Post-Pandemic Economic and Development Challenges for Solar industry
As solar energy becomes increasingly popular for residential use, you’ve probably had a few neighbors install Solar Panels and may even be thinking of getting a system for your own home. But before adopting this technology, you may be wondering: What are Solar Panels made of, and how are they made? Many people simply accept that Solar Panels work and that’s all we need to know about them, but for the scientifically and technologically curious, each individual solar panel contains a world of interesting components and materials. Keep reading to learn more about what actually makes up a solar panel.
What Are Solar Panels Made of?
When you come across a solar panel, it may simply look like a single comprehensive block, but the truth is that Solar Panels are made of a bevy of chemical components and materials, each crucial to the effective and efficient conversion of solar light into usable electricity. To start, virtually all solar photovoltaic (PV) panels use crystalline silicon wafers as the main component material. Silicon is used to create semiconductors for about 95% of all Solar Panels on the market today, with the other 5% using experimental and in-development technologies like organic photovoltaic cells. The semiconductors created for Solar Panels are what create electricity: upon interaction with sunlight, the electrons in this material get knocked loose, which is the basis of electricity. This process is called the photovoltaic effect and it’s how Solar Panels work to generate power. Of course, the 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 typically covered by a layer of glass and an anti-reflective coating to protect the sensitive silicon solar cells while still letting the light through. The whole arrangement is supported by a plastic/polymer frame for installation on a rooftop or in a ground-mounted solar system. As with any modern and advancing technology, particularly in the energy space, 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’re also the most expensive.
- Polycrystalline silicon solar cells are made from multiple silicon crystals melded together. They’re not quite as high-efficiency as monocrystalline panels, but they’re a more budget-friendly rooftop solar option.
- Thin-film solar cells are made from amorphous silicon, which makes them the most flexible Solar Panels but also the least efficient.
Why Are Solar Panels Made with Silicone?
With silicone being the predominant material used to create solar panels, the natural question to ask is: why? Silicone has been used as the semiconductor material of a solar PV panel for the majority of the solar industry’s history. When investigating all possible materials on the periodic table, developers of early and modern Solar Panels all found that silicone actually boasted a number of ideal properties that made it the perfect candidate as this semiconductor material:
- Silicone is abundantly available and affordable as an elemental material, making it good for large-scale systems.
- Chemically and electronically speaking, silicone is quite easy to optimize for the photovoltaic effect that efficiently converts sunlight into electricity.
- As a component material, silicone is recognized as having a long lifespan, making the investment in Solar Panels even more fruitful.
How Are Solar Panels Made?
Because of how many Solar Panels are needed to keep up with the growing global demand for new solar installations, the manufacturing process has become quite streamlined and standardized. Solar manufacturers start by creating the silicon cells, a process that involves melting the silicone material down and mixing it with supportive elements. They then create sheets of material that can be cut and turned into the component cells. This part of the process typically entails mass production and laser cutting to expedite manufacturing. The finished cells are then protected with a layer of material such as glass or plastic. Once the solar cells are created, they need to be connected together in the right 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’re generating to a single location, whether it’s being sent into a building, into a local power grid or elsewhere. At that point, all that’s left is to connect the solar module to an outer polymer frame, which holds the panel and insulates the electrical components, covering everything with a protective layer of glass. Finally, manufacturers box the panels and send them out to installers