Using Plexiglass for Your Do-It-Yourself Solar Panel




Plexiglass for Solar PanelsTransitioning part of your home’s energy supply to solar power is more feasible than ever before thanks to the ease and cost-efficiency of making your own solar panels. In bookstores and online, you can find plans for do-it-yourself solar panels that can help you power anything from a few outdoor lights to your entire home. Several plans suggest that it is possible to build a do-it-yourself solar panel for less than a third of the price of purchasing one in a store.

The solar panel building process requires many important decisions: How much power do you want to get out of your solar power system? Where should you put your panel or panels in order to get maximum exposure to the sun? Another important decision is to select the proper casing material for your do-it-yourself solar panel.

The cover’s essential purpose is to allow a high percentage of light to reach the energy-generating solar cells below while protecting them from violent weather and damaging ultra-violet rays. Glass and acrylic are the two materials most often employed for this purpose because both are above the necessary threshold of transmitting more than 90% of light. Despite their similarity in this regard, acrylic, also known as plexiglass, has a number of advantages over glass for the do-it-yourselfer.

Plexiglass Solar Panel Covers: A smart alternative to glass:

  • The most important advantage of using plexiglass for solar panels is its strength. Plexiglass has an impact resistance that is around eighteen times that of ordinary glass and it is therefore far less likely to shatter due to inclement weather or an errant baseball.
  • In addition to being stronger, plexiglass solar panel covers are around 50% lighter than an equivalently-sized sheet of glass. This is an important factor to consider if your do-it-yourself solar panels are to be placed somewhere that is sensitive to excess weight or if you have to lug your completed solar panels to your roof for installation.
  • If your project design requires your cover to be cut to a custom size, using plexiglass for solar panels is likely to be a far cheaper option. While glass is less expensive when ordered in bulk, plexiglass places less of a burden on your budget when purchased in small, custom-cut quantities. Also, be sure to find out if your local plastics distributor already has the size you need in stock. This could save you quite a few dollars on labor costs.
  • Finally, due to their light weight and resistance to shattering, plexiglass solar panel covers are cheaper to ship and handle.

When working with plexiglass, there are a few considerations that require planning ahead for optimal results.

  • Over long periods of time, plexiglass can sag under its own weight due to its lack of rigidity in comparison to glass. It is this same flexibility that earns plexiglass solar panel covers high marks for impact resistance. Avoid this issue by incorporating multiple points of support for the plexiglass solar panel cover.
  • Plexiglass also tends to expand and contract with extreme temperature shifts from season to season. Plexiglass shifts at a rate of .00004″ per inch per degree of change on the Fahrenheit scale. As an example, an increase of 100 degrees from the coldest day of winter to the warmest day of summer would change the length of a sheet of acrylic with an original length of 36″ by .114″ [.00004"x36"x100°]. The effects of expansion and contraction can be negated by allowing enough “wiggle room” in the frame to compensate for the change in seasons.

Call a local plastics distributor today to find out just how easy and cost-effective it can be to incorporate acrylic solar panels into your do-it-yourself solar power project!

If you’ve built your own solar panels or have questions about using plastic for your solar panel covers, leave us a comment below!


5 Responses to “Using Plexiglass for Your Do-It-Yourself Solar Panel”

  • Gary says:

    July 2, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    What thickness would I use on a panel 24 by 33 would 1/8 be good or should I go to 1/4 thanks gary

      Pam Aungst says:

      July 3, 2012 at 4:25 pm

      Hi, Gary! Thanks for reaching out to us. Our staff suggests 5.5MM or .220 acrylic for this application. Let us know if we can help further.

  • Mark says:

    August 1, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    What type of acrylic (or brand name) would you recommend protection of the yellowing or haze, or is this going to be an actual issue within the next 20 years. Also will silicone encapsulants like “Sylgard or Cell-syl” adhere to it. Not that that is much of a worry if it does not stick repairs are possible.

      Pam Aungst says:

      August 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm

      Hi Mark,

      This question would probably be best answered by calling Evonik Cyro’s technical support line at 207-490-4230.

      Hope that helps.

    Mark says:

    August 1, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    Maybe out of your selection you could recommend a high end material / and a low end.
    does anti-glare change anything, like trap more light for the cells use or does it change the direction of reflection lessening light to the cells? Many questions I do not know if you have any answers for them.

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