a person working on solar panels

How Are Solar Panels Made? | Explained 2024

Whenever there is a mass power outage, some societies use backup generators and batteries to ensure an uninterrupted power supply. Nowadays, most of these backup batteries are made from solar panel storage. You must be wondering – how are solar panels made

Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered. We’ll tell you about the solar panel manufacturing process today in this blog.

Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity, functioning as alternative energy sources. They play a crucial role in our efforts to find renewable energy sources, decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, and lessen our adverse effects on the environment. These panels generate electricity from linked silicon solar cells as a part of green energy technology.

Despite the complexity of solar panels, building a solar panel is relatively simple when done by trained professionals in a well-run factory. These are made from high-purity silicon crystals, connected into modules, and protected. 

From the photovoltaic cells to the frame, we’ll show you where and how your solar panels are crafted to solar panel installation on your roof. Keep reading below!

Materials Used In Making Solar Panels

Before jumping to the manufacturing process of how are solar panels made, let’s briefly discuss the materials used in the process.

  • Silicon

Silicon is the key material in solar panels. It turns sunlight into electricity as a semiconductor. Silicon dioxide, or silica, is abundant in sand and is the starting material for high-purity silicon. Wafers or ingots of silicon create solar cell foundations. A solar module is made from these cells.

  • Glass

Glass is used as the front cover of solar panels. It is typically made from tempered or laminated glass to protect environmental factors while maximizing light transmission. Solar cells can get light from the sun because the cover is made of clear glass.

  • Metal

Various metals are used in solar panel construction, including aluminum and silver. Aluminum is commonly used for the solar panel frame as it provides structural support and durability. Silver is used as a conductor within the solar cells, facilitating the flow of electricity.

  • Backsheet Material

The backsheet material is a layer on the rear side of the solar panel. It acts as an electrical insulator and protects the panel from moisture, temperature fluctuations, and external elements. Backsheets are usually made from polyvinyl fluoride (PVF), ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), or polyester.

  • Junction Box

The junction box is a crucial part of the back of a solar panel. It contains electrical connections and protects the wiring and components. The junction box is typically made from durable materials like polycarbonate or aluminum, ensuring electrical safety and preventing water ingress.

  • Encapsulant

An encapsulant is used for laminating and sealing the module’s solar cells. It is usually made of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA). This transparent and strong material safeguards the cells from contaminants such as dust and moisture. The encapsulant helps maintain the structural integrity of the solar panel.

Solar Panel Manufacturing Process

The Science Behind A Solar Panel:

Factories create solar silicon cells with either a positive (p-type) or negative (n-type) charge. In the past, solar cells typically used a p-type silicon cell structure. P-type silicon cells have a positively charged base by doping the bottom and top layers with boron and phosphorus, respectively.

In contrast, phosphorus is the foundation of the n-type cell. Light-induced degradation (or decreased production) occurs in p-type cells when exposed to intense sunlight but not in n-type cells.

Wafers of crystalline silicon are formed by melting the silicon and adding other elements, such as gallium or boron, to create solar cells. Adding phosphorous and either gallium or boron provides silicon with its electrical properties.

The silicon ingot is cut into thin sheets and covered with a material that doesn’t reflect light so that the sun’s rays don’t bounce off of the panels. Tiny lines are carved into the cells to catch and channel the electrical current within the cell.

The photovoltaic effect occurs when solar cells absorb photons from sunlight, causing electrons to flow within the cells and produce electricity. Let’s learn about the industrial solar panel manufacturing process step-by-step in detail.

  • Cutting & Shaping Of Silicon Wafers

The first step involves cutting the high-purity silicon ingots into thin wafers. This is typically done using a wire saw or a diamond-tipped blade. The wafers are then shaped into a desired form, usually square or rectangular. The cutting and shaping process ensures uniformity and precision in the size and shape of the wafers.

  • Etching The Silicon Wafers

After cutting, the silicon wafers undergo an etching process. This involves removing a thin silicon layer from the surface to reduce reflectivity and improve light absorption. Acid or chemical solutions are used to etch the wafers and create a textured surface that enhances the efficiency of the solar cells.

