Solar Laminates?

Every now and then I cruise through John’s inventory to see what he has in stock. Solar panel availability is getting tight around the country, but John always seems to come up with something. Sometimes it is something strange! Like solar laminates. He has them!

What’s a solar laminate? Well, take a look at a PV module, or solar panel, and most often you see an aluminum frame with the glass stuff mounted in there. The back side has a black plastic junction box with wires sticking out. When they are assembling panels, the business end of it is the laminate, the big glass thing. It is called a laminate because there are layers of glass, clear sticky plastic, silicon wafers and more sticky plastic on the back….all laminated into one assembly. You find these sometimes when a maker goes out of business or has to shut down a line before assembly is finished.

What can you do with them? You can put a junction box on the back and then get creative as to how to mount it. You might find some creative way of gluing it to the roof of your motor home. Maybe get some of the clamps they use with the First Solar thin film panels, which are a lot like laminates. Or you can use the polycarbonate channel used to hold glass in greenhouses.

The Black Thing With Wires is the Junction Box.

I have told before of an encounter I had with laminates, but since John has some in stock, I’ll tell it again. First, let me add the disclaimer, “Don’t Try This At Home!”

It started with a call from my friend Courtney. That’s always trouble. It has been so since kindergarten. Anyway, he’d acquired a bunch of laminates, because they were cheaper than regular panels. That’s key with him. He has plenty of money…because he doesn’t spend much. He was going to use them to cover his pergola, his backyard cookout refuge. OK, that sounds good, but his pergola was arched. Courtney said the salesman told him the laminates were flexible, so he was going to bend them over the arch!

Wait just a minute. My Chevrolet is flexible, too, but that doesn’t mean something bad won’t happen if I run a stop sign. Sure, glass is a little flexible, but bending it on purpose? I had my concerns, but I got in the truck and off I went to South Carolina.

By the time I got there, he had come up with some purple wood from South America that we milled into bows to go over top of the pergola. The stuff is supposed to never rot. It was so stiff it was actually harder to bend than the glass.

I spent an afternoon attaching junction boxes. Thin strips come out the back of the laminate and these clamp into terminals in the box. The box is glued to the back with silicone sealer. Using a little silicone is fairly neat, but after the first dozen it is getting messy and you wish you were doing something else. Around Courtney, though, be careful what you wish for.

Greenhouse H Channel. Screws With Fender Washers Go Through the Middle.

We used polycarbonate greenhouse channel, wood screws and every stainless steel fender washer the local Ace Hardware could dig up. We’d slip on the channel, bend everything down to the bows and put in the screws. Every time, I just knew that panel was going to explode and spray glass shards in my phase, but they never did.

That Boy Ain’t Right-But it Worked!

I forget the final count, looks like maybe 18 laminates, fed into a dual channel Sunny Boy grid tie inverter, a disconnect and a new meter. South Carolina had a great grid tie rate and solar subsidy plan in which the total system cost ended up being pretty much zero, if you don’t count all the time doing paperwork. As a bonus, he could now stay dry when grilling on a rainy day.

The upshot is that solar laminates can be good cheap fun if you are fearless. Or a little crazy. And if 2 old guys can take on a project like this, what’s your excuse? Hmm?

–Neal