Solar panels are our best chance at creating a world capable of running on renewable energy. Despite the massive strides made in the department of renewable energy sources, many of us are still unaware of how they work. For instance, you may wonder how do solar panels work? Or, what are solar panels made of?
Solar panels are made from extracted and processed silicon. Though not all solar panels use silicon in the same way, silicon is the main component in all solar panels that assures a solar panel conducts electricity. Aside from this, metal frames, glass sheets, and some standard wires are also used to make solar panels.
This article will be providing a brief but thorough introduction to the manufacturing of solar panels. If you are curious about the future of renewable energy and want to know more details about how solar panels are made, then keep reading.
What Are Solar Panels Made From?
Solar panels are made of primarily silicon that is processed and used to create a photosensitive panel that can convert sunlight into usable electricity.
The process of making solar panels is rather complex. If we were to consider every detail and step, one could compile a long list of items necessary to make solar panels. However, to keep this article brief and articulate, here are some of the major components required to make solar panels.
Silicon (Solar Cells)
Solar cells made from silicon make solar panels such an efficient tool for renewable energy. Silicon is essentially sand. Fortunately, sand is something that our planet has in abundant quantity, making this a sustainable material for solar panels. As of now, almost 95% of the world’s solar panels use a silicon base. The other 5% use experimental material such as organic photovoltaic.
The crystalline lattice structure of silicon cells makes them excellent semiconductors. Energy from the sun can be very easily converted to electricity and passed through silicon cells to light up houses, cars, and many other things.
Aside from being readily available, silicon is also cost-efficient and can last for about 25 years. This makes silicon the best material for semiconductors in not just solar panels, but also computer chips and other gadgets.
Silicon is undoubtedly the star player in the making of a solar panel. However, it is the other components of a solar panel that allow silicon solar cells to function as well as they do.
One such component is the glass sheet above the crystal silicon wafer. The glass on the surface of solar panels protects the silicon wafer from directly being hit by the sun. This prevents the silicon from absorbing excessive heat and getting damaged.
The width and structure of the glass sheet coating the silicon wafer determine how effective a solar panel is. A standard solar panel glass sheet is about 6-7mm thick.
If the glass is too thick the silicone won’t receive enough solar energy to convert into electricity. Alternatively, if the glass is too thin, the silicon wafer will receive too much sunlight and start overheating.
The metal frame maintains the structure of the solar panel. Without the metal frame, there would be nothing holding the different components of the solar panel together.
Ideally, the frame of the solar panel should be strong enough to hold the structure of the panel while also being malleable enough to reshape if necessary. For this reason, aluminum is the most common material used for the frame of solar panels.
Aside from structural support, the metal frame of a solar panel also protects the entire panel from harsh weather. Solar panels are typically mounted on rooftops where they are susceptible to harsh weathers such as rain, wind, and snow.
The metal frame protects the interiors of the solar panel during unfavorable weather. Without a proper frame solar panels, though effective, would not be as durable as they are now.
Wires (12V and Bus)
Solar panels would without a doubt be incomplete without wires to help electricity travel from the panel to your house. Solar panels consist of both internal and external wiring to help them conduct electricity.
Bus wires are used to connect rows of silicon solar cells. This connects lines of silicone cells so that they can become one large silicon wafer. Bus cells also help in the circulation of electric energy in a solar panel.
Many different wires can be used for the external wiring of solar panels. However, the standard 12 Volt wire is the most common type of wire used.
The 12V wire connects the solar panel to the inverter which passes electricity along to your house. 12V wires regulate how much electricity is passed on from the solar panel to the inverter. Electricity generated from solar power can be inconsistent. 12V wires make sure a uniform level of electricity is passed on.
How Are Solar Panels Made?
In the beginning, the manufacturing process of solar panels was highly experimental and had many variations. However, due to the rising demand for solar panels, a standardized manufacturing procedure has been established by professionals.
