How NOT to cut monocrystalline solar cells

The notion of “free electricity” has had some allure for me for quite some time. Back in the middle of high school, with a relatively full pocket after a hard summer job operating rides at a local outdoor theme park, I thought “Hm… Calgary sure gets a lot of sun. Now what if I tried to harness its energy?”

Back in late 2011 I purchased a set of 44 6″ by 6″ monocrystalline solar cells (the good stuff) off eBay. These cells sat unused for years until I tried to build a small panel with one of the cells. I wanted to have a small portable panel that I could bring around to charge my phone (I shoehorned a Nokia BL-5C into my Samsung Galaxy S II and it still works better than my fake “Samsung” battery I bought off eBay for $7 or so).

Cell plan created in Publisher

Cell plan created in Publisher

I created a layout of the way to cut up the cells using Microsoft Publisher, as it has the ability to create shapes in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get manner. I divided the 6-by-6 inch cell into 12 subcells. One whole cell is rated for 4 watts in full sun (0.5 volts * 8 amps), so each subcell should produce ~667 mA or 333 mW. However, the corner cells will have 1.5 cm^2 less area because monocrystalline cells are manufactured from a round wafer, but the output difference isn’t of huge concern to me. Of course, the useful power output of the cells will be much lower than this, but designing for that’s all part of the fun (or pain, depending on how you look at things).

I used a diamond cutting disk designed for a Dremel or other rotary tool, and scored the top side of the solar cell. If things went as planned, I could “snap” the cell at that scored line and it should break cleanly.

Since at this point the cell was basically ruined (Most of the fragments are usuable, provided the silver conductive pad is present on the back of the cell), I decided to cut up some “usable” sections by scoring both sides (and with more depth). It worked… okay I guess. The yield was poor but I did have a few cells that split acceptably.

Overall, the panel’s usable area is much less than what I expected. With 12 subcells I can expect about 1-2.5 watts from this panel. Oh well, live and learn.

Next up is to acquire a proper glass-cutter with a flat working surface…

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