use the caulk to stick them to a board (don’t use something that conducts electricity!) You should now have this in front of you:

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Each of the columns of panels should just be connected in series in the same way as before, so the above image shows 18 cells all connected in a continuous chain. Now, just build an open-top wooden box to hold the board of panels, and screw a sheet of clear perspex on top so that light can get in, but rainwater can’t. It’s very important to seal the box properly by coating it in several layers of paint. To seal the plastic lid to the box, use more caulk, and likewise around any holes where the wires enter/exit the panels. Make sure that you put housing over the wires too – else you’ll get a shock! Behold the finished product:

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 Other Ideas

Scott Davis, based in Maryland, has invented an incredibly compact solar hot air collector, which discretely captures hot air and pumps it into his basement, serving as underfloor heating:

The air is heated by the solar panels along the base of his house. He has built a tubing and air pump system to transport it into the basement:

How about roasting your coffee using a 900 degrees F, 600 mirror, 11,000-pound system? Coffee-fiend Dave Kartkop did! Notice its rotation ability to track the sun all day:


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 This isn’t your only option if you’ve got plenty of time on your hands. Aviation engineer, Peter, painted his empty beer cans black to build a remarkably slick hot air collector. Does it make his house smell like a bar? Only he knows.


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Written by James Hawkins, director of Talk Solar Panels, a uk solar panels prices comparison and solar power information service. Hawkins graduated two years ago from Cambridge University and since then has been blogging about renewable energy, and solar power in particular. Thanks very much, James!

Sunrise Photo: davidyuweb

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