What are solar panels made of?

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Solar panels are a bit like a computer. We all know what they are and what they’re used for, but do we really know what they’re made of? Most of us wouldn’t have a clue what components or materials make up a solar panel, and there are quite a few moving parts that enable solar power to be produced.

Not only will we explore what solar panels are made of, we’ll also cover how and where they’re made, along with other helpful information. Find out everything you need to know about what goes into a solar panel in this Canstar Blue guide.

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What is a solar panel made of?

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels consist of numerous materials and parts but will ultimately depend on what type of panel it is. There are three types of solar panels: thin film, monocrystalline and polycrystalline – each of which is made up of crystalised silicon wafers. 

In a nutshell, a layer of hardened glass encapsulates a solar panel that protects the silicon cells within and usually consists of an aluminium or plastic frame for mounting.

Solar Panel Materials

There are six main components found in a solar panel: 

  1. Solar photovoltaic (PV) cells 
  2. Reinforced glass
  3. Aluminium or plastic frame
  4. Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) film layers
  5. Polymer solar backsheet 
  6. PV junction box with diodes, cables and connectors

Solar photovoltaic (PV) cells

PV cells have one crucial role: turning sunlight into DC energy. There are two main types of cells, monocrystalline and polycrystalline, both derived from silicon. The average solar panel will contain around 60 individual cells linked together via busbars and fingers.

Reinforced glass

High-quality solar panels use a reinforced glass front sheet to protect the cells from the elements. This is tempered glass that’s normally up to 4mm thick, designed to resist all weather events and support heavy mechanical loads.

Aluminium or plastic frame

In addition to protecting the edge of the solar panels, the frame provides a solid structure upon which the solar panel can be mounted. Aluminium is a higher-quality frame material as it lasts longer and is able to withstand the wind, rain or hail.

Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) film layers

For increased longevity, PV cells are encapsulated in a plastic layer called Ethylene vinyl acetate, or EVA. This film is very durable and weather resistant, preventing moisture and dirt from contaminating the cells.

Polymer solar backsheet

The backsheet is the bottom layer of a solar panel and is made from polymer. It’s not visible once the panels are installed but nonetheless plays an important role in insulating the system against the weather.

PV junction box with diodes, cables and connectors

A PV junction box is the last thing to be attached when manufacturing solar panels. It’s a weatherproof enclosure that sits underneath the panel where the diodes, cables and connectors sit which interlink the panels.

Solar Plans & Prices

Here are some of the cheapest solar-specific deals from the retailers on our database. These costs are based on the Ausgrid network in Sydney but prices will vary depending on your circumstances. We show one product per retailer, listed in order of lowest price first. Annual price estimates assume general energy usage of 3900kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Price estimates exclude solar feed-in tariff credits. These are products from referral partners†. Our database may not cover all deals in your area, and please check retailer websites for up to date information.

Here are some of the cheapest solar-specific deals from the retailers on our database. These costs are based on the Citipower network in Melbourne but prices will vary depending on your circumstances. We show one product per retailer, listed in order of lowest price first. Annual price estimates assume general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Price estimates exclude solar feed-in tariff credits. These are products from referral partners†. Our database may not cover all deals in your area, and please check retailer websites for up to date information.

Here are some of the cheapest solar-specific deals from the retailers on our database. These costs are based on the Energex network in Brisbane but prices will vary depending on your circumstances. We show one product per retailer, listed in order of lowest price first. Annual price estimates assume general energy usage of 4600kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Price estimates exclude solar feed-in tariff credits. These are products from referral partners†. Our database may not cover all deals in your area, and please check retailer websites for up to date information.

Here are some of the cheapest solar-specific deals from the retailers on our database. These costs are based on SA Power network in Adelaide but prices will vary depending on your circumstances. We show one product per retailer, listed in order of lowest price first. Annual price estimates assume general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Price estimates exclude solar feed-in tariff credits. These are products from referral partners†. Our database may not cover all deals in your area, and please check retailer websites for up to date information.

How are solar panels made?

With solar panels gaining in popularity, it’s worth knowing a thing or two about how they’re made. Here we look at some key things to know about the manufacturing process.

How to make a solar panel?

Don’t try this one at home. Solar panel manufacturing is highly technical and best left to the experts. In basic terms, here’s what the manufacturing process looks like:

  1. Create silicon from quartz sand
  2. Add doping material
  3. Convert ingots to solar cells
  4. Attach solar cell busbars and fingers
  5. Assemble and finish with a junction box

Are solar panels made from coal?

The short answer is no. While some solar panel frames, backsheets and junction boxes are made with coal-reliant polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the panels themselves aren’t made from coal. That being said, the silicon used to make PV cells requires a lot of energy to be manufactured, which is more often than not coal-powered.

Where are solar panels made?

Technicians building a solar panel

Solar panels are made all over the world, with the majority of manufacturing happening in China. Some other countries producing solar panels include Australia, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Mexico and Germany. If you’re looking for a locally made product, ask your solar installer for recommendations.

What does it take to manufacture solar panels?

We’ve covered raw materials, but how much energy does it take to make solar panels? Unfortunately, there’s no straight answer as differently sized systems require varying power to manufacture. As a general idea, it might take 200kWh to make a 100W solar panel.

What are solar cells made of?

Hand holding solar cells in sunlight

Most photovoltaic cells are made of silicon, one of the world’s most useful materials. Silicon is the go-to material for solar cells because it absorbs roughly the same amount of energy as the radiation emitted by the sun. Through a complicated process called doping which involves changing the way atoms move, silicon solar cells are able to conduct and create solar energy.

What minerals are used to make solar panels?

A solar panel is made up of four key metals and minerals that enable it to convert the sun’s rays into electricity, according to the NSW Department of Planning and Environment. These minerals are: 

  • Copper: Found in the wiring of solar panels and some types of cells.
  • Silicon: Produced from sand and quartz-rich rock and is found in photovoltaic cells.
  • Silver: Conducts electric current that’s found on crystalline solar cells.
  • Zinc: Used in certain photovoltaic technology to achieve higher solar cell efficiency.

What is the best type of solar panel?

Choosing the best solar panels for your household or business will ultimately come down to an array of personal circumstances, like your budget, roof size and positioning, and energy needs. As solar power becomes increasingly popular in Australia, it’s important to do some research (perhaps why you ended up on this page), which is why it’s best to get in touch with a licenced solar installer.  

To help where we can, Canstar Blue publishes a yearly review of solar panel installers, which rates companies on factors like system durability, installation process, performance, customer service and overall satisfaction. This way you can get a better idea of which installers are rated best among paying customers. Click on the link below to compare now.

Compare Solar Installers

Image credit: ultramansk/Shutterstock.com, Juice Flair/Shutterstock.com, LuYago/Shutterstock.com

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