Making a solar panel: All you need to know
Have you also thought about solar to protect yourself from rising electricity prices? Well you must surely be asking yourself a lot of questions:
How does a solar panel? How is it made? Is it reliable? How much does it cost?
Well in this guide I explain how they are made. You will see that that also answers all the other questions.
I suggest you address all these points:
- The manufacturing process
- The composition of a panel (we are going to talk about rare earths)
- The different technologies that exist (and which one you should choose)
- The pollution they cause when you make them
- Where they are produce
- How much does it cost to switch to solar energy
Before getting to the heart of the matter, we have to agree on what a solar panel is. Many people confuse solar panel and photovoltaic panel.
What is the difference between a solar panel and a photovoltaic panel?
The solar panel is a sensor that works with solar energy. This means that “solar panel” designates both a module which produces heat and a module which produces electricity.
The photovoltaic panel produces electricity with sunlight. The thermal panel, on the other hand, uses the calories of the sun to create heat.
What I’m going to explain to you in this guide is how to make a photovoltaic panel.
How is a solar panel madel
To make a solar collector you have to go through different stages. We will see them one by one, so you will understand the whole process as a whole.
The manufacturing process of a solar panel
About 90% of the solar panels install in the world are made from silicon. It is a chemical element present on earth (the most present after oxygen).
It is not found directly in its pure state. That must therefore be treat before it can be use.
First of all, the silicon is recover with a chemical reaction of “ carboreduction ”. This means that we heat minerals rich in silica. For example, sand or quartz is heat to 3000 ° C. After that, we obtain a pure silicon at 98 or even 99%.
Once extract, it must be enrich and baked in an oven at over 1500 degrees. When it comes out of the oven it can be transform into ingots which are cut into thin slices. These slices are call ” wafers ” they are as thick as a sheet of paper.
The wafers are chemically treat with an anti-reflective, with that they can convert more light into electricity.
So that the wafer turns into a photovoltaic cell, it remains to add phosphorus on its front face. In fact, phosphorus contains a lot of electrons compared to silicon.
Boron is added on the back side, boron contains much less electrons than silicon. You see what I mean?
We can compare the front face of the wafer to the positive terminal of a battery, and its rear face to the negative terminal. In fact, we get an inexhaustible electric battery powered by sunlight. If this part is not clear enough I encourage you to read my guide on how a panel works.
Solar panel assembly
Now let’s move on to assembly.
To put it simply: we take between 60 and 72 photovoltaic cells and we connect them all together. Then we place them in an aluminum frame to protect them.
A temper glass 3 to 4 mm thick is install on the front face. As much to say to you that with that, your panel resists very easily to the hail.
A junction box is attach to the rear face of the panel. In this box we find all the connection cables that connect the panels to each other and to the solar inverter.
And there you have it, all that remains is to put them on the roof.
From here you know what a panel is made of and how all of its components are assemble.
We talked about silicon, silicon is not a rare earth. I would like to come back to this point before going any further, it is a popular misconception.
Are solar panels made from rare earths?
In general, when we install a solar system, it is because we are sensitive to the preservation of the environment. So it wouldn’t make sense to use rare earths to generate electricity, right?
Rest assured, we hardly use it in photovoltaics. At least not in the panels that we are going to install for you.
To be completely transparent with you, less than 10% of them contain it. But there are solar panels made from rare earths.
I am thinking of the so-call ” thin film ” technology, the module is made up of copper, indium and gallium. These are the same rare metals found in LCD screens for example.
You can therefore produce your green electricity with peace of mind. Silicon is not a rare earth. It is also the opportune moment to talk to you about the different uses of silicon.
What are the three main families of photovoltaic cells?
You can find several types of solar panels in the market. We look at the 3 most famous together.
Monocrystalline solar panel
They are made up of monocrystalline photovoltaic cells. That is, the solar cell is made up of only one silicon crystal.
Here, a large amount of silicon is need, which makes this type of panel a little more expensive (but also more efficient).
It is the most profitable on the market. Some monocrystalline sensors can achieve up to 24% efficiency. Do you want to know how this is possible?
This is due to the purity of its composition. As the cell is compose of a single crystal, the color of the panel is homogeneous and dark . It therefore captures sunlight better. It is this technology that I recommend that you install.
A little aside while we are talking about performance, I have listed my best tips for optimizing yours. You can download your pdf by clicking here.
Polycrystalline solar panel
The polycrystalline solar panel is made up of several silicon crystals. You can imagine, here you need less silicon, the panel costs less.
Its color is bluish and not uniform. I’m not telling you more because this panel hardly sells anymore. If the subject interests you, you can ask me your questions in comments.
Thin film solar panel
This technology has the particularity of being able to operate with artificial light or in cloudy weather. Be careful here we are talking about a yield that does not go beyond 7%.
In fact, these are the cells that you find on calculators or on watches.
Do you remember how we came to talk about the different silicon cells? I was telling you that a lot of people thought that the panels were made of rare earths.
Now I would like to deal with another misconception. I often hear it said that the manufacture of photovoltaic modules is polluting.
Do solar panels pollute?
Okay, I imagine you already know that, but when a panel produces electricity it does not emit CO2.
