Talk To The Solar Panel Experts
We have a unique and fortunate position in Australia, with high exposure to intense sun and plenty of space for solar panels. If you want to install a solar panel system at your home or commercial property, get in touch with the experts at Captain Green Solar to find out more about solar panels made of and start your solar journey sooner, rather than later. You can also use our solar panel calculator to determine the savings you can acquire from installing with Captain Green. Were available on 1300 361 682.
A Short History Of Solar Panels
The development of solar energy goes back more than 100 years. In the early days, solar energy was used primarily for the production of steam which could then be used to drive machinery. But it wasn’t until the discovery of the “” by Edmond Becquerel that would allow the conversion of sunlight solar electric energy. Becquerel’s discovery then led to the invention in 1893 by Charles Fritts of the first genuine solar cell which was formed by coating sheets of selenium with a thin layer of gold. And from this humble beginning would arise the device we know today as the solar panel.
Russel Ohl, an American inventor on the payroll of Bell Laboratories, patented the world’s first silicon solar cell in 1941. Ohl’s invention led to the production of the first solar panel in 1954 by the same company. Solar panels found their first mainstream use in space satellites. For most people, the first solar panel in their life was probably embedded in their new calculator – circa the 1970s!
Today, solar panels and complete solar panel systems are used to power a wide variety of applications. Yes, solar panels in the form of solar cells are still being used in calculators. However, they are also being used to provide solar power to entire homes and commercial buildings, such as Google’s headquarters in California.
Silicon: Raw Material In Solar Cells
Silicon is the second most common element in the earths crust. According to the Minerals Education Coalition, it isnt found pure in nature rather, its found combined with oxygen in rocks such as obsidian, granite, and sandstone, in a form known as silica. Silicon can be mined from quartzite, mica, and talc, but sand is its most abundant ore source. The silicon in solar panels is manufactured through a reduction process in which the silica is heated with a carbon material and the oxygen is removed, leaving behind purer, metallurgical-grade silicon.
From there, the grade must be further purified into polysilicon, the solar-grade purity of which is 99.999 percent. To yield polysilicons of different grades, several processes may be applied to the element. For electronic-grade polysilicon, which has a higher purity percentage, the metallurgical-grade silicone must pass through hydrogen chloride at extremely high temperatures and undergo distillation. But to yield a solar-grade end product, the silicone goes through a chemical refinement process. In this process, gases are passed through melted silicon to remove impurities such as boron and phosphorus. In its pure form, solar-grade silicon is then turned into cylinders called ingots, which are then sliced into the small conductive pieces that absorb the sunlight in solar panels.
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The Photovoltaic Affect Monocrystalline Polycrystalline And Thin
Solar photovoltaics are made with a number of parts, the most important of which are silicon cells. Silicon, atomic number 14 on the periodic table, is a nonmetal with conductive properties that give it the ability to convert sunlight into electricity. When light interacts with a silicon cell, it causes electrons to be set into motion, which initiates a flow of electricity. This is known as the photovoltaic effect.
However, silicon cells alone cant provide electricity for your home. They are paired with a metal casing and wiring, which allow the solar cells electrons to escape and supply useful power. Silicon comes in a number of different cell structures: single cell , polycrystalline or amorphous forms, most commonly associated with thin film solar panels.
Weatherproof Junction Box Is Added
In the final step, the manufacturer attaches a weatherproof junction box to the back of the module, including the cables needed to connect panels together during installation.Before leaving the factory, each completed solar panel undergoes a series of quality-control tests and a final deep clean. Then, its packed for transport and ready to install on a rooftop just like yours.
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Solar panels glimmering in the sun are an icon of all that is green. But while generating electricity through photovoltaics is indeed better for the environment than burning fossil fuels, several incidents have linked the manufacture of these shining symbols of environmental virtue to a trail of chemical pollution. And it turns out that the time it takes to compensate for the energy used and the greenhouse gases emitted in photovoltaic panel production varies substantially by technology and geography.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that the industry could readily eliminate many of the damaging side effects that do exist. Indeed, pressure for it to do so is mounting, in part because, since 2008, has moved from Europe, Japan, and the United States to China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Taiwan today nearly half the world’s photovoltaics are manufactured in China. As a result, although the overall track record for the industry is good, the countries that produce the most photovoltaics today typically do the worst job of protecting the environment and their workers.
The paper’s investigation, , profiled a Chinese polysilicon facility owned by Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology Co., located near the Yellow River in the country’s Henan province. This facility supplied polysilicon to Suntech Power Holdings, at the time the world’s largest solar-cell manufacturer, as well as to several other high-profile photovoltaics companies.
