What are solar panels made of (how are they made?)

What are solar panels made of?

When you encounter a solar panel, it may just look like one complete block, but the truth is that solar panels are made up of a multitude of chemical components and materials, each crucial to the efficient and effective conversion of sunlight. in usable electricity. .

For starters, virtually all photovoltaic (PV) solar panels use crystalline silicon wafers as their primary material. Silicon is used to create semiconductors for about 95% of all solar panels on the market today, with the remaining 5% using experimental and developing technologies like organic photovoltaic cells.

Semiconductors created for solar panels are what create electricity: when interacting with sunlight, electrons in this material break off, which is the basis of electricity. This process is called the photovoltaic effect and it is how solar panels work to generate energy.

Of course, solar PV cells won’t be able to power your home without the rest of the operational components, including glass, plastic, metal, and wiring. Solar panels are usually covered with a layer of glass and an anti-reflective coating to protect the sensitive silicon solar cells while still allowing light to pass through.

The assembly is supported by a plastic/polymer frame for installation on a roof or in a ground mounted solar system. As with any modern and advanced technology, especially in the field of energy, solar panels come in many variations of styles, sub-components and designs.

The most common types of solar panels are monocrystalline solar panels, polycrystalline solar panels, and thin-film solar panels:

  • Monocrystalline Silicon panels are made from a single crystal. They are the most efficient solar panels, but they are also the most expensive.
  • Polycrystalline silicon solar cells are made from several silicon crystals fused together. They are not as efficient as monocrystalline panels, but they are a more economical rooftop solar option.
  • Thin layer solar cells are made from amorphous silicon, which makes them the most flexible but also the least efficient solar panels.

Why are solar panels made with silicone?

Since silicone is the predominant material used to create solar panels, the natural question to ask is: why? Silicone has been used as a semiconductor material in a photovoltaic solar panel for most of the history of the solar industry.

Investigating all the possible materials on the periodic table, developers of ancient and modern solar panels have all found that silicone actually has a number of ideal properties that make it the perfect candidate as a semiconductor material:

  • Silicone is widely available and affordable as an elemental material, making it ideal for large-scale systems.
  • Chemically and electronically, silicone is quite easy to optimize for the photovoltaic effect which efficiently converts sunlight into electricity.
  • As a component material, silicone is known to have a long service life, which makes investing in solar panels even more fruitful.

You can get a free, no-obligation estimate from a leading solar company in your area by clicking below.

How are solar panels made?

Due to the number of solar panels needed to meet the growing global demand for new solar installations, the manufacturing process has become quite streamlined and standardized.

Solar panel makers start by creating the cells out of silicon, a process that involves melting the silicone material and mixing it with supporting elements. They then create sheets of material that can be cut and made into component cells. This part of the process usually involves mass production and laser cutting to speed up manufacturing.

The finished cells are then protected by a layer of material such as glass or plastic. Once the solar cells are created, they must be connected together in the correct size, shape and configuration. To do this, manufacturers solder them to the base of a solar panel, which is made of a conductive metal.

The base houses the cells and also transfers the electricity they produce to a single location, whether it is sent into a building, into a local power grid or elsewhere.

At this point, all that remains is to connect the solar module to an outer polymer frame, which holds the panel and insulates the electrical components, covering the whole thing with a protective layer of glass.

Finally, the manufacturers package the panels and send them to the installers.

Are solar panels environmentally friendly to manufacture?

While solar power is often touted as a beacon of clean energy in a world rapidly succumbing to climate change, critics will point out that solar panel manufacturing has its own environmental considerations.

As solar panel technology has improved over the past few decades, the manufacturing process has continued to become less polluting, as shown in a university study that found “a strong downward trend in solar energy.” ‘environmental impact’ of solar panel production between 1975 and 2015. This rate of improvement has not stagnated in recent years, and identifying the most environmentally friendly materials and production processes remains a challenge. top priority for all major solar producers.

Additionally, solar panel end-of-life considerations are being actively integrated into the solar panel lifecycle, with manufacturers developing ways to recycle panels and their hardware components to further minimize their impact. That said, there is no free lunch.

Making any product requires energy and resources, which means the process inherently adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere – exactly what this renewable energy seeks to minimize. If it is true that solar panels have an environmental cost for their production, the same is true for the construction of power plants and wind turbines; the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels; and any other method to create useful energy.

But with solar panels having a lifespan of 25 years or more, this environmental impact is spread over a long period, while the actual electricity production does not require any fuel. On a per kilowatt-hour basis over the lifetime of a solar panel, the net impact is far less than almost any other energy source, and that impact is getting even lower with continued improvements in technologies, supply chains and recycling programs.

Is solar energy right for you?

As power companies seek to address climate change and environmentally conscious energy consumers recognize the benefits of generating their own electricity, solar power is becoming a much more common source of electricity.

After being merely a dot on the radar as recently as 2010, US solar power capacity has increased 50-fold over the past decade to nearly 76 gigawatts, generating enough power to power 19 million average households. Most people have observed this clean energy trend, seeing neighbors buying solar panels, stumbling across solar installations above a local business, or even walking past a full-sized solar farm. But is solar a good choice for your home?

For many homeowners, the decision comes down to cost.

You can get a free, no-obligation estimate from a leading solar company in your area by clicking below.

Matt Chester

Solar expert

Matt Chester is an expert in energy, utilities and sustainable practices who uses his engineering background to break down complex technical concepts for all audiences. He spent a decade as a consultant on teams advising the US Department of Energy and delving into the world of clean energy, sustainable business practices and the future of the grid.