Where it goes wrong is especially at the level of production. It is the transformation of silicon that requires a lot of energy …
Do you know the principle of embodied energy? It is the sum of all the energies which are essential for the production of a single material. Well the solar panel produces more energy throughout its life than it took to manufacture it.
In fact, a collector pays off its energy debt in the first 5 years. This means that after 5 years it only produces 100% carbon-free electricity.
The lifespan of a module greatly exceeds 30 years. I’ll let you make up your own mind. I think solar is an ecological solution.
Also remember that they are 95% recyclable (the remaining 5% is waste during the recycling process).
Ah, and one more thing, when I speak of gray energy, I take into account the transport of the panel. Because, yes, you can imagine that they are not all produce in France.
Who are the solar panel manufacturers?
In the world of solar energy, several companies are establish. You can find solar panel manufacturers in almost every continent.
The advantage is that there is something for everyone. You can very well choose a brand based on its origin or reputation. Your choice just has to match your needs. The best is to talk about it with a pro.
I suggest you make a small inventory of the main manufacturers.
Let’s start with France. French companies are known to produce high quality panels. Class no?
You can find:
- Voltec Solar
There are also well-known and very reputable companies in Europe, here are the most important:
I am pausing in my listing to invite you to ask me questions in comments on these different companies. I could give you additional indications to help you make the right choice.
Let’s resume. I will now introduce you to the manufacturers of the new continent, America. Here, we are going to talk about the giants of the world market. The products are known for their performance:
- Canadian Solar
There is still one place on the globe to be done. I am of course talking about Asia. Asian product are known and renown around the world. Their performances and their qualities are no longer to be proven. Let me introduce you to the main manufacturers:
- Trina Solar
- JA Solar
- Jinko Solar
This is where a large part of the photovoltaic modules are produce. Yes, many manufacturers make this choice. But the reason is very simple. This is what we will see immediately.
Where are the solar panels made?
It’s no surprise to anyone, most PV modules are design in Asia. For one simple reason: they have know-how older than ours and make significant economies of scale.
Suddenly it was complicate for European companies to survive the Asian competition.
Have you ever heard of French solar panels? Very often that means that they were assemble in France, or that the specifications are French.
Be careful, this is not the case for inverters. You can find photovoltaic inverters that are well made in France.
Now that you know how a solar panel is made and where it comes from, you can imagine how much it costs to produce. We immediately address the question of price.
How much does a solar panel cost?
I immediately give you a range of prices that apply. You will see that these are the prices for an entire installation (we do not produce electricity with a single panel):
|kWp||Must not exceed||The Nouvel’R Energy Awards|
|3 kWp||€ 9,000||€ 5,359|
|6 kWp||€ 12,000||€ 10,314|
|9 kWp||€ 19,000||€ 12,063|
State aid is deduct from the display prices. This table indicates the price not to be exceed for an installation, depending on its power and the prices charged at Nouvel’R Énergie for entry-level equipment without options, labor and administrative procedures include.
The prices depend on the power to be install. If ever you have no idea how much power you need, you can try our online simulator. I think it’s better to do a profitability study with a pro, but at least with that you have a foundation.
As a little aside, when it comes to prices, several criteria must be taken into account:
- What is the power of the panel?
- What is its technology?
- Does it have a built-in microinverter?
All of these points can increase the price of your final installation.
Back to our basic topic. The manufacture of a solar panel. You should know that once your module is manufacture, it is test in the laboratory. I suggest you take a closer look.
What are the optimal operating conditions for a photovoltaic collector?
You may have already looked at the different offers of photovoltaic panels. In this case we look at the characteristics of the product to choose the best.
More generally we look mainly at power and efficiency. Today we install a lot of sensors that have a peak watt power (Wp) of 375 minimum.
We must pay attention to this data because it is calculate in the laboratory. During the tests we meet all the optimal conditions:
- inclination between 30 and 35 °
- optimal light exposure
- room temperature at 25 °
As much to say to you that on your roof you will never be able to have these 3 conditions met.
So when you see a panel that displays 375 Wp, it means that in the laboratory it produces 375W. On your roof, however, it will not systematically produce 375W.
Come on let’s recap everything we just saw before leaving.
Manufacturing solar panels: what to remember
Here are the points to remember in everything we have just seen:
- The panels you are going to install on your roof do not contain rare earths.
- The silicon that makes up a solar panel and the second most common element on Earth.
- Today a monocrystalline solar panel has an efficiency ranging from 18 to 24%.
- The solar panel pays off its energy debt in a short time and it is 95% recyclable.
Hope you enjoyed this guide and answered your questions. I’ll let you look at the FAQ section. There may be topics that will interest you.
What are the components of a solar panel?
Photovoltaic sensor are mainly made of glass, aluminum and silicon.
What is the role of the solar panel?
The solar panel, in all its forms, collects solar energy and transforms it. It can produce heat, electricity, or both .
How much solar panel power for a house?
If we take a house of 100 m² fully equipped with electricity, we consider that an installation of 3 kWp will be sufficient. About 10 solar collectors need to be install.
Chinese solar panels should they be avoid?
No, Chinese solar panels are just as efficient as European or American panels. 7 of them are part of the top 10 best-selling photovoltaic modules.
Should you choose a 60 or 72 cell solar panel?
The 72 cell panels are more potent than the 60 cells. They are also heavier, it all depends on your roof.