The technical aspects of making a Solar Panel are complicated to explain without the use of technical jargon. However, the basic premise of how solar panels are put together is relatively simple. To make the manufacturing procedure easy to understand here is a step-by-step breakdown of how solar panels are made.
Step 1: Silicon is extracted from silica sand. This silicon is then cooked at high temperatures (around 2000 degrees Celsius) with a source of carbon to get the raw material out. Once raw silicon is extracted, it is heated once again to remove any impurities.
Step 2: The pure silicon once cooled down is melted into a liquid consistency and mixed with a little Boron and Phosphorus. This liquid is poured into a large quadrilateral mold. After the silicon has cooled down again, they are taken out of the molds, sliced into thin wafers, and covered in a layer of silicon nitride.
Step 3: The silicon wafers are then slightly touched up to add texture. This prevents light from being reflected off the surface of the silicon. Adding texture to silicon wafers allows them to absorb more light and generate more electricity. After this, a silver coating is added to the top of the wafer. The finished product is what we call a solar cell.
Step 4: The finished solar cells then undergo a rigorous process of visual inspection. Each solar cell is checked multiple times to ensure there are no breakage or cracks. The cells that pass the visual inspection are shipped off for further testing. Cells that do not pass the test are cut and repurposed to use in smaller devices such as toys or calculators.
Step 5: The cells that make it through the visual inspection round are then tested to see if they are capable of conducting electricity. Cells are placed under large sources of artificial sunlight. Those that can absorb light and generate electricity go on to be made into solar panels.
Step 6: The cells that passed the second inspection round are then placed in a tiled pattern onto a thin sheet of tempered glass. The solar cells are coated in Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) and placed next to one another on the glass sheet. The rows of solar cells are also bound together using Bus wire to help secure them in place.
Step 7: Manufacturers carefully observe the solar panel and add additional metal fingers or Bus bars as they see fit. These wires and bars help transport electricity from the solar panels to the external wiring which carries electricity to a power outlet. Once everything is set and secure, an additional layer of EVA and glass is added on top of the solar cells. The placement is such that the solar cells become sandwiched between two layers of EVA and glass.
Step 8: The solar panel then undergoes a process called pre-lamination electroluminescence. During this process, the solar panel is placed in front of an intense beam of light. Manufacturers inspect the solar panel again to check for any cracks. Solar cells tend to be brittle. Thus they must be inspected several times before being approved.
Step 9: If there is any serious damage to the solar panel, it is taken back to the factory to be reworked. Minor cracks are either overlooked or fixed on the spot. The product is again tested against artificial solar light to check if it can generate electricity. Solar panels that pass this test are then taken for framing and encasing.
Step 10: Once the solar panel is deemed usable, it undergoes a process of lamination. This process involves encasing the solar panel between two planes of glass. A large laminator applies extensive heat and pressure onto the panel to case it within the external glass. This glass protects the silicone cells from further breakage. It also ensures that the wires in the solar panel do not move.
Step 11: A metal frame is placed around the laminated solar panel. The metal frame consists of additional wiring. This wring connects the internal wiring of the solar panel to the external wire which connects to the inverter. The finished product is checked again for cracks by placing the panel in front of an intense blast of light.
Step 12: A Junction box is added to the back of the solar panel. This junction box stores electricity and connects the solar panel to electrical outlets. Furthermore, the junction box also acts like a diode. Solar-powered energy is unpredictable. The junction box ensures that current flows in one direction and helps the external wire regulate how much electricity goes from the panel to the power outlet.
Step 13: The final solar panel is tested again before being shipped off. First, the solar panel is tested to ensure it can generate electricity. Then it is put under test to see how it sustains in harsh weather. If the solar panel passes both tests, they are shipped off and set up for use.
How Solar Panels Help The Environment?
Solar panels help the environment by reducing dependency on fossil fuel for energy. Instead, they allow us to harvest the abundant energy of the sun.
