What Are the Main Solar Panel Components?

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solar panel components guide

Solar panels are all the range at the moment, but what is a solar panel made of? In our solar panel components guide, we walk you through what materials go into making a solar panel and what each solar panel part is called.


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What Are the Different Types of Solar Panels?

solar panel

Solar panels come in many different shapes and sizes. They also come in many different types that require different materials and processes to manufacture them. However, there are three main types of solar panels that are popular in Ireland and are most efficient for households and businesses alike. All have their different advantages and disadvantages for the environment as well as efficiency for the powering homes with solar energy.

What Are the Three Types of Solar Panels?

The three main types of of solar panels are all based on how they utilise the sun’s energy to produce electricity: photovoltaic, thermodynamic, and solar thermal are all the most common types of solar panels you’ll find in Ireland and each has different mechanism to generate renewable energy:

  1. Photovoltaic Solar Panels
    Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels use the photovoltaic effect to convert sunlight into electricity. The electricity is produced via solar cells utilising infrared rays from the sun. Photovoltaic panels usually cost between €4,000 and €8,000 in Ireland.
  2. Thermodynamic Solar Panels
    Thermodynamic solar panels generate hot water rather than converting sunlight directly into electricity. They use an extremely cold (-22°C) liquid refrigerant which is circulated through the panel. This liquid absorbs heat from the air outside and from the infrared rays emitted by the sun. The cost of a thermodynamic solar panel system in Ireland is usually between €3,500 and €5,500.
  3. Solar Thermal Solar Panels
    Solar thermal panels directly collect heat from the sun. They are similar to a dark car, where the heat inside the car can far surpass the temperature outside upon significant exposure to sunlight. The cost of installing a solar thermal panel system in Ireland ranges from €2,500 to €4,500.

Photovoltaic solar panels are the most popular in Ireland and are the only ones you’re able to get a solar panel SEAI grant for.

Check Out More in Our Solar Panels Guide!

What Materials Are Solar Panels Made From?

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As you might imagine, solar panels are made from a variety of materials that allow them to convert sunlight into electricity. Even in one single type of solar panel, such as photovoltaic solar panels, there are several types due to the different materials used and they can sometimes vary between different solar panel companies.

What Are Silicon Wafers?

The central material used in solar panels - or more specifically a solar cell - is silicon. The silicon is what allows for the solar panel to convert sunlight into electricity. This is because of silicon’s semiconductor properties that allows it to generate an electrical charge when hit by the sun.

Silicon wafers themselves tend to be made of either single crystal of silicon - known as monocrystalline - or of multiple crystal silicon - known as polycrystalline. These two different types affect the efficiency and the cost:

  1. Monocrystalline Silicon
    These are made from a single crystal of silicon and are more efficient than polycrystalline wafers, but are more expensive to produce. They are usually black in colour.
  2. Polycrystalline Silicon
    These are made from multiple fragments of silicon and are slightly less efficient than monocrystalline wafers, but are generally more affordable to produce. Due to the combination of crystals, solar panels made from polycrystalline silicon tend to be blue.

The silicon wafers are arranged on a solar panel as a grid to give them the solar panel shape in order to take advantage of the sun.

What Is Anti-Reflective Coating for?

In order to increase the amount of sunlight that is absorbed by the solar cells, an anti-reflective coating is added to stop sunlight from escaping. This anti-reflective coating boosts the efficiency of the solar cells and is usually made of silicon nitride, boron nitride, or titanium oxide.

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What Are the Metal Conductors for?

The metal conductors in a solar panel allows for the electricity generated to be transported and redirected from the solar panel to the battery or the property they supply. These conductors are also important for connecting up the solar cells for the electricity to pass through. Conductors are usually made from either copper or aluminium.

What Is a Solar Encapsulant?

An encapsulant is extremely important for the overall functioning and durability of a solar panel. An encapsulant is usually a special polymer that is made from ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA). The encapsulant protects the solar cells from dust and dampness from environmental factors as well as block harmful radiation from the sun without losing efficiency.

What About the Glass Casing?

Lastly, there is the glass casing that helps protect the entire solar panel as well as the solar cells inside. The glass casing also helps in regulating the temperature of the solar cells to prevent them from overheating and are just over half a centimetre thick.

solar panel blue

What Are the Main Components of Solar Panels?

Now we’ve examined what the main materials are that go into manufacturing a solar panel, let’s have a look at what are the main components of a solar panel and how they work together to produce electricity. If you're getting a DIY solar panel kit, you'll usually need to go through and buy the full list of solar panel components.

  • 5 Main Solar Panel Components
  • Solar Cells
  • Inverter
  • Junction Box
  • Backsheets
  • Glass casing

What Part Do the Solar Cells Play?