  • Doping Of Silicon Wafers

Doping is a crucial step in solar panel manufacturing that involves introducing impurities into the silicon wafers to create the desired electrical properties. The most common dopants used are phosphorus and boron.

Phosphorus is added to one side of the wafer to create excess electrons (n-type). In contrast, boron is added to the other side to create a deficit of electrons (p-type). This creates a built-in electric field that enables the flow of electrons when exposed to sunlight.

  • Screen Printing Of Contacts

Screen printing is used to apply metal contacts onto the surface of the solar cells. A unique mesh screen with openings corresponding to the desired contact pattern is placed over the wafers. 

A paste containing metal particles, typically silver or aluminum, is then spread over the screen and pushed through the openings onto the cells. The paste is cured, forming the front and back contacts that allow the current to flow within the solar cells.

  • Soldering Of Solar Panels

Once the contacts are in place, the solar cells are interconnected using soldering. Thin metal ribbons, usually made of silver or copper, are soldered to the references to create series connections. 

This ensures the flow of current from one cell to another, maximizing the overall output of the solar panel. The soldering process requires precise temperature control and proper alignment of the cells.

Encapsulation & Safety Testing

Encapsulation is performed to protect the solar cells from environmental factors and ensure durability. The solar cells and interconnections are sandwiched between layers of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) or similar encapsulant materials. This lamination process provides mechanical support and prevents moisture ingress. 

After encapsulation, the solar panels undergo safety testing, including electrical insulation tests and environmental simulations, to ensure compliance with industry standards and guarantee long-term performance and safety.

How Many Types Of Solar Panels Are There?

  • Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Single-crystal panels are created by slicing a single crystal of pure silicon into several thin layers, or “wafers.” Their distinctively inky black hue bespeaks their pure silicon construction. Since they only contain pure silicon, monocrystalline panels are also the most compact and durable of the three.

However, this comes at a cost, as significant amounts of silicon (sometimes over 50%) are wasted during the production of a single monocrystalline cell. The ensuing price is relatively high.

  • Polycrystalline Solar Panels

As the name might suggest, these are not made of a single piece of silicon. Broken pieces of silicon are melted down and put into a square mold. Thus, polycrystalline cells maintain their distinctive fair form while being significantly more cost-effective.

However, their lower silicon purity and construction make polycrystalline panels less efficient at energy conversion and space utilization. As a result, they perform poorly in hot conditions because of their reduced heat tolerance.

  • Thin-Film Solar Panels

Very thin layers that are nevertheless flexible define thin-film panels. Because no frame is needed to support the individual panels, the entire system is lighter and simpler to set up. 

Thin-film panels can be designed to meet any application, unlike crystalline silicon panels, which are only offered in predefined sizes of 60, 72, or 96 cells. However, their efficiency is lower than that of standard silicon solar panels.

  • Concentrated Solar Panels

Concentrated solar panels (CSP) use sunlight to create electricity efficiently. They concentrate the sun’s rays onto a receiver, which can then be used to generate either heat or electricity.

Concentrated solar panels concentrate sunlight on a narrow area, increasing solar energy intensity. They can create electricity, heat water, or produce high-temperature industrial heat.

Concentrated solar panels are more efficient than PV panels, can store thermal energy, and can work with other energy sources like natural gas to provide electricity all the time. They can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by replacing fossil fuel power generation in sunny places.

Advantages & Disadvantages Of Solar Panels

Advantages Of Solar Panels

Let’s start with the advantages of solar panels.

  • Cost Savings

One of the best-known benefits of solar panels is the money it may save on your monthly electricity costs. Using solar panels to generate electricity allows you to cut back on your reliance on the utility company. Spending less on energy ultimately means paying less for electricity over time.

Because solar energy is renewable and unconstrained, you can use solar panels to power your home at no cost. Having a little more money at the month’s end can help you in countless ways. One of solar’s primary benefits is the money it can save you.

