If at First You Don’t Succeed, Harness the Sun to Do Your Bidding

Last weekend, a friend of mine and I worked on a solar panel kit I got through the Solar Pocket Factory project I backed on Kickstarter a while back.

We had previously created a working prototype with bobby pins, but with the extremely fragile solettes being unattached and unprotected, this isn’t a viable permanent solution:

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So, we set about gluing each of the solettes down.

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After each solette, we tested using a multimeter.

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When the last one was glued down, the readings went haywire. Where before, we were getting a consistent 5-6v, now we were fluctuating between 1 and 3. Something was introducing unexpected resistance. We suspected the last couple of panels may have had glue problems, so I surgically sliced out the offending panel (shattering it… we ended up using every one of that particular size of panel, between breakage and the sheer number of them we needed to get a consistent 5v current).

After fixing that I did my first soldering ever, and soldered the wires to the copper tape. Ta da! That was pretty easy; my friend is a very good teacher.

We did a bunch of materials tests with the plastics that came in the kit, especially since I didn’t understand at first what the EVA and PET sheets were for. The Solar Pocket Factory kit is awesome, but it doesn’t tell you which sheets are which, or what side should be up or down (there’s a right and wrong side on these things). The documentation is weak, at best. Really great if you are, say, a solar engineer. Not so great if you are a home project do-er who is trying something out for $35 or less.

The plan was to solder some wires onto the copper tape and run the charge through some stuff (we haven’t gotten there yet), connect to a micro-USB plug, and charge my kindle from this amazing little panel.

I know, you can buy a solar panel charger for USB devices fairly cheaply. That’s not the point. I got to learn stuff with this project! I soldered!

Anyway, we patiently worked on the materials part, melting plastic and damaging an ironing board in the process. Finally, we figured out which pieces go where, and put it all together. Carefully, so as not to break the solettes with the weight of the iron, I ironed the solar panel.

We tested it with the multimeter. 0.0. Took it outside. 0.0.

Something had gone terribly wrong.

Disappointed by undaunted, I twisted the wires together and announced “Christmas tree ornament!”

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We’re still troubleshooting and haven’t given up. It’s obvious that something is wrong with the plastics, and we’re going to look into giving these an acetone bath to recover the solettes (now that we’ve confirmed that won’t damage the solettes), then re-trying with layers of epoxy to seal the panel.

Moral of the story: Sometimes, projects don’t work. That’s okay.