Carbon in Creation:
Do Solar Panels Contain Heavy Metals
Yes, solar panels do contain heavy metals. The most common heavy metals used in solar panels are cadmium and lead. These metals are used because they are good conductors of electricity and are very stable, meaning they do not corrode easily. While these metals are stable, they are also toxic and can be harmful to the environment and human health if they are not disposed of properly. When solar panels are produced, the cadmium and lead are usually encapsulated in glass or plastic to prevent them from leaching out. However, over time, the encapsulation can degrade and the heavy metals can leach into the environment. This is why it is important to recycle solar panels properly at the end of their lifespan. While the heavy metals in solar panels can be harmful, it is important to remember that the emissions from fossil fuels are much more harmful to the environment and human health. Solar panels are a clean and renewable energy source that can help to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
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Ok So How Green Is All Of This
Yes, it’s true that manufacturing solar panels creates carbon dioxide, like the manufacturing of most things. There’s also some legitimate concern about solar panel disposal.
But as solar panel manufacturing becomes more efficient, its carbon footprint has been shrinking significantly. A 2016 study reports that the overall emissions produced decreased by 17 to 24 percent every time install capacity has doubled in the last 40 years.
And the overall greenhouse gas emissions involved in solar energy is still much lower than coal or natural gas. Solar panels themselves can last for decades without much upkeep and because their parts dont wear out easily, PV panels are well-known to continue producing clean electricity well beyond their often-lengthy warranties, though sometimes at slightly less efficiency as the years fade from one to the next.
At the end of the life for a panel, some manufacturers offer global recycling programs for their customers.
A June 2012 National Renewable Energy Laboratory study investigating the photovoltaic degradation rates of about 2,000 solar installations over a period of 40 years found the median solar system lost just 0.5 percent of its power output per year. So, by the end of a typical 25-year warranty, the solar panels on your roof could still be operating at about 87 percent of their original capacity.
Plus, with the rising popularity of solar, recycling programs and companies are expected to grow and become more robust in the future.
Are Solar Panels Toxic
Despite the large amount of information circulating about solar panels being toxic, modern crystalline silicon solar panels contain virtually no toxic materials. The claims of toxic solar panels come from the mostly obsolete thin-film solar panels which did contain trace amounts of cadmium and telluride. However, unless these panels are broken up into fragments, the trace amount of cadmium is contained within the EVA layers and cannot leach out.
Modern crystalline silicon solar panels contain only a trace amount of lead in the solder used for the cell interconnections. However, the use of solder is also being phased out with the new busbar compression joining techniques and conductive paste materials. It’s worth noting solder is used in hundreds of millions of electrical devices and appliances. There are far more toxic elements used in consumer electronic devices, mobile phones, computers, & TVs, which is why electronic waste or E-waste is such a large global problem.
Roughly 99% of the solar panels installed around the world today are of the silicon crystalline variety and do not contain cadmium or telluride. Solar panels are very benign and even when damaged they do not cause any contamination as the cells are encapsulated within very durable polymer layers and contain no readily soluble materials. However, like all appliances, solar panels need to be collected and recycled at the end of life which we discuss in the section below.
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Solar Photovoltaic Cell Basics
When light shines on a photovoltaic cell also called a solar cell that light may be reflected, absorbed, or pass right through the cell. The PV cell is composed of semiconductor material the semi means that it can conduct electricity better than an insulator but not as well as a good conductor like a metal. There are several different semiconductor materials used in PV cells.
When the semiconductor is exposed to light, it absorbs the lights energy and transfers it to negatively charged particles in the material called electrons. This extra energy allows the electrons to flow through the material as an electrical current. This current is extracted through conductive metal contacts the grid-like lines on a solar cells and can then be used to power your home and the rest of the electric grid.
The efficiency of a PV cell is simply the amount of electrical power coming out of the cell compared to the energy from the light shining on it, which indicates how effective the cell is at converting energy from one form to the other. The amount of electricity produced from PV cells depends on the characteristics of the light available and multiple performance attributes of the cell.
Learn more below about the most commonly-used semiconductor materials for PV cells.
How Solar Panels Are Made
Solar panels are made of monocrystalline or polycrystalline silicon solar cells soldered together and sealed under an anti-reflective glass cover. Once light hits the solar cells, the photovoltaic effect starts, and electricity is created. The five key steps in making a solar panel are:
1. Make the solar cells
2. Solder solar cells together to create a panel
3. Install a backsheet, front glass layer, and frame
4. Install a junction box
5. Quality testing
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Solar Panel Types By Cost
Monocrystalline panels carry a hefty price tag, due to its energy-intensive and inefficient manufacturing process with only a 50% yield for every silicon crystal.