  • Reduced Carbon Footprint

Solar energy is entirely emission-free, renewable, and clean. Unlike other oils and coals, solar energy does not add to greenhouse gas emissions or deplete the world’s fossil fuel reserves. As a result, solar panels can be safely considered eco-friendly goods that pose no threat to the world.

Taking a stand against climate change and being environmentally conscious can earn you respect and admiration in many circles today. It’s one of the primary draws to solar energy, and it’s undeniably one of the largest benefits of installing solar panels.

  • Energy Independence

The sun’s energy is renewable and usable indefinitely. A renewable energy source is a non-depletable supply of electrical power.

In essence, your solar panels can collect significant energy that the sun is constantly producing. Solar energy can be reused so that everyone can benefit from the sun’s free energy.

Instead of worrying about the sun’s energy running out, we may bask in the sun’s beams while they power our homes for free. Solar power, apart from b being renewable, is also considered “clean energy” because it does not contribute to the emission of harmful gases into the atmosphere.

  • Low Maintenance

Solar panel maintenance is getting less complicated due to the widely available new technology. Longer and longer warranties are increasingly becoming standard, reducing the need for routine solar panel upkeep.

This is fantastic news since it means people can now buy solar panels without worrying about needing to maintain and inspect the system weekly. The minimal cost of upkeep is another benefit. Your solar panel installation won’t require any additional maintenance costs.

Disadvantages Of Solar Panels

Now let’s discuss the disadvantages of solar panels.

  • High Initial Cost

Not everyone will be able to afford the initial investment for solar panel installation, which is quite costly. Although one could argue that solar panels are the most cost-effective, they have never been cheap.

Sadly, this is a disadvantage of solar panels, but the future is positive as prices continue to decrease. Currently, solar panel costs are quite high; however, as a result of new government initiatives and advancements in technology, their cost is decreasing.

  • Dependence On Weather Conditions

Solar panels can only produce energy when sunlight strikes their surface and is converted. Consequently, there will be no energy production if there is no sun.

Although solar panels can still generate energy on cloudy days (as UV light is what generates energy), their performance is optimal during the day. If you are in a location that receives little sunlight, you should undoubtedly consider other options for a system that overcomes shading issues. 

  • Space Requirements

Solar panel installation depends heavily on available space. If your roof is too small, you may have to reduce the size of your system or reconsider going solar altogether.

Solar panels are still relatively massive, necessitating a large installation area. Due to their large size, they cannot be installed in confined spaces and require a large roof. 

FAQs About Solar Panels

How long do solar panels last?

Although solar panels can last for 25-30 years, their efficiency may degrade over time.

How efficient are solar panels?

The efficiency of solar panels varies, but modern panels can have an efficiency range of 15% to 20% in converting sunlight into electricity.

Can solar panels work at night?

Solar panels do not generate electricity at night since they rely on sunlight, but energy stored in batteries can be used to power electrical devices during the night.

How much do solar panels cost?

The cost of solar panels depends on factors such as panel quality, size, installation, and location, but the average cost for a residential system can range from $10,000 to $30,000.

Can solar panels work in the winter?

Solar panels can still generate electricity in winter, although their efficiency may be slightly reduced due to shorter days, lower sunlight intensity, and potential snow coverage that needs to be cleared.

How do solar panels store energy?

Electricity is generated directly by solar panels, and any excess can be stored in batteries or fed back into the grid through net metering programmes to earn credits.

Do solar panels require maintenance?

Cleaning and inspecting solar panels on a regular basis can help keep them running smoothly and alert you to any potential problems.

Are there any government incentives for installing solar panels?

Tax credits, rebates, and feed-in tariffs are just a few of the incentives offered by many governments to spur the use of renewable energy and the installation of solar panels.

Final Words

So, how are solar panels made? Producing solar panels involves cutting and shaping silicon wafers, etching and doping them, screen printing contacts, soldering panels, and encapsulating them. This intricate process combines advanced technology and materials to create efficient and durable solar panels that harness the sun’s energy, paving the way for a sustainable future.

 

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Ray is an avid reader and writer with over 25 years of experience serving various domestic and multinational private and public energy companies in the USA.

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