The solar cells are the main component of any PV solar panel and allow for the sunlight to be directly converted into electricity. These solar cells are made from the silicon that we explained above which allows them to generate an electric charge. This is known as the photovoltaic effect.

The more solar cells a panel has, the more electricity can be generated from it. This means that when you get your solar panels installed on your roof, you need to have the right amount of solar cells so your house can be powered by them. When you buy your solar panels, a technician will come round and assess how many panels you might need.

Find Out More in Our Solar Panel Cost Guide!

What Is an Inverter?

The inverter is important for converting the direct current (DC) from the sunlight into the alternating current (AC) that we use in our homes. This allows us to use the electricity that we capture through solar panels at home to power electrical appliances and lighting.

What Does the Junction Box Do?

The junction box is another essential part of a solar panel where the wires from the solar panel are connected to each other, and to the wires that carry the electricity generated by the panel. The junction box is usually fitted at the back of the solar panel.

What Is a Backsheet?

The backsheet is the layer on the back of the solar panel, and it provides a barrier against moisture and other environmental factors that could damage the cells. It’s important as well for providing insulation for the solar cells so they don’t get overheated.


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What About Solar Panel Batteries?

solar panel battery

Solar panel batteries are for storing the excess energy from solar panels to be used for later. They are quite often an expensive extra to add to your solar panels but they usually make them a lot more efficient and allow your home to be powered by backup power in the case of a black out on the grid.

What Are Solar Panel Batteries Made of?

There are generally four types of solar batteries that you can get for your solar panels to store the energy produced by your solar panels:

  1. Lead Acid
    Lead acid batteries are the oldest battery type. These tend to be long lasting and reliable as well as recyclable. However, they tend to wear out sooner and have to be charged more constantly making them less efficient.
  2. Lithium-Ion
    Lithium-ion batteries are the latest type of battery around. These tend to be used with EV vehicles and hybrid cars and don’t require almost any maintenance. The main problem, however, is that they tend to be expensive and have a greater fire risk.
  3. Nickel Based
    Nickel based batteries are very durable and can survive in high temperatures without malfunctioning. However, the material they use is very toxic and makes them very difficult to dispose of.
  4. Flow
    Flow batteries are among some of the most expensive due to their size. They work by using a water-based electrolyte liquid that allows for long lasting durability and lifespan. However, since they are just coming onto the scene, they still need to become more popular to make them a cost effective option.

Read More in Our Solar Panel Battery Guide!

Are Solar Panels Environmentally Friendly?

leaves on certificate

When deciding to get solar panels for your home, the intention is to get them for both reducing your electricity bills as well as doing your bit for the environment. However, like anything that needs to be manufactured, especially with so many solar panel components, solar panels can have their own negative environmental impact, such as their carbon footprint.

How Carbon Intensive Are Solar Panels?

Photovoltaic solar panels are the most carbon intensive of all renewable energy options. Where this carbon intensity really comes from is the materials and the manufacturing process that goes in making and exporting the solar panels. Here’s a graph showing the different carbon intensities of different fuel sources:

*gtCO2e stands for gigatons of carbon equivalent per kilowatt hour
Source: Adapted from IPCC special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation.

As you can see, PV solar panels have the most carbon intensity out of all the renewable energy sources and also even more than nuclear power! However, it is still considerably lower than fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal and oil which still makes it a good option to transition to.

What Ethical Concerns Are There for Solar Panels?

With rising demand for solar panels worldwide, this has led to an increase in demand for mining the materials for them. This has in turn led to some ethical concerns when it comes to sourcing those materials:

  1. Labour
    Most of the production for solar panels needs to come from countries all over the world. With the increased demand, there are concerns in some countries using more forced labour to ensure that mining quotas are met for solar panels to be produced. This creates an ethical issue for many when it comes to how solar panels are made.
  2. Ecological Problems
    Since increased production of solar panels will lead to higher demand for the materials that are involved, more of the essential ingredients in solar panels, such as silicon and aluminium will be needed. As a result, more land will need to be mined and this could have a negative impact on indigenous communities and wildlife.
  3. Recycling Issues
    Solar panels are still not as recyclable as they should be. This is mostly due to the low demand when it comes to getting them reused as new materials since not many have expired yet. This will improve later on as more solar panels will need replacing and new recycling methods are discovered. It might be the case that your solar panels can't be fixed and need to be replaced.

The services and products mentioned on this website may only represent a small selection of the options available to you. Selectra encourages you to carry out your own research and seek advice if necessary before making any decisions. We may receive commission from selected partner providers on sales of some products and/or services mentioned within this website. Our website is free to use, and the commission we receive does not affect our opinion or the information we provide.

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