From July 11th to 13th 2015 the Farm hosted a course on self-construction of solar panels. The expert Luigi Lisi taught participants the theory and practice for the construction of a solar panel by using recyclable materials and purchased solar cells. Luigi also provided examples on how to turn a house or another project self-sufficient in terms of energy production.
We took advantage of this happy occasion to ask Luigi few questions.

Can anybody build a solar panel or you need to be an electrician to do it?

Ho fatto tanti corsi in giro per l’’Italia e devo dire che tutte le persone che ho seguito, anche quelle che non avevano una grande manualità e destrezza, sono riuscite senza difficoltà a portare a termine il lavoro. I’ve held many courses around Italy and everybody was able to build a solar panel, even people who didn’t have many manual skills, so I have to say that anybody can build a solar panel without having to necessarily be an electrician.

What do we need to build a solar panel?
In order to build a solar panel we only need commonly used and easy-to-obtain materials.
In particular: a 40 or 60-watt tinning machine, tin, scissors, a caulk gun, neutral silicone, a flat surface to be used as workbench.
Other materials are: solar cells, tinned copper tape, Flux pens to prevent oxidation when tinning the copper stripes on the solar cells and glass sheets.

Where can we find all the necessary tools and materials?
The tools can be bought in any hardware store or DIY store.
As of the materials (solar cells, tin copper stripes, etc.) we can try to buy them from a company that builds solar panels (if there is one in our area) or purchase them online.
Concerning the glass sheets, personally I purchase them from companies that produce window frames. Indeed, glass is a waste material for them and actually they have to pay for disposing of it, so they usually are very glad to save money by giving glass to someone who is going to recycle it.

Nowadays the cost of solar panels has decreased considerably, so is it still convenient to self-construct them?
This is a good point. First of all, we need to understand what “convenient” means.
Until few years ago, the ratio of purchased solar panels to self-produced ones was 4 to 1, so self-construction was really convenient. Today this ratio is 2 to 1, so we purchase at a cost of 200 and we self-construct at a cost 100.
I would like to underline that I am referring to a single solar panel, not a whole system. Otherwise I would have to make further distinctions.
In the cost of the solar panel time is not included and neither are the fun and satisfaction of having carried out this project with your own resources.
Finally, since I know how the solar panel is built, I can always fix it easily if something doesn’t work.

What are the issues linked to renewable energies and which are the best energy accumulation systems?
The main problem of renewable energy sources is that they are unstable, for i.e. wind and sun are not available 24h/7. So, in order to avoid energy storage through batteries, we need to change our habits and use energy during production picks.
A system of production and storage of renewable energy that I believe is a breakthrough (I’ve been involved in a project on this topic for several years now) is to employ the energy available in picks time for breaking water molecules (hydrogen and oxygen).
Hydrogen can be stored and employed when needed as fuel for boilers, stoves and engines or for the production of electricity if stored in fuel cells.

What do you think about the environmental impact of solar panels and wind farms?
I think this is a very exploited topic.
Surely in the past years we witnessed many examples of incorrect uses of these systems (i.e. agricultural lands covered with solar panels or massive wind farms), but we also need to consider which are the alternatives.
The current available options are oil, coal and nuclear energy and these are way much worse than the environmental damages caused by big production plants of renewable energies.

Is it possible to go completely off-grid and not having to pay any more bills? Do you have any example?
Yes, it is, even though we have to take into account few aspects.
Everything is linked to our habits and beliefs. We can build household production systems of renewable energies that can meet the energy demand of a family, but as I said before, we also have to rethink our habits.
Then we can even go further: in 2010 the residents of the ecovillage “Il Giardino della Gioia” in Southern Italy self-constructed a solar power plant that produces 1 kw each hour if the weather is sunny.
In my opinion the first step to make is to integrate our energy supply with different renewable energy sources so that with the passing of time they will be able to completely substitute the traditional ones.


We have interviewed Luigi Lisi. 

Luigi Lisi was born in Rimini in 1963 and for several years he worked as a technician first in his own mechanic’s workshop and then for different car and motorcycle manufacturers. He is keen on recycling reusing and he designed and cooperated to build mass stoves that heat up water for sanitary and heating purposes.
Luigi developed a technique for the self-construction of a solar power plant and the energy self-sufficiency of caravans, houses and villages. By employing only recyclable materials he built a machine for cutting solar cells and adapt them to each person’s needs. At the moment he is working on the project of a solar power plant that can also reuse the heat produced by biomasses. At the same time he is researching on and experimenting electrolytic cells for breaking water molecules; pyrolysis for fuelling internal combustion engines; self-construction of a small wind turbine. Finally he is working with professor Nicola Conenna, Bari University and the city of Taranto on the project “H2U” for the construction of a low-cost public power plant that exploit hydrogen as an accumulator in order to make public and private buildings self-sufficient in terms of energy production.