By now, most people have heard of solar panels and have some sort of idea what they are used for. What’s more mysterious is how these flat, shiny panels can actually turn sunlight into energy. What are they made out of?
The most important part of a solar panel is the individual solar cells. These are made up of layers of silicon wafers, which are formed and shaped using a pick and place machine. As the energy travels between the layers, the silicon itself converts the energy from the sun into electron energy. Silicon is an abundant element on our planet, so it is in no danger of being depleted through its use in the energy industry.
All that energy bouncing around the silicon layers needs to be harnessed and used, and that’s the job of a conductor. Silver is the most conductive metal, for both electricity and thermals, so it’s a no-brainer to use it in solar panels. It is usually transformed into a silver paste that is applied to the silicon solar cells. There it can gather up all the electrons and transfer them out of the cell.
The frame for the panel itself is usually made out of modified aluminum, in order to provide rigidity. Glass is used to protect the surface while still allowing sunlight through, and an electronically neutral sheet is used to protect the back. Two layers of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) that act as glue are placed both in front of and behind the cells, in order to hold it all together. Then, of course, cables and connectors are used to transfer the electricity from the panel elsewhere.
Once you break it down, it’s actually pretty simple. Silicon and silver do the work, while the rest of the panel acts as a protective barrier. Now go impress everyone at your next dinner party with this exclusive knowledge!
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