What Are Solar Panels Made Of

5 Apr 2023

Discover the materials used in solar panel construction

Solar panels are an increasingly popular and important technology for generating clean, renewable energy. They work by converting sunlight into electricity, making them a great solution for powering homes, businesses, and even entire cities. But what are solar panels made out of, and how do they work?

Silicon is the most common material used in the production of solar panels. It is used in the manufacture of approximately 95% of the panels sold today. We’ll also discuss other materials that are used to make solar panels, and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Finally, we’ll touch on the other components that make up a solar panel, and their role in the panel’s construction.

Start your journey to energy independence today by reading this comprehensive guide to solar panels.

Silicon-based solar panels

There are several different types of silicon-based solar panels, including monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film. Monocrystalline panels are made from a single crystal of silicon, and are known for their high efficiency and long lifespan. Polycrystalline panels are made from many smaller crystals of silicon, and are slightly less efficient than monocrystalline panels, but also less expensive. Thin-film panels are made by depositing a layer of silicon onto a substrate, and are the least expensive and least efficient of the three types.

Solar Panel Raw Materials

The main raw material used in the production of solar panels is silicon. This is a highly abundant element that is found in sand, and it is also used in the production of computer chips. The silicon used in solar panels is typically of very high purity, with a purity level of 99.999 percent.

To make solar cells, the silicon is first melted in a furnace and then cast into ingots. These ingots are then cut into thin wafers using a diamond saw. The wafers are then cleaned and polished to remove any impurities and to make them more reflective.

Production of Solar Cells

The next step in the production of solar panels is the creation of solar cells. To create a solar cell, a thin layer of a special material called a “dopant” is added to the surface of the silicon wafer. This material helps to create a p-n junction, which is essential for the conversion of sunlight into electricity.

The solar cells are then interconnected using a special conductive material, which allows them to be wired together to create a solar panel. This process is known as tabbing and stringing.

Assembly of Solar Panels

The final step in the production of solar panels is the assembly process. This involves mounting the solar cells onto a backing material, usually made of glass or plastic. The cells are then sealed with a special encapsulant, which protects them from moisture and other environmental factors.

The completed solar panel is then tested to ensure that it meets the required standards for efficiency and durability. Once it has passed all of the necessary tests, the solar panel is ready for installation.

Exploded view show how solar panels are constructed

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Other materials used in solar panels

While silicon-based solar panels are the most common type on the market, there are several other materials that are also used to make solar panels. These alternative materials offer some advantages over silicon-based panels, but also come with their own set of disadvantages.

One alternative material that is used in solar panels is cadmium telluride (CdTe). CdTe panels are less expensive than silicon-based panels, and can also be more efficient in certain conditions. However, they also come with some environmental concerns, as cadmium is a toxic heavy metal.

Another alternative material is copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS). CIGS panels are highly efficient and can be made very thin, which makes them a good choice for flexible and lightweight applications. However, they are also more expensive than silicon-based panels, and can be difficult to manufacture at scale.

Organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells are another type of solar panel that use carbon-based materials instead of silicon. OPV cells are flexible, lightweight, and can be made in a variety of colors and shapes. However, they are less efficient than silicon-based panels, and also tend to degrade more quickly over time.

Overall, each of these alternative materials offers some advantages over silicon-based solar panels, but also come with some drawbacks. As a result, they are not yet widely used in commercial applications, and silicon-based panels remain the most common type of solar panel on the market. However, research into these alternative materials continues, and they may become more prevalent in the future as their efficiency and cost-effectiveness improves.

The role of other components in solar panel construction

While the photovoltaic cells are the most important component of a solar panel, there are several other components that are also necessary for the panel to function properly.

One of these components is the glass cover that is placed over the top of the cells. This cover serves several purposes, including protecting the cells from damage and helping to keep them clean. The glass is typically made from tempered or laminated glass, which is able to withstand the extreme temperatures and weather conditions that solar panels are exposed to.

Another important component is the backsheet, which is a layer of material that is placed on the back of the cells to protect them from moisture and other environmental factors. The backsheet is typically made from a polymer material, such as Tedlar or TPT, which is resistant to UV radiation and other forms of damage.

The frame is another important component of a solar panel. The frame is used to hold the glass and cells in place, and is typically made from aluminium or another lightweight, corrosion-resistant material. The frame also helps to provide some protection from physical damage and weather-related wear and tear.

Finally, the junction box is an important component that helps to regulate the flow of electricity from the cells to the rest of the system. The junction box is typically located on the back of the panel, and includes connectors that allow the panel to be connected to other panels and to the overall system.

Overall, each of these components plays an important role in the construction of a solar panel. While the cells themselves are the most critical part of the panel, the other components help to ensure that the panel is able to function properly and generate electricity efficiently over time.


Solar panels are an increasingly popular way to generate clean, renewable energy from the sun. While silicon-based solar panels are the most common type on the market, there are several alternative materials that are also used to make solar panels, each with their own set of advantages and disadvantages.

In addition to the photovoltaic cells themselves, solar panels also include several other important components, such as the glass cover, backsheet, frame, and junction box. These components work together to protect the cells from damage, regulate the flow of electricity, and ensure that the panel is able to function properly over time.

Overall, solar panels offer a reliable and cost-effective way to generate clean energy from the sun. As technology continues to improve and costs continue to come down, solar panels are likely to become an even more important part of our energy mix in the years to come, and with a good solar maintenance schedule you can ensure your solar solution operates smoothly throughout its lifespan.