Updated 3 weeks ago

How are solar panels made?

Written by Ana Almerini

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Image source: Solar Power World

Although solar panels do the challenging job of generating solar energy from the sun, building a solar panel is pretty simple when built professionally in a well-run factory.

Here is a simple explanation of how solar panels are made:

  • Thin silicon wafers become solar cells when they are treated with chemicals to produce an electrical charge when exposed to sunlight

  • The cells are wired together in strings and sandwiched between layers of glass and EVA plastic

  • The layers are heated to create a watertight seal

  • The sealed layers are set inside a metal frame, and the wires are combined into a plastic junction box on the back of the panel, with two wires coming out of the junction box to carry electricity to other panels or a solar inverter

Now, let’s take a deeper look at the step-by-step process of how and where solar panels are made!

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Key takeaways

  • Solar panels are manufactured using silicon, glass, and metal. Silicon creates solar cells that can generate electricity from the sun.

  • The main types of solar panels are monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film panels. Their manufacturing process is slightly different, leading to different strengths for each type of panel.

  • Solar panels are manufactured all over the world, American made panels are generally the most expensive but they are high quality.

Where are solar panels made?

You can find solar panel manufacturers in many places, ranging from the United States to Europe, but most solar panels are made in various countries within Asia. Like many industries, switching manufacturing to countries with lower labor costs has become a standard practice in recent years.

But, many higher-quality panels are manufactured within the U.S. so that each process within the manufacturing phases can be closely monitored for quality.

Let's look at some examples of solar panels to get a sense of manufacturing locations. Top-quality brands include Panasonic and Mission Solar. Panasonic solar panels are manufactured in the U.S. and Malaysia, while Mission Solar is manufactured strictly in the U.S.

Jinko Solar, a less expensive solar panel company than Panasonic or Mission Solar, manufactures their solar panels in China. While another lesser-known company, Candian Solar, manufactures its panels in Canada.

The raw materials that make up a solar panel are not necessarily all manufactured in the same location since supply chains can stretch through many countries. While solar panels are manufactured globally, there are plenty of U.S.- manufactured options for you to choose from.

What are solar panels made of?

At the most basic level, the key components of a solar panel are solar PV cells, polysilicon or silicon, metal, and glass. The most important component is the solar cells which convert sunlight into usable energy. Solar cells are the photovoltaic (PV) component of solar panels, meaning they produce energy from the sun.

Solar cells are made up of silicon and are protected by a sheet of glass over the panels which allows sunlight to be filtered to the cells. When exposed to sunlight, solar silicon dioxide cells generate an electric current, which is then converted to usable AC electricity via an inverter.

Solar cells are assembled using wiring that transfers the electricity. This wiring is soldered to the cells which are then assembled between a backsheet and the glass that protects the cells. The entire panel is held together with a metal frame.

This is an oversimplified process for how solar panels are made, so let’s break down the manufacturing process step by step for a better understanding.

Graphic showing materials used in making solar panels. Silicon is turned into silicon ingots which are sliced into silicon wafers. Wafers are then made into solar cells that are wired together in a solar panel.

Step 1: Build solar silicon cells that are either p-type or n-type, meaning positively or negatively charged. P-type silicon cells were the traditional structure of solar cells. A p-type silicon cell is built on a positively charged base, meaning the bottom layer is mixed with boron and the top layer is mixed with phosphorus.

But the n-type cell is built oppositely, with the phosphorus serving as the base. The main difference is that n-type cells offer more efficiency and they are not affected by light-induced degradation, or reduction in output when exposed to extreme sunlight.

Solar cells are made with crystalline silicon that is melted and mixed with gallium or boron to form wafers. Phosphorous is then added to the silicon, and along with the gallium or boron, these substances give silicon its electrical capability.

The silicon ingot is then cut into thin sheets and an anti-reflective coating is applied to capture the sunlight instead of reflecting it away from the panels. Thin lines are then cut into the cells to capture and move the electrical current within the cell.

