Beating the summer heat, keeping your drinks cold,  or charging your smartphone. What do these activities have in common? They can all be powered using homemade solar panels.

If you have some technical expertise and the willingness to learn, the power to harness solar energy is within your reach. Here’s what you need to know to get started with DIY solar panels.

Homemade Solar Panels

People can absolutely make their own panels, according to Canadian university professor Joshua Pearce. Pearce’s ebook To Catch the Sun provides a step-by-step guide on creating solar systems and shares inspiring stories of individuals worldwide who have used solar energy to power their communities.

The essential components of a solar panel include photovoltaic cells, tab wires, and an encapsulation material, typically glass. All of these materials can be ordered online or purchased from hardware stores in various sizes.

It’s recommended to begin with a small project, not only for simplicity but also because it’s cheaper to buy larger panels than to make them. A good example of a beginner’s project would be making a solar panel that produces enough energy to power a water pump in your yard. This allows you to practice soldering skills and get acquainted with the materials.

However, exercise caution while working on such a project. You’ll be dealing with electrical components and tools that can cause burns.

Assembling Your Own Solar Panel System

When you’re ready to take on a more significant project, you can indeed assemble a solar panel system that can fulfill most of your home’s energy needs. The good news is that the economics are in your favor if you’re a DIY enthusiast. Installing a solar panel system can cost about half as much if you do most of the work yourself and have an electrician connect it to the grid, compared to hiring a solar installer for the entire job.

To begin, purchase premade solar panels, as assembling them from scratch can be more expensive. Then, fit the panels into racks (which you can build yourself) and angle them towards the sun. This system can power direct current (DC) devices.

Alternatively, if you’re more skilled, you can connect the system to an inverter to convert the electricity to alternating current (AC), the standard for American electrical devices.

Ensure you test the system with a multimeter. However, it’s recommended to hire a licensed electrician to ensure proper functionality. In any case, connecting your system to the electrical grid will require the assistance of a licensed electrician.

Purchasing Solar Panel Kits

Various kits are available for purchase online or in stores, ranging from DIY solar-powered toys to more extensive kits with multiple panels that can cost thousands of dollars. Start with an educational kit, such as a $20 solar-powered robot kit available on Amazon.

9-Step Guide to DIY Solar Panels

Here’s a general step-by-step guide to assembling a solar panel, partly based on a guide from the DIY solar panel project Biosphere Solar. Please use caution when working with a soldering iron and avoid contact with live wires.

1) Purchase solar panel components, including PV cells, tab wires, and encapsulation material (such as glass).

2) Wear gloves and safety goggles.

3) Measure, stretch, and cut the tab wires.

4) Solder tab wires to the front and back of the solar cells.

5) Test the connections with a multimeter.

6) Pull wires away from the cells so they’re not sealed inside.

7) Either laminate the cells for a short-lived panel or encapsulate them in glass. Clean the glass, place the cells on the bottom sheet, and carefully place the other piece of glass on top.

8) Seal the panel with caulk or glue.

9) Connect your DIY panel to a DC-powered device to finish the process.