What are solar panels made of?
Individual panel prices
Prices of DIY kits
Installed system prices
Solar panels seem to be popping up everywhere these days: on solar farms, on the roofs of people’s homes, and even on cars and boats.
We know they’re used to generate electricity, but how are solar panels made in the first place?
Pictured: Key solar panel components.
Here are the main components of a solar panel:
Let’s take a closer look at each part below:
Solar cells are the part of the solar panel that actually generates energy. They're specially-made electrical components that convert light into electricity using the photovoltaic effect.
Every solar panel contains many solar cells wired together, usually 60 or 72. Recently, however, the best solar panel models feature advanced half-cut solar cells; since these are smaller, twice the number can fit onto a panel.
A specially-designed glass covers the front of solar panels.
The glass must also be extra clear for maximum transparency, ensuring as much sunlight as possible makes it through to the solar cells.
Glass covers can get dirty if covered by dust or soot; over time, this can affect solar power production. A bit of rainfall should wash the dirt off, but you may need to clean the panels yourself if you live in a dry environment.
The backsheet is a protective layer that covers the back of the solar panel, shielding the solar cells from the elements and any critters that might try to nibble on them from behind.
Backsheets also provide electrical insulation by preventing electric current from accidentally passing from the solar panel to surfaces it comes into contact with, such as your roof.
It also provides electrical insulation and prevents electric current from accidentally passing from the solar panel to the surfaces it comes into contact with, such as your roof.
The backsheet is made from polymer materials that are durable, lightweight, and have the appropriate insulating properties.
Backsheets are typically white. Some all-black models come with black backsheets that help give the panels a more uniform appearance. However, black backsheets tend to trap more heat and make the panel operate less efficiently.
The aluminum frame protects the edges of the panel and holds together all the layers. They are designed to handle extreme weather conditions while remaining lightweight. Many panels today use anodized black frames, as opposed to silver, because it provides a sleeker look and makes the panels less noticeable on the roof.
Module-level power electronics.
Solar panels must be attached to module-level power electronics to meet electrical safety requirements. These include microinverters and power optimizers. Some solar panels, called AC solar panels, come with microinverters pre-attached.
Silicon has a wide variety of industrial applications but is most famous for its use in computer chips and solar panels. Image source: Mississippi Silicon
Silicon is the material most commonly used in solar cells, the energy-producing part of the solar panel. In fact, the Department of Energy says it is used in more than 95% of solar panels produced today.
Solar panels are produced in high-tech facilities. Jinko Solar’s plant in Jacksonville, Florida, shown above, can produce over a million panels a year. Image source: Jacksonville Daily Record
Solar panels are produced in large, highly-automated factories using advanced manufacturing techniques.
There are usually two distinct phases: producing solar cells and assembling a complete solar panel.
Let’s take a closer look at each stage:
Most solar cells are made of crystalline silicon. Here’s what the production process usually looks like:
The exact production process will vary depending on the type of solar cell being manufactured. Monocrystalline solar cells are made from one solid silicon crystal, while polycrystalline solar cells are made of many tiny, square-shaped crystals.
The vast majority of solar cells – including those used in locally-sold panels – are produced overseas, mainly in Europe and Asia.
Solar panel assembly combines solar cells with all other solar panel parts to create the final product.
Several solar manufacturers perform solar panel assembly right here in the U.S. – here are the top 5.
Yes, they are! Solar panels are considered a very green and sustainable source of energy. Here’s why:
Now we know how solar panels are made but do they actually work? Yes! Solar panels are designed to generate electricity; a properly designed system can produce enough power to greatly reduce your electricity bills. In some cases, this means thousands of dollars in savings every year.
Not only that, but solar panels are an excellent source of environmentally-friendly energy. Who doesn’t want to lower their electricity bills and run their home on clean power?