How solar panels work can seem complex at first. If you’d asked anyone 50 years ago, the idea of a slimline, almost invisible, set of panels on your roof using the sun to power your home would be mind-blowing.
Thankfully, times have moved forward, and solar energy is now commonplace in many homes and businesses across the country.
The UK government is working towards a net-zero target for the country in 2050, meaning greenhouse gas emissions and the reliance on fossil fuels need to be reduced rapidly to reach this target.
This shift to renewable energy sources is not only great news for our wallets, but it’s also a huge step towards a net-zero future for the UK.
If you are yet to make the switch to renewable energy, it is understandable that you may feel a little sceptical about its benefits and effectiveness. We’d recommend reading our blog about Britain’s biggest solar misconceptions.
If solar installation is on your radar, but you want to know more about the panels themselves, our guide will determine ‘How are solar panels made’ and help you understand how they work, too.
What are solar cells?
Most solar panels on the market today are made of monocrystalline, polycrystalline or thin-film silicon.
Solar panels are made up of multiple solar cells, all of which work together to absorb the sunlight and then convert it into electricity.
The materials used to manufacture the cells in solar panels make up just one part of the solar panels themselves.
Solar cells are also known by the name photovoltaic cells (PV) which work together to generate electricity from sunlight. These cells should not be confused with photovoltaic thermal cells (PVT) which provide heat to your home.
PV cells are connected to each other electrically, and when organised together make a solar panel. The solar cells are made up of silicon semiconductors that absorb light and convert it into electrical energy.
To make domestic solar panels affordable around 20% of the sunlight received is turned into electricity. There are larger industrial solar panels on the market that can absorb up to 40% of sunlight received, but households can run efficiently on the efficiency of domestic panels.
Advances in solar technology are being made constantly, meaning that efficiency and quality are improving all the time. Similarly, as technology advances, the cost is expected to decrease – making them more accessible than ever.
How are solar panels made?
The solar panel manufacturing process brings together many different elements, and creating functioning solar panels is a several step process.
Most solar panels are made from silicon, which is the main component of beach sand. Silicon is an abundant material, but the conversion of sand into silicon can be quite an energy-intensive process.
- Silicon Ingots
The silicon is usually collected in solid rock form. The silicon rocks are then melted together at very high temperatures to form cylindrical ingots. During the melting process, careful attention is paid to ensure the atoms are aligned for optimum sunlight capture.
Once the ingot is formed, it is sliced into thin discs to create wafers. The silicon wafer’s thickness matches that of a sheet of paper. Pure silicon is shiny and can reflect sunlight, so an anti-reflective coating is added to the wafer at this point.
- Converting the wafer into a solar cell
Each wafer is treated, and metal conductors are added to the surface. The conductors give the wafer a grid-like structure on the surface, which facilitates the conversion.
- Turning a solar cell into a solar panel
Solar panels are made of integrated solar cells. Once the cells are fused together a thin layer of glass is added to the front of the structure, and the panel is formed.
The panel also includes a back sheet, which is made from a highly durable polymer-based material. This prevents damage to the panel when it’s mounted on a roof.
Finally, a frame is added, this provides added protection and allows the panels to be easily mounted on a roof or structure.
When discovering how solar panels are made? One stage that cannot be overlooked is testing.
As you’d expect, extensive testing is carried out to ensure the cells within the panels perform as expected. Standard Test Conditions (STC) are used as a reference.
The panels are put through a flash tester, to identify efficiency, temperature and power output.
Once testing is complete, the panel will be cleaned and inspected before being prepared to be fitted to homes or businesses.
Is the production of solar panels environmentally friendly?
The use of solar panels in homes and businesses is by far a more eco-friendly solution than traditional energy sources. While there are some improvements to be made during production, solar panels are one of the most environmentally friendly sources of energy on the market today.
However, as solar panel manufacturing becomes more efficient, the carbon footprint made during production will continue to shrink.
Solar panels also function for decades with very little upkeep or maintenance, making the initial output of carbon in production almost null. Project Solar also offer a lifetime guarantee for customers, so as panel efficiency naturally decreases over time, you are still protected.
If starting a solar installation journey is something you are interested in for your home or business, speak to our friendly team today.