Submitted by Karl Kuhrman on Fri, 07/12/2019 - 12:37
A home-made BZen-MOD1 on a sunny July day.

DiY Solar Module

What better way to dive into solar energy than to make your own solar module? You will learn the basics of solar energy in the process to give you a solid foundation for more advanced projects. The BZen-MOD1 is a full-open source solar module rated at 1000mA and 0.55V. Most of the supplies you'll need to build this can be purchased at a typical hardware or art/hobby supply store. The harder to find items - solar cell, ultra clear glass, sealant/adhesive and bonding materials - can be found on-line or purchased from one of a sponsor.

Bzen-MOD1 on GitHub


The terms 'solar module' and 'solar panel' are typically used interchangeably to refer to one or more solar cells connected and environmentally protected for the purpose of producing electricity. The term 'solar panel' often conjures images of glass and aluminium slabs the height of an adult mounted on the roof of a building or in a solar farm. But the familiar strip on a hand-held calculator, which powers it, is also a solar panel or module. In short, a solar module can be just about any size. A solar module is just one part of a solar system and it's purpose is to generate electricity from the sun. The other primary components of the typical solar system serve the purpose of storing this electricity and managing it's use. In speak we say a solar system serves to generate, store and regulate electricity from solar energy.

The BZen-MOD1 encapsulates a fairly small solar cell - 70mm x 50mm - in a rigid casing. Why go to the trouble of encasing the cell? There are two main reasons: durability and performance (on a much larger module one might add safety to the list of reasons but in the case of a module this small, safety is rolled into 'performance' since the risk of electrical hazard or fire is very small).

Not everyone is familiar with solar cells but many people are familiar with the common potato chip. In terms of weight and brittleness a solar cell and potato chip are very much alike. Trying to work with something as delicate as a potato chip as a source of electricity has a very high likelihood of leading to frustration and project failure. Therefore, we enclose the cell to prevent breakage. This makes the cell more durable.

Why not simply mount the cell on some rigid object, like a piece of metal or wood? This is where performance and safety become a factor. Imagine trying to work with the electrically charged materials of a battery outside of the protective case. The result might be messy or dangerous. But moreover, the chance of impurities being introduced into the system arises, creating a risk of degraded performance and even a safety hazard. Although the analogy may seem like a stretch it's not really far off the mark. There is a good reason why technology manufacturers use clean and white rooms as even the tiniest airborne contaminant can introduce the risk of component failure or worse - electric shock or fire.

Having a clean or white room is not a requirement to build a safe and functional BZen-MOD1. But we will take steps to greatly reduce the risks associated with contaminants.

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