What Are Solar Panels Made Of? A Complete Breakdown

June 22, 2020
By John Cole

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If you’re thinking of buying solar panels for your home or business, you’ve come to the right place. Before you begin, it’s important to know exactly what the solar panels are made from. We’ll take you through a complete breakdown of all the different components required.

There are two different types of solar panels, crystalline silicon and thin film. For rooftop solar panel installations, they are usually crystalline silicon. These are made from a few critical components: metal, silicon and glass. They also can include different types of wires, including bus wires and a standard 12v wire.

There are many reasons to include a solar panel in your home and business. Once you have the basic components down, you can start generating energy in no time. Read on to learn how solar panels are made, and whether you should make your own solar panels.

What Are The Raw Materials Of Solar Panels?

Simply put, solar panels are made from silicon. However, this needs to be broken down in order to be used. To build a solar panel, you need to first source the materials.

  • The silicon is constructed from quartz that has been crushed up. It is then treated to produce borons by including phosphorus. In order to use the silicon, it needs to have a shiny surface to reflect the sun. That is made by using titanium dioxide as a coating over the surface.
  • In order to stand upright, the silicon then needs to be included in a metal frame. This needs to be sturdy enough to be able to be held on a roof or other solid surfaces. After being included in the metal frame, a backing is made from polyester to hold it upright.
  • Since a solar panel needs to be sturdy enough for home use, it is then covered by glass so it will not be impacted by changes in weather. Copper wires are often used for electronic components. The panel is then framed by aluminum or steel, and another layer of silicon holds it all together.

How Is A Solar Cell Made?

At their core, solar panels are made from solar cells which then power the electrical current. But how are solar cells generated? We’ll run through it below.

1) First, the silicon needs to be purified. This is sourced from quartz or gravel, and then applied to a carbon arc. The carbon arc is derived from carbon dioxide and melted silicon. 

2) Next, the silicon is made into the structure of a single crystal. In this process, the seed of silicon is dipped into melted silicon. After it is rotated around, the usable silicon is formed.

3) From there, the silicon wafers are formed. They are sliced individually and formed into a rectangle shape to maximize the output. They are then polished so they can absorb as much sunlight as possible.

4) The wafers then go through the doping process, or having boron and phosphorous added. They are sealed and melted at a boiling point in order to give them further depth.

5) The electrical connects are then added to each cell. The connects most commonly used are silver, nickel or copper, and copper is added in between each cell.

6) An anti-reflective coating is then added to make sure that as much sunlight as possible is utilized. Traditionally, titanium dioxide and silicon oxide are used to maximize the output.

7) Finally, the cell is sealed in rubber or acetate. This makes it more durable against the elements. It is then slid into glass or plastic so it can be utilized in the panels.

While the most important component of solar panels is silicon cells, there are still many other components considered when making a solar panel. Read on to learn how the solar cells are converted into a full-use solar panel.

The Components of Solar Panels

Solar panels themselves are simply made from different cells formed into larger sizes, usually around 60 to 70 cells for home use. These are made into a grid by melting them together. They can also be melted into smaller sizes to fuel up different-sized areas. However, there are a few key components that make up the construction of solar panels used today.

The main type of solar panels used today is crystalline silicon. These solar panels generally look like large grids. They use these smaller cells to make a circuit, which generates energy. But what else is included in these solar panels?

1) There are a few other basic components needed to construct a solar panel. The panels themselves are considered PV panels. This is the most important part of the system, and it will directly impact the energy received.

2) In order to have your solar panel at the ideal angle towards the sun, you’ll also need mounting equipment. This could range from single pole mounts to fixed racks. The end goal is to make sure that your solar panel is sturdy and not going to move in inclement weather. This is why most customers choose to go with roof-mounted systems.

3) A huge question about solar panels is how the energy is converted. Inverters do most of the work to power the solar panels. They take the signals from the panels and convert them into energy that you can use in your home. Grid power is used in these cases, and the inverters should be compatible with that.

4) Your solar panels should be able to turn off and on at a moment’s notice. Of course, the easiest way to do this is install disconnect switches. This can be considered one of the most important parts of your solar panels, as it can protect your property from overheating. Make sure to put them in an easy-to-reach spot where you’ll be able to get to them in an emergency.