The solar cells become semiconductors of electricity which is generated by the photovoltaic effect, when the sunlight's photons are absorbed, electrons then drift within the solar cells to create energy.

Monocrystalline solar panels are formed from one silicon fragment but for polycrystalline panels, many silicon fragments are melted together in one large sheet to form the silicon wafers for the solar panel.

Step 2: Solder solar cells together to form one panel, usually 60 or 72 solar cells form one panel

Step 3: Install the backsheet which protects the bottom of the solar cells

Step 4: Install glass front. This allows light to filter through to the solar cells and provides a protective layer

Step 5: Seal a metal frame around the panel with silicon to fuse all of the layers together

Step 6: Install the junction box which protects the solar panel's electrical wires from damage

Step 7: Test solar panel for quality and strength before shipping out for use

After testing solar panels for quality, they are ready to be shipped out and installed on homes or for solar farm use. The manufacturing process for different types of solar panels is pretty similar, but there are a few types of solar panels and each type has its own strengths.

What types of solar panels are there?

1. Monocrystalline solar panels are the most popular and efficient solar panels. They are black in color and are used in most modern residential solar installations. 2. Polycrystalline solar panels are mid-tier in price and performance and have a blue color. 3. Thin-film solar panels are the cheapest option but have the lowest efficiency. Thin-film panels require a lot of space to generate the same electricity as mono or polycrystalline panels.

The main types of solar panels are monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film panels.

The difference between mono and poly panels is that monocrystalline silicon panels are made with solar cells from a single crystal of silicon while polycrystalline silicon panels are made from melting several silicon crystals together.

Because they are made with a single crystal of silicon, monocrystalline panels are more efficient, yet more expensive than polycrystalline panels. Their main differences are the aesthetic appeal, cost, and efficiency, but either option is a good choice for your home solar system.

Work with a solar installer to determine what solar panel type is best for your home

Thin-film solar panels are really only used for utility-scale solar projects within the solar industry because they are very low-efficiency panels. Because of this, you need a lot of them to generate electricity.

Different from monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels, thin-film panels are not made up of solar cells but are made by depositing a thin layer of photovoltaic substance, like amorphous silicon or cadmium telluride, onto a solid substrate surface like glass.

Although the manufacturing process for thin-film panels makes them cheaper and easier to install, they are not used for home solar installations because they are not as durable or efficient. The brand BougeRV does make a thin-film panel called the Yuma for use on RVs, vans, and boats.

Testing the quality of newly manufactured solar panels

During the entire manufacturing process, the materials that are used to build the panels are monitored for any defects. For example, any cracked or bent solar cells are discarded.

Once solar panels are built, they go through rigorous testing to make sure that they can stand up to intense weather conditions, heat, and normal wear and tear. Additionally, it is important to test that the electrical current travels through the panels efficiently.

Finally, solar modules are tested for strength to make sure that they have a low likelihood of breaking due to hail or other falling debris. Testing the quality of solar panels is important to make sure they can generate electricity while being able to last their entire lifetime.

Should you make your own solar panels?

We do not recommend making your own solar panels, although it might seem easy to configure a panel with all of the proper materials. Errors in building your own panels, like starting a fire, outweigh the benefits of DIY solar panels.

It is best to rely on professionally built solar technology because they are built with rigorous standards and tested for durability. Working with a professional solar installer is an important step to making sure your solar panels are made with high-quality materials that will provide solar power for their 25-year warranty, or more. Solar panels are one of the best energy sources for reducing carbon dioxide from fossil fuels so adding them to your home is a great way to be part of the clean energy future.

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Written by Ana Almerini Marketing & Communications Manager

Ana is the Marketing & Communications Manager at SolarReviews, working within the solar industry since 2020. With a Master's in Climate and Society and professional experience in marketing, she helps communicate the value of solar to homeowners and build awareness of the SolarReviews brand. On weekends you can find her at the Jersey shore, reading a book from the ever-increasing stack on her side table, or eating food someone else cooked....

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