Question: What are solar panels made up of?

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  1. Hi Jamesy,

    There are a number of different materials with varying costs and efficiency with the most common being crystalline silicone.

    One of the promising technologies are sliver cells, which were ‘invented’ by a research at the Australian National University.

    Also organic polymer cells appear quite promising as they can be printed onto rolls rather than being the stiff wafer cells that silicone materials produce.


  2. By far the most common material is crystalline silicon, but there are lots of other materials used, in particular for the higher efficiency panels, mostly semiconductor type combinations of materials, such as gallium arsenide. Of course, solar cells and solar panels are quite complex things and the cells are housed in steel and glass enclosures to go on your roof. Therefore, a lot of manufacturing is involved, with a lot of energy used to manufacture each solar panel. So, an interesting thing to consider is, how long would you have to run an solar panel for and how much energy would you have to generate before you balanced out the amount of energy required to build the panel. This is sometimes called the “energy payback time”. It has been calculated that the payback time is about 2 – 3 years and that over the lifetime of a panel, you would generate 9 to 17 times the energy that went into the production of the panel. These numbers were estimated more than 10 years ago, so the situation is likely better now, with lower energy production and higher efficiency panels. So, not a bad deal.


  3. I would just add to Stevens answer and say based on conversations I have had with a solar panel manufacturer the payback time has reduced to about 18 months and the life of the panel is much longer. What this doesn’t take into account is ‘maintenance energy’ over its lifetime and for solar, as opposed to nuclear for example, the maintenance is relatively high.


  4. Nice answers, everyone.
    Jamesy, some researchers are also trying to develop organic polymer compounds that they hope can eventually be painted onto roofs like house paint, and which will then function just like solar panels. Sounds pretty cool! 🙂