Solar Panels are prevalent in households and commercial establishments across the UK. Here is a statistic: The Solar Trade Association has reported that, as of 2021, nearly 900,000 households rely on solar panels to meet their daily energy needs.
Further, research has shown that more solar panels are installed yearly across the UK than any other European country, making them Europe’s third-largest solar energy producer.
In 2020, the UK topped fDi’s table that ranked the top European locations for renewable energy, riding on the back of the booming wind and solar energy projects.
Given the popularity of solar panels, it becomes imperative to understand who produces them and how they are made. This post will find everything you need to know about solar panels, their types, how they are made, and who makes them.
Please do stay with us till the end!
- 1 The Popular Solar Panel Types: What are They?
- 2 What are the Different Components of a Solar Panel?
- 3 How Solar Panels are Made – Explained
- 4 Why is Silicon Important in Solar Panels?
- 5 Which Companies Manufacture Solar Panels in the UK?
- 6 Final Thoughts
The Popular Solar Panel Types: What are They?
While many types of solar panels are available for sale today, three are most common across the UK: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film solar panels. So, what are they, and what sets them apart?
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Also known as Mono-SI, this type of solar panel is renowned for being one of the purest panels out there. Their dark appearance and round edges characterise them. The best part is that the monocrystalline solar panels have many benefits:
- High-efficiency rate, over 20%
- High power output
- Require less space for installation and maintenance
- Can endure high temperatures
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
With square edges and a distinct blue appearance, the Poly-SI panels are easy to distinguish. They make use of melted silicon. You can expect the following benefits from polycrystalline solar panels:
- Their efficiency is pegged at 15%
- They are cheaper than Mono-SI panels
However, there are significant downsides associated with them as well. For instance, they do not function well under high temperatures and are not big on space efficiency.
Both, Mono-SI and Poly-SI panels are classed as first-generation solar panels.
Thin Film Solar Panels
A second-generation offering, thin-film solar panels, are produced by juxtaposing multiple photovoltaic films onto a base. There are many benefits that thin-film solar panels bring to the table, such as:
- Easy production
- It can be integrated with other systems
- Perform well under high temperatures
Their advantages notwithstanding, the issue with thin-film solar panels is that they take up much space, making them unsuitable for residential use. Likewise, their warranty span is short, making them unfeasible for long-term usage.
What are the Different Components of a Solar Panel?
Irrespective of its type, a solar panel is generally comprised of the following parts:
- Solar Cells: The efficiency of a solar panel is determined by the solar cells. Depending on the type of solar panel being produced, solar cells can be monocrystalline or polycrystalline
- The Solar Glass: The solar glass functions as the outer, protective layer of a solar panel. The sturdier the glass, the better the performance. It shields the panel from inclement weather conditions and prevents the accumulation of dirt
- An EVA Sheet: The solar cells need to be held together. That is where an EVA sheet comes in. The sheet also doubles up as a transparent and laminated layer that can provide the solar panel with added protection
- Back Sheet: Like the EVA sheet, a back sheet is also meant to protect the solar panel. Additionally, the sheet offers electrical insulation
- Aluminium Frame: The frame equips the solar panel with structural support and aid in holding the solar cells together
- Junction Box: As the name suggests, a junction box is where all the cables meet and connect with the solar panel
- Silicon Glue: The glue functions as a super adhesive that can hold the solar cells together, while its conductive and convective properties facilitate power generation
How Solar Panels are Made – Explained
How do the various parts of a solar panel come together? See for yourself in the step-by-step guide that follows:
Step 1: Silicon Extraction from Sand
Silicon is the crucial element in solar panels. While the element is abundantly available in sand, extracting it from sand is a complex and expensive process. For this purpose, quartz sand is used, which contains a generous amount of natural silicon deposits.
The quartz sand is treated in a furnace at high-temperature conditions.
