What Are Solar Panels Made Of?

The Most Comprehensive DIY Solar Panel GuideQuestion: I am considering making a conversion to solar energy, but I’d like to know a little more about the technology first. What are solar panels made of?

Answer:
The most common material used to make solar panels is silicon. Roughly 50 years ago silicon’s properties as a semiconductor were discovered. What makes silicon so useful in electronics, and solar energy systems, is its lack of electric charge which allows electricity to pass through it effortlessly.

Solar panels consist of many smaller components called solar cells. A solar cell is a piece of silicon that has been “doped” (chemically altered) on opposite ends to produce a positive charge and a negative charge on either end which creates an electric field, while leaving the middle pure silicon which allows for the easy transfer of electricity. Typically one end of the silicon is doped with Boron and the other is doped with Phosphorous.

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When sunlight hits the silicon solar cells, photons (tiny particles of light) emitted from the sun “bump” into the silicon at very high speeds, and knock loose electrons. These free electrons suddenly find themselves in the electric field (positive on one end, negative on the other) created by the doping process and by the very basic laws of physics the electrons “flow” from one end of the silicon to the other.

This process happens over and over at a very high rate, and the end results are the flow of electricity across many silicon solar cells that collectively form a solar panel. These solar panels are wired in such a way that the electricity is harvested and can either be used directly by your household (by an appliance for example) or it can be sent to an array of batteries which are charged for later use when the sun’s energy is unavailable (night time or cloudy periods).

Materials other than silicon are also available. These materials are usually cheaper to manufacture, but are less efficient than silicon.

No matter which material you choose, solar energy systems are available as DIY kits for easy home-installation and maintenance.

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