How are Solar Panels Made?

ProductsCalendarNovember 8, 2018

Have you ever wondered how solar panels are made? In this article, we’ll explain the entire process. But before we do that, let’s explain the differences between the types of solar panels and their parts.

What Are Solar Panels?

Solar panels are one part of a larger system that helps turn the sun’s rays into clean electric energy that can help power your home. The solar panel is part of the solar energy system which collects and converts sunlight into energy.

Scientists discovered the photovoltaic effect, and selenium’s ability to act as a photoconductor, in the early 1800s. But the first solar panel wasn’t invented until 1883. It would still take solar panels generations to become an economically viable option for most people.

Now, thanks to advances in solar technology, solar is affordable for most people. You now have a variety of affordable options to choose from when it comes to buying solar panels.

Let’s look at those.

Types Of Solar

Normally, when we’re talking about solar, we’re talking about one of two kinds of solar. There’s thermal solar and photovoltaic solar.

Here’s the difference between the two.

Thermal Panels

Thermal solar panels act more like mirrors and less like converters. Thermal solar panels direct sunlight to a specific location found within the greater solar energy system. This is where the light generates heat. This heat is used to create energy that your home and appliances can use to power themselves throughout the day.

Photovoltaic (PV) Panels

Photovoltaic (PV) panels use a special process to separate electrons from sunlight in order to create solar electricity. Photovoltaic panels are the most common type of panels you’ll see on the rooftops of homes. If you’re interested in learning more about the process of turning the sun’s rays into electricity, we have an entire article about that process.

Types of Solar Panels Materials

Now that we’ve talked about the two methods panels can create electricity, let’s talk about the different types of solar panel materials. Although solar users could use either thermal panels or PV panels, most residential solar users have PV panels. Of those PV panel owners, 90% of them have one of the two following types of panels.

Monocrystalline Silicon

Monocrystalline silicon panels are the most common type of residential panels. They're also the most efficient panels according to modern technology standards. Monocrystalline silicon panels are made of a mixture of silicon and crystalline “seed.” Manufacturers pour this mixture into layers until they have enough layers for individual panels. The makeup of monocrystalline silicon is similar to that used inside of computer chips.

If you look close enough, you’ll notice that monocrystalline silicon panels are not perfect squares or rectangles. That’s because their corners are cut off during the manufacturing process. Technologists have found that cutting the corners of these panels helps create a more efficient flow of energy across them.

The silicon used in monocrystalline panels is usually darker in color. That's because it helps them attract greater amounts of sunlight. The more sunlight they absorb, the more electricity that can produce.

Polycrystalline Silicon

Polycrystalline silicon panels take less effort to make than their monocrystalline silicon counterparts. That’s because there are fewer steps in the production process.

The crystals used in polycrystalline silicon are a lower quality than monocrystalline silicon. These panels are blue in color and look like they contain a confetti-looking substance in them. This crystal substance used in polycrystalline silicon panels hardens the silicon and helps convert sunlight into electricity.

Both monocrystalline silicon panels and polycrystalline silicon panels have a PERC subtype. PERC stands for Passivated Emitter Rear Cell. With both types of panels, there’s a chance that impurities can enter the panel and settle in the gaps between different crystals. These impurities can create inefficiencies within the panel. A PERC panel has an extra layer of silicon added to it to better protect it from impurities. This helps keep your panels running efficiently for longer.

How Are Solar Panels Made

Now that we've talked about the different ways panels can create electricity and the different kinds of panel materials, let’s look at how solar panels are made.

First, silicon panels are generally made out of a semiconductor-grade polysilicon. This polysilicon is usually a mix of processed quartz that is also used to make parts of electronics like microchips. This polysilicon is heated up until it reaches its melting temperature. From there, other chemical additives like boron are added to the polysilicon. This creates a P-type semiconductor material.

For simplicity’s sake, think of a P-type semiconductor as a material that conducts electricity better than your average semiconductor but still not as well as a traditional metal conductor.

Second, this molten polysilicon-boron mix is cooled down and forms what is known as an ingot or block of silicon.

Third, this ingot is then cut into incredibly thin slices known as wafers. These slices are then etched and cleaned until they’re ready to move on to the next step.

Fourth, these wafers are dipped in an N-type solution. Again, for simplicity’s sake, imagine that an N-type material conducts electricity better than other semiconductors but not as well as pure metal conductors. When the N-type solution comes in contact with the P-type wafer, the two interact in such a way to help them better-still conduct electricity.

Fifth, this dipped wafer is now covered in an anti-reflective coating. This helps prevent sunlight from bouncing off the panels and escaping your solar energy system.

Lastly, each solar cell is tested and attached to a panel according to its size and strength.

The exact chemical compounds in a given panel will change depending on the type of panel and the material it’s made of. But this is the general process most residential solar panels go through.

Vivint Solar Can Help You Run On Clean Energy

As you learn more about solar panels, you’ll get a better idea what will work best for you and your home. At Vivint Solar, we use PERC monocrystalline panels because they are the most efficient type of panels on the market to date for residential homes.

Come and schedule a meeting with one of our solar representatives. He or she will help you find out whether solar will help you save money on powering your home today.

We’d love to help you out!

How to Go Solar

Vivint Solar makes renewable energy a simple and affordable alternative. We take care of everything from solar system design, to paperwork and permitting, to installation and maintenance.

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