Polycrystalline modules are cheaper because they make use of the crystal fragments leftover from monocrystalline production, which results in a simpler manufacturing process and lower production costs.
Among thin-film solar panels, CIGS is the most expensive, followed by CdTe and amorphous silicon. Apart from the lower acquisition cost, thin-film modules can be easier to install thanks to their lighter weight and flexibility, which lowers the cost of labor.
While the total cost of residential systems has declined by more than 65% over the last decade, the soft cost of a system has actually risen from 58% of total system cost in 2014 to 65% in 2020.
For more information about soft costs, check out our article on the soft costs in the solar industry, and whats being done to reduce them.
Note that these figures dont include the cost of installation and labor. With labor and other overhead factors, the total can rise to $2.50 to $3.50 per watt.
How Big Is A 415w Solar Panel
A 415w solar panel is a comfortably high-range residential solar panel. Typically, this solar panel wattage can serve your power needs without the high price tag associated with 500w panels.
This wattage could also work for commercial installations depending on your power needs.
Solar arrays are created by stringing many solar panels together to improve their power output and efficiency. Choosing the correct wattage solar panel is essential to meet your power needs without overspending.
If you have your power needs and the number of panels you can place handy, you can easily find how much wattage each panel needs.
And whatever wattage solar panel you get, remember they only produce around 70 to 80% of their maximum power overall. So a 500w solar panel will make around 370w altogether, and a 415w solar panel will produce about 290w.
That might seem like an enormous difference, but you can easily make it up with a couple more solar panels. You want a solar system that produces 1.5Kw daily, a little more than the average home.
Youll need about two 500w solar panels to cover this, plus it will produce a lot more excess power. Or you could get two 415w panels to make that much power, plus a little extra. If you compare the prices, youll find the 415w panels far more cost-effective.
Learning Where Solar Panels Are Made Is Part Of Ethical Consumerism
- Wesleyan University, University of California, Berkeley
David Kuchta, Ph.D. has 10 years of experience in gardening and has read widely in environmental history and the energy transition. An environmental activist since the 1970s, he is also a historian, author, gardener, and educator.
- University of Tennessee
Construction Photography / Avalon / Getty Images
Determining where solar panels are made is not as easy as one might think. Of the world’s top 10 solar panel manufacturers, seven are based in China, while only First Solar is based in the United States. The two remaining manufacturers on the list are from South Korea and Canada, though the latter is often considered Chinese as well.
But a manufacturer’s country of origin is only part of determining where solar panels come from. Manufacturers have factories in many parts of the world, and most manufacturers are actually just assemblers of the final product. Like many manufactured goods, a single solar panel is made of multiple parts that are manufactured by separate companies located all over the world using raw materials from even more parts of the world.
The Global Supply Chain
alejomiranda / Getty Images
To determine where solar panels are made requires tracing the solar chain from final product back to their component parts and the raw materials they are all made of.
From top to bottom, a solar panel sitting on a rooftop is comprised of:
- a backsheet that provides more protection
- a junction box that connects the panel to an electric circuit
- and additional adhesives and sealants between the parts.
Those parts are all manufactured from smaller components, which are themselves manufactured from primary materials coming from many regions.
In 2020, the United States imported roughly 86% of new solar PV modules, capable of producing 26.7 gigawatts of electricityenough to supply the electricity needs of Arizona during the summer. By contrast, U.S.-based manufacturers produced 4.4 GW of solar PV modules. Imported modules came primarily from Asia, especially Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and South Korea. China, whose imports are the subject of much political controversy, accounted for merely 1% of module imports to the U.S. at the end of 2020.
Solar modules themselves are made of solar cells, which in turn are made of silicon wafers, the thin slices of silicon that are used as semiconductors in all electronics, including solar panels. China controls at least 60% of wafer manufacturing, including 25% by a single company, Longi Green Energy Technology Co., the largest solar company in the world.
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What Does It Take To Manufacture Solar Panels
Weve covered raw materials, but how much energy does it take to make solar panels? Unfortunately, theres 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.
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Metal Conductors Are Added
At this stage, the silicon wafer starts to become a solar panel when it is treated and metal conductors are added to the surface in a grid-like matrix. These conductors convert sunlight into electricity.
The wafer is put in an oven-like chamber and phosphorus is diffused in a thin layer over the surface. The phosphorus provides a negative electrical charge which works with the positive charge of the boron added in step two of the process.
This positive-negative charge is essential for how a PV cell functions. When sunlight hits a PV cell it stimulates the phosphorus and boron electrons, and as the electrons move around this creates a flow of electricity, which is transferred through a wire to your battery or directly to your appliances.
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