What Are Solar Panels Made of?
At first glance, solar panels might seem like alien technology. It wasn’t long ago that the notion of converting the sun’s power into electricity for our homes seemed out of reach for most people, and the tech itself remains quite confusing and complex for many people.
However, solar panels are in fact made from completely normal materials found right here on planet earth. In this article, we’ll take a look at what exactly solar panels are made of and why, helping you better understand your solar system and how it works.
What Solar Panels Are Made of — a Breakdown
To show you what solar panels are made of, it’s helpful to break down the panel system into a few key parts. Let’s start with the place where the magic happens — the solar cells.
What Are Solar Cells Made of?
Solar cells are the part of your panels that capture the sun’s light and convert it into electricity to be used in your home. They’re made of silicon, and have been for decades, for a few important reasons:
- Silicon is common and affordable. In fact, it’s the earth’s second-most abundant element after oxygen and makes up 27.7% of the Earth’s crust by mass.
- Silicon lasts for a long time and is relatively robust, allowing for sturdy and long-lasting solar panels
- It’s fairly easy to use silicon for the photovoltaic effect — the process of converting the sun’s light energy into electricity
When sunlight interacts with the silicon cells, electrons are dislodged, creating electricity.
Silicon is used in the vast majority of today’s solar panels, but there are a few different types of silicon cells used. Let’s take a closer look:
- Monocrystalline silicon cells, made from a single silicon crystal, are the most efficient but also most expensive option
- Polycrystalline silicon solar cells are made from a number of crystals mixed together and are more affordable than monocrystalline cells
- Thin-film solar cells, made from amorphous silicon, are highly flexible but inefficient
What Are Solar Panels Made of?
Now we know how solar cells are made, what about the panels they live inside? Solar panels are typically constructed using an aluminium frame to provide structure, protection from the elements, and to create the right angle.
A glass sheet, usually just a few millimetres thick, is used to protect the cells and semiconductors beneath it. Panels also usually contain additional casing to insulate and protect the contents and reduce the amount of heat which can make the panel less efficient.
What Is Solar Wiring Made of?
A series of wires are used to connect your solar panels to your home’s electricity system, allowing the power generated to flow where it needs to. Standard 12V wires are used to regulate the Direct Current (DC) energy travelling from the panels into the inverter, where it will be converted to Alternating Current (AC) energy to be used in your home.
Bus wires are used within the panel itself, to connect the solar cells in parallel.
Are Solar Panels Environmentally Friendly?
One of the biggest reasons people choose to install solar panels is because they’re concerned about their impact on the environment, and see solar as a greener and more sustainable energy source.
But how environmentally friendly are the materials used to make panels? Of course, nothing is truly consequence-free… and the process of gathering, transporting, and using the materials involved in solar panel construction has some environmental impact. It’s estimated that you’ll offset the carbon cost within three years of relying on your panels for energy, though.
When your panels eventually reach the end of their life (which shouldn’t be for multiple decades), make sure to recycle them properly at a recognised facility. This can ensure the materials inside are reused as much as possible and don’t end up polluting the environment.
Ultimately, switching to solar is one of the best things you can do for the environment, and the cost is far, far less than any traditional energy source.
At SnapSolar, we understand solar inside and out, and we help people in Mackay and the surrounding Queensland area install, maintain, and upgrade their solar panels. Contact us to learn more.
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