At the moment, most of the world’s electricity comes from burning fossil fuels. This is dangerous for two main reasons. Firstly, fossil fuels are a limited resource. This means that once we use up all of the fossil fuel the world has to offer, future generations will not have any fossil fuel left to generate electricity.
Second, burning fossil fuels is very dangerous to the environment. Burning fossil fuels releases toxic gasses and chemicals into the atmosphere. These gasses usually consist of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gasses. When these gasses mix with the atmosphere, they travel up and cause damage to the ozone layer.
The ozone layer is essential in protecting the Earth from the heat and radiation from the sun. When damaged, sunlight passes through the torn parts of the ozone layer and onto the Earth directly. This causes the overall temperature of our planet to go up and causes climate issues such as global warming.
Solar panels are the most effective way of generating electricity from a renewable energy source. By absorbing the sun’s light, and transforming it into electrical power, solar panels act as an alternative to fossil fuels. Therefore, using solar panels helps the environment by eradicating the two issues mentioned above.
Solar panels use one of the prime sources of global warming (the sun) and turn it into a source of energy. By using solar panels, not only can we preserve fossil fuels for future generations. But we can also prevent further damage to the ozone layer, reducing the effects global warming has on our planet.
What Is The Future Of Solar Panels?
Solar panels are our planet’s best chance at adapting to an electric system that does not cause harm to the environment.
As you can probably tell by now, Global Warming and climate change are serious issues that need to be dealt with as soon as possible. Even if the current generation does not suffer the consequences, our excessive use of fossil fuels is sure to haunt future generations.
The main issue with renewable energy and solar panels is the inconsistency and unreliability of the energy sources. As you can see from the extensive process detailed in the previous section, solar panels are also complicated to make. Though silicon, glass, and aluminum are readily available materials, the manufacturing process is very tedious.
For the future of solar panels, many research projects are trying to discover what other materials can act as an alternative to silicon to build solar cells. Scientists have observed some positive results in experiments with solar panels made with Organic Photovoltaics.
However, the research is still in its early development stage. So far, no one has discovered an alternative to silicon solar cells to use as semiconductors in solar panels.
Another issue hindering the future of solar panels is the lack of research funding. Though the concept of renewable energy through solar panels has been around for a while, there has not been sufficient funding to facilitate proper research or large-scale projects.
However, since the conversations regarding environmental change have become more mainstream, there is hope that scientists can get more financial support to advance the technology behind solar panels.
Overall, it is unrealistic to think that the world can run on solar power alone. Though there may be plentiful energy during the summer, getting electric power from solar panels during winter or rain may be difficult. For now, we can aim for a hybrid system where renewable and nonrenewable sources work together to generate electricity.
Why You Should Be An Advocate For Renewable Energy?
Many people are skeptical of renewable energy due to its reliance on unreliable energy sources. Some people feel comfortable with the electric system we use by burning fossil fuels and do not wish to adapt to new changes. The reluctance towards renewable energy is understandable. However, refusing to accept change can slow down technological advancement and prevent preserving our planet from climate disasters.
Global warming is a severe issue that will slowly but surely destroy the planet. Global warming can cause a rise in the overall temperature of the Earth. Furthermore, Global Warming also warrants high risks of droughts and floods. Not to mention, the release of carbon dioxide and GreenHouse gasses from burning fossil fuel is also detrimental to our health.
Relying on fossil fuels is dangerous, not only for our planet but also for us as individuals. To make sure the world is a better place for future generations, we must strive to understand the concept of renewable energy. Renewable energy isn’t anything that warrants fear. As long as you do proper research, you too can find it in yourself to support renewable energy and make the world a better place.
If you were curious about what solar power is or what are solar panels made of? I hope this article answered your question. Now that you are better informed about solar panels, I hope you will support the global movement towards renewable energy.
Thank you for reading, and have a great day!