5) The solar panels on your roof should be facing the sun at all times to maximize the power. To do this, you should install tracking mounts. This will move the panels during the day so they’ll be able to harness the sun’s power at all times.

6) Wires are a key part of your solar panels. You should make sure all of the positive and negative terminals of the solar panels are grouped with their like components. These wires will connect the panel to your property, and allow you to use the power.

7) Lastly, in order to use your solar panel you’ll need a power meter from a utility company. This will allow you to connect to the grid and use the panel to its full potential.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

After knowing what solar panels are made from, it’s only natural to wonder how they work and can source energy to your property. It’s actually a relatively simple process. We’ll walk through the steps below.

Simply put, solar panels absorb the sunlight from your roof to create energy. The panels use photovoltaic cells, which use the energy from the light and convert it. This then creates an electrical current which can be used. The way that solar panels work can be broken down into a few simple steps.

1) Firstly, the sunlight hits the panel on the roof. This key construction with the metal, silicon and glass makes them ready to absorb all sunlight during the daytime.

2) Shortly after, the cells produce the electrical current. The panels contain two layers, one that is positively charged and one that is negative. The light energy causes the electrons to create an electric current.

3) Once you have the electric current, it can be then converted into electricity. It’s either being generated into direct current or alternating current energy. The type of energy that works for most properties is alternating current energy. This can easily be changed using an inverter installed by a professional.

4) From here, the electricity can be used to power your property. This can be used in all of the same ways that you would typically use electricity. 

What Are Solar Panels Used For? 

Now that you know what solar panels are made from and how the electricity is generated, it’s helpful to know a few popular uses for solar panels and energy. We’ll run through a few of the most popular ones below.

1) Rooftop solar panels: these are probably the most common use of solar panels for the average customer. This use of solar panels can reduce electricity costs and generate clean energy.

2) Water heating: while electricity is the most popular use of rooftop solar panels, the energy generated can be used for other purposes inside the home. One other easy way to save money and energy is to use solar panels for water heating, and even use them as generators for the heaters inside the home.

3) A battery system: it’s helpful to have a backup system in case of outages or emergencies, and solar panels can provide that. This can even be used for outdoor electricity or lighting. 

Is Coal Used In The Production Of Solar Panels?

As solar panels rise in popularity, many users have concerns about how green the process from creating the panels is. A common myth is that they are less green in the production than their output, resulting from the use of coal.

However, the greenhouse gas emissions that are used to create solar are still much lower than coal or any natural gas. The most important thing to remember is that solar panels can last for up to 40 years, making the process to create them well-worth it in the long run.

In fact, the creation of solar panels themselves has an extremely low carbon footprint. When all is said and done, it is still one of the most environmentally-sustainable energy sources out there.  

Are Solar Panels Durable?

Solar panels have increased in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. These panels are easy to install, and can help save you a great deal over their life. They can also help save energy by using a renewable resource. If treated properly, the life of your solar panels could very well last up to 40 years.

Most of the solar panels made are from crystalline silicon, which will stand up to the challenges presented by weather if properly taken care of. Solar panels are a relatively simple design of solar cells, aluminum and glass. The most important ingredient is in the purity of the silicon, which will make a huge difference in how efficient the panel is.

The production of solar panels may be changing shortly. The backsheets that are used to keep solar panels from being exposed to the sunlight may be eliminated. Soon, some panels will also no longer need a frame, further speeding up the production process.

The solar polar industry is constantly evolving, and along with it the production of the panels themselves. Although the process to make solar panels is relatively simple, manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to streamline it and cut down on time. This can also include looking into the backsheets and the aluminum that surround the panels themselves, making them more exposed to sunlight.

When it comes down to it, solar panels used for the home are a relatively simple design that’s being rapidly replicated for the evolving needs of the industry. Some panels are now becoming frameless, or eliminating the need for the back sheet, further cutting down the amount of components needed.

At their core, solar panels are composed from silicon wafers. The process to make solar panels is relatively simple, and can be replicated at any time. The components of solar panels are worth it for saving electricity and money for property owners, simply from silicon, glass and aluminum.

There is no need to worry about this running out any time soon, because it can be grown over time. Solar panels are a simple design that will benefit your property for years to come.

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