Step 2: The Production of Ingots
After extracting silicon from quartz sand, the rocks are melted under high temperatures to produce ingots. These ingots are central to the working of solar panels. Usually, they are cast in cylindrical shapes, with particular emphasis on the overall structure.
At times, trace amounts of Boron are added to the ingots to boost the conductive properties of silicon.
For monocrystalline solar panels, the ingots are obtained from melting a single silicon crystal. On the other hand, for polycrystalline panels, numerous silicon crystals are melted to produce ingots.
Step 3: The Assembly of Wafers
In this step, the ingots are cut and shaped into thin wafer-like or disc-like forms. Specific tools are used to achieve the maximum possible thinness in wafer width.
After the cutting is done, a robust anti-reflective coating is applied to the wafers to minimise the heat lost due to silicon’s powerful reflective nature.
Step 4: From Wafers to Solar Cells
Once the solar wafers are ready, they are fitted with conductors. Consequently, the wafers can be arranged in grid formations, increasing the surface area for solar energy absorption and conversion into electricity.
At this juncture, the solar cells are coated with a layer of Phosphorus. Considering that the cells were already covered with Boron during the production of ingots, they develop the P-N junction that is the USP of solar panels.
Step 5: Formation of Panels
Solar cells undergo complete soldering, post which they get interlinked through connectors. A glass layer is placed on the side facing the sun, while a backsheet is placed on the opposite side.
A junction box is installed, and all the parts are arranged inside the frame. Finally, the frame is mounted on the household’s roof-top with mounting clamps.
Step 6: Final Steps
The assembled solar panels are tested against industry standards to ensure their efficiency. Their performance is monitored for parameters like power output, voltage, tolerance and current.
The solar panels that fulfil the performance criteria are cleaned and inspected one last time before shipping.
Why is Silicon Important in Solar Panels?
Silicon has many properties that make it perfect for use in solar panels. Some of them include:
- It has excellent electronic, thermal and optical properties
- Silicon is widely available and easy to procure
- When compared with other elements, silicon is more affordable
- It has an incredible sunlight-absorbing capacity
- Has optimum semiconducting properties
- The silicon P-V junction is effective
Which Companies Manufacture Solar Panels in the UK?
While the leading solar panel manufacturers are based in Asia and Germany, the UK also has a fair share of solar panel manufacturers.
Generally, these companies import photovoltaic cells and assemble them into panels at their factories in the UK.
- GB-SoI:Based out of Wales, they manufacture solar PV panels for off-grid systems and cater to domestic, residential and commercial installations. They have held their own in the solar energy industry for over 20 years and are still going strong.
- Viridian Solar: This company from Cambridge manufactures roof-top solar panel installations, making them a renowned name in the field.
- Romag: Established in 1943, Romag is a company that dabbles with many things solar. From supplying solar panel products, BIPVs to producing Inteco solar tiles, they have done it all. They have established a strong presence across North East England.
- Solarcentury: They are known for two of their products – solar tiles known as C21e and a BIPV style product called SunStation. Their primary operations are in London.
- AES Solar: AES Solar is a company from Scotland, renowned for its reputation as one of the oldest solar panels manufacturers in Europe.
Polysolar, SunSolar Energy and Solion are the other big names that headline the solar panel manufacturing scene in the UK.
For installing solar panels at your residence or office building, make sure only to contact the solar panel installers whom the MCS has approved. In this way, your household will become eligible for the UK government’s feed-in tariff income scheme.
According to a report published by the BEIS Public Attitudes Tracker, an overwhelming 85% of British respondents said that they support solar energy.
Furthermore, solar panels have been the most popular choice for solar energy generation across households, office spaces and commercial buildings.
Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline and Thin Film Solar Panels dominate the market and have advantages of their own. Many components make up a solar panel, out of which silicon is the crucial element.
The production of these solar panels is a multi-step process that starts with the extraction of silicon and ends with shipping fully assembled panels. Given the rising need and popularity of solar panels, many UK companies have forayed into the solar panel manufacturing scene.
To learn more about solar panels, please feel free to reach out to us.