Solar panels are becoming more mainstream as time goes on. But before you run out and purchase a unit for yourself, it’s important to know what exactly a solar panel is made from. More importantly, we want to know which metal is being used in solar panels and what is their purpose.
Join us to answer this question and break down everything you need to know before setting up your solar power system.
Solar panel materials have a layered approach in terms of their design, with each layer being made up of different materials and serving its function.
Solar panels are made up of solar cells, and this is where the layers come in. The layers of a solar cell include a metal plate at the bottom of the cell, one or two different types of semiconductors, a metal grid above the semiconductors, an anti-reflection coating, and a layer of glass.
Since glass is an insulator, it’s not going to conduct any electricity and since it's on top, that’s where the sunlight is going to strike first.
Glass is also transparent, so the light simply passes through. And if you were wondering what glass is used for solar panels, most make use of tempered glass, adding to that extra layer of protection. After all, the purpose of the glass layer is to protect the inner and more fragile layers from any environmental hazards.
Once light hits the glass, it’ll move onto the antireflection layer, or for those not clued up on solar panels, the layer that makes the solar panel look dark.
The anti-reflection coating allows solar panels to hold onto energy coming in and prevents a large portion of it from escaping. The coating, although dark in appearance, is transparent and allows for a reflection at the top and bottom of the layer. This cancels the reflections out and leaves only the incoming light hitting the surface.
Many assume that the solar panels can cause cancer after hearing all this talk of reflection and light, but that myth has been busted. The materials that are considered hazardous are used within the solar panel itself and the panels are designed in such a way to allow for easy disposable after usage.
The non-metal layers act as solutions to practical issues, whereas the metal layers are where most of the science and magic takes place. But now that we’ve gone over the non-metal layers, let’s have a look at the metal.
When it comes to the metals in a solar panel, we have the internal metals found in the solar cells and the external metals on the exterior of the solar panel itself.
One of the most important and common metals in a solar panel is the silicon semiconductor in solar cells. Silicon metal sits in the middle of being a conductor and an insulator.
Having a metal that’s a conductor won’t work because they’re already a conductor, and an insulator won’t work because the jump to the conduction band is too big.
Silicon has four electrons that are all used up when they bond to each other in the semiconductor. The incoming light might break away some of the electron’s bonds but it’s not nearly enough. So because of this, silicon takes a step over to phosphorus on the periodic table and bonds with it. This will leave us with spare unbonded electrons that the incoming light can excite up to the conduction level.
Boron also joins the party and bonds with the silicon, creating a separate layer of silicon. Individually, these layers are neutral as there’s no net charge on either one. But as soon as the phosphorous bonded silicon touches the boron-bonded one, there's a rush of electrons from the former flooding the latter. This creates an imbalance of charge within the solar cell.
In other words, some of the phosphorous will be positively charged because they’ll be missing electrons, while the boron will be negatively charged because they will have extra electrons.
Having an imbalance is what gives us an electric field, or when relating to circuits, a voltage. This acts as a guide, telling the electrons where to move.
A barrier is formed between the silicon layers, creating an equilibrium where the electrons stop flowing and the electrons will only move again when they receive energy from the incoming light. All we need are two conductors to connect the silicon metal to a circuit.
Silver Grid and Plate
The top metal conductor is a grid, while the back is a plate.
The former is a grid because it needs space for the incoming light.
Having too little space won’t allow the light to pass through to the silicon, and if there’s too much space then the electrons will have to travel a far distance along with the silicon. On the other hand, having a grid as a plate ensures that the space is just right.
These grids and plates are normally made from silver as they are a good conductor of electricity.
The final metal we are going to look at isn’t a layer as much as it is a frame that holds everything together.
The aluminum frame and mount are used to seal the components of a solar panel and add an extra layer of protection. It provides structural stability and won’t make you ask questions such as are solar panels safe outside during bad weather.
Aluminum, like the silver conductors, is a highly conductive metal and goes so far as to be used as lighting protection during a thunderstorm.
In other words, a solar panel’s aluminum frame acts as a barrier of protection to keep the internal components safe from thermal or mechanical tensions, but it also makes for a useful way to mount your solar panel. So, not only are solar panels renewable, but they are rigid in design and will keep you powered for many years.
The metals in a solar panel each serve their purpose, but when brought together in the final product, it makes for a way to harness the sun’s energy and use it efficiently.
Both the internal and external metals all play an important role in ensuring that a solar panel functions accordingly.
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