Wikipedia: Solar energy, radiant light and heat from the sun, has been harnessed by humans since ancient times using a range of ever-evolving technologies. Solar radiation, along with secondary solar-powered resources such as wind and wave power, hydroelectricity and biomass, account for most of the available renewable energy on earth. Only a minuscule fraction of the available solar energy is used.

Solar powered electrical generation relies on heat engines and photovoltaics. Solar energy's uses are limited only by human ingenuity. A partial list of solar applications includes space heating and cooling through solar architecture, potable water via distillation and disinfection, daylighting, solar hot water, solar cooking, and high temperature process heat for industrial purposes.To harvest the solar energy, the most common way is to use solar panels.
How to Build Your Own Simple Solar Panel that Works
 

Solar panels are devices that convert energy from the sun into electricity. When installed in homes, they can generate power enough to heat homes, heat the pool, keep the electricity running and drop the utilities bills up to 50%. With solar panels installed, the Electric companies will end up paying you instead of you paying them and it is one way of making sure that no pollutants will destroy nature.

For those enterprising few, building your own solar panels can become a family project that could take up a weekend’s worth of activities. They are actually simple to make and the materials can be bought from hardware stores.

The materials needed are: half a square foot per panel of sheets of copper flashing (about $5/square foot), 2 alligator clip leads, micro-ammeter from Radio Shack, electric stove, 2 litter clear plastic spring water bottle, 2 tablespoons salt, tap water, sand paper or a wire brush on an electric drill and metal sheers to cut the copper flashing sheets.

First step is to cut the copper sheet with the metal sheers. Protect hands by using thick gloves; this will also prevent any acid sweat and oils to go on the sheet. The size of the sheet has to be about the same, if not a little bigger, than a burner on a stove. Remove any sulphide or corrosion from the sheet using the wire brush or the sandpaper. Place the sheet on top of the burner and turn it on at highest setting.

The heated copper sheet will gradually turn colors as it oxidizes in reaction to the heat. Once the sheet starts losing colors and gradually turns black, the sheet will become coated with black cupric oxide coat. Continue cooking for half an hour so the black coating gets thick. Nice thick coating will flake off better than a thin one. Turn off burner and let cool slowly by leaving it on the burner.

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The gradual cooling will flake off the oxide coat as the sheet shrinks. After a while, most of the oxide will flake off. Scrub the now cool sheet with hands under running water, do not flex, scrub or attempt to remove whatever oxide is left. This will damage the material.

Cut off the neck of the 2 liter clear plastic spring bottle leaving a wide opening. Cut another sheet exactly the same size as the heated one; bend both sheets until they can get into the mouth and sides of the plastic bottle. Don’t make them touch. Attach one alligator clip lead to the new sheet and other on the heated one. Connect the new sheet lead to the positive terminal of the meter the heated metal lead to the negative terminal.

Stir in 2 tablespoons of salt in hot tap water, stir to dissolve then pour into the jar. The salt water should not cover the plates completely, about an inch is left.

Place under the sun and see the charge go up. Make more of these and you have a working solar panel. For "real" solar panels - please see the links on the page.