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The Manufacturing Process of Solar Panels

How Solar Panels Are Made

Since their invention in 1954, solar cells have evolved with advances in technology and manufacturing processes.

We will discuss the processes that go into making solar cells, defining monocrystalline and the process used for creating solar cells, then discussing the differences between N-type and P-type solar cells.

Silicon

Most rocks contain silicon. Silicon is also found in sand, clays, and soils as silica (silicon dioxide, an oxide of silicon) or silicates (when combined with oxygen and other elements, such as metals like aluminium or magnesium).

Silicon has played a part in our history in one way or another.

From arrowheads made of flint and chert, with tiny quartz crystals that contain as much as 90% silica. To the sandstone used in the building of homes. Or since the earliest civilisations, quartz crystals have been used in jewellery.

Our neanderthal ancestors discovered that flint, chert, and quartz can be struck against pyrite (fool’s gold) to spark fires. Ancient historical civilisations considered quartz to have healing properties.

Silica is the primary source for silicon production.

Silica is converted to pure silicon crystals to use in solar cells. Silica is heated with a carbon material at a very high temperature. As the mix heats, the carbon reacts with the oxygen in the silica. This forms CO gas. In the best words, the oxygen is removed from the silica, and raw silicon is produced in molten form.

Monocrystalline

Mono means one. Crystalline refers to a structure composed of crystals.

Monocrystalline is one crystal.

Monocrystalline solar cells are black or very dark blue.

Monocrystalline solar panels are produced from pure silicon.

Monocrystalline solar cells are made by lowering a seed crystal into molten silicon, then pulling up the seed crystal as it rotates. This creates a silicon cylinder. The cylinder is sliced thinly into circular wafers. The wafers are then trimmed of their sides to create squares. The sides are wasted.

These squares are around the size of a coaster.

A solar cell is a crystalline silicon wafer. It has horizontal metal lines that collect the electrons in motion. These electrons then move to thicker vertical metal lines called busbars. The busbars gather the electrons and connect to neighbouring solar cells.

A residential solar panel has around 60 cells. These cells are arranged in a 6×10 matrix.

The cells are connected in series. This means that if one cell is shaded, the current will be restricted to every other cell in the string.

Monocrystalline solar panels are highly efficient.

P-type vs N-type

A P-type solar cell has a positively charged silicon base.

An N-type solar cell has a negatively charged silicon base.

The difference between a P-type solar cell and an N-type solar cell is in the manufacturing process, the practical application of the panel, and degradation.

A P-type solar cell’s base is coated with boron as boron contains one less electron than silicon. The subtraction of a negative means a positive. The negatively charged electrons will be drawn to the positively charged base. The top is coated in phosphorus as phosphorus contains one more electron than silicon. The addition of a negative means a negative.

This positive and negative connection creates a path for direct current (DC) electricity to flow.

An N-type solar cell’s base is coated with phosphorus and its top is coated with boron. Electrons will be drawn to the top. A path is created for DC to flow. 

P-type solar cells resist radiation and degradation better in space than N-type solar cells. However, for residential purposes, P-type solar cells are less efficient than N-type solar cells as P-type solar cells degrade slightly within their first few weeks of operation.

As soon as your P-type solar panels are placed on your roof, within the first few hours to a few weeks in your panel can become as much as 3 percent less efficient. This is due to light induced degradation. Traces of oxide may spread across the silicon lattice and create complexes with the boron.

Light induced degradation does not affect N-type solar cells.

P-type solar cells are cheaper than N-type solar cells as their manufacturing processes have been developed further than N-type solar cells, due to their practicality and popularity in the early days of solar technology. For residential solar, N-type solar panels will be more efficient than P-type solar panels, but are more expensive.

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