The Science Behind Solar Panel Materials: Exploring Different Types of Photovoltaic Cells


Research into solar energy has been conducted by enthusiasts, researchers, environmentalists, and scientists for decades. This is not surprising, because radiation has specific features that make it a valuable resource for mankind. In particular, it became the basis for the production of efficient solar systems capable of converting energy into electricity.

The development became a real breakthrough in the field of the energy sector because the designs made it possible to use an inexhaustible source. But this is not the only superiority of photovoltaic cells. They are useful for the environment, economy, and other spheres of life. These features became the reason for the gradual expansion of production and increased capacity. According to SEIA, its level has increased from 0.1% (in 2010) to 5% these days. We suggest you learn more about solar panels and consider the existing types.

How Is the Development of Photovoltaic Technologies Taking Place?

Nowadays, structures with photovoltaic elements are not news to anyone. They are within the same reach as conventional appliances for heating, air conditioning, and other purposes. It is also not difficult to find a supplier. To do this, you only need to search for ‘solar companies near me’ and compare the terms of sale. With such conditions in place, it’s sometimes hard to comprehend that only a decade past, many people didn’t understand how photovoltaic cells worked.

However, the first steps toward the creation of technology began even earlier. According to various sources, the discovery of the photoelectric effect took place as far back as 1839. This event happened thanks to the efforts of the French physicist Edmond Becquerel. He presented to the world a development that created electrical voltage under the influence of solar radiation.

It was, however, an imperfect technology, unsuitable for industrial application. For some time, many scientists worked on its improvement. That was until 1954 when the first silicon-based solar cell was finally created. The development belonged to scientists from Bell Labs. This event became an impetus for the mass production of installations and the expansion of the scope of their use.

Initially, such solar cells could generate enough electricity to power small electronic devices. However, later engineers managed to improve the designs and increase their productivity. Specialists also worked to reduce the cost of structures. The result was an increase in sales and overall capacity.

Not only homeowners began to use solar energy but also entrepreneurs and even large organizations. Solar panels are now even part of spaceships and satellites. Agro-industrial photovoltaics has also made considerable progress.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

It is still unclear to some people how a photovoltaic cell works despite its popularity. Solar companies currently offer several types of solar panels, but they all have a single principle of operation. They consist of 2 silicon layers: p-type and n-type. Positively charged particles are overrepresented in the first, while electrons are overrepresented in the second. The latter move in the zone of contact between these two materials

P-type layers form negatively charged elements, while n-type layers form positively charged ions. Due to this, an electric field is created inside the structure. It is the basis for further electricity generation. Solar rays knock electrons out of photovoltaic cells when they hit them. Their movement in the internal electric field is the basis for the occurrence of an electric current flow.

What Are the Types of Solar Panels?

Source: Biblus

Since the beginning of the mass production of structures, only silicon was used in the process. Accordingly, there was a limited number of varieties. However, over time, scientists were able to create other types that differ in characteristics and levels of performance. Work on them continues to this day. Each new solar panel technology is a serious step towards accelerating the development of renewable energy. There are several technologies at the current stage of development.

Solar panel type Pros Cons
Monocrystalline High efficiency and performance Higher costs
Polycrystalline Lower costs Lower performance and efficiency
Thin-film Portable and flexible Lower performance and efficiency

Polycrystalline Silicon Solar Panels

This is one of the popular types of photovoltaic structures. The main feature is the heterogeneous structure of the base. In this case, instead of a solid sheet, materials consisting of small crystal particles are used. The production of polycrystalline varieties is carried out by 2 methods. The first involves casting ingots from silicon, which is in a molten state.

Specialists spray it and then give it the desired shape. In addition, polycrystalline solar panels can be made by drawing a thin layer from a molten silicon mass. This technology is cheaper but has a lower level of productivity. Regardless of the production technology, such solar panels are in demand. Currently, their share is more than 60%.

Organic Solar Cells

Another type of modern cell is batteries, which are made based on organic compounds rich in carbon. The addition of these materials improves certain characteristics of structures, including color and transparency. However, the level of efficiency of organic solar cells is half that of conventional silicon cells.

The service life of such installations is also much shorter. In contrast to these disadvantages, organic solar cells still have a significant advantage – the cheaper price of manufacturing structures in large quantities. An additional feature is the possibility of application to flexible materials (for example, plastics).

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

The first units used for commercial purposes were made of monocrystalline silicon. Due to its purity, the material provides a high level of efficiency. The production technology of monocrystalline solar panels involves the creation of a cylindrical ingot from a molten silicon mass.

It has a characteristic feature that distinguishes it from polycrystalline material – a homogeneous structure. An anti-reflective coating is also applied to the surface, as well as the rear and front metal contacts. Despite the extremely high level of efficiency, monocrystalline varieties have one important drawback – a labor-intensive and slow manufacturing process.

Thin Film Photovoltaic Elements

In addition to the dominant varieties (polycrystalline and monocrystalline structures), relatively new elements, thin-film panels, can be found on the market. Amphoric silicon is used for the production of these units. This material provides higher strength and additional flexibility. The technology is based on the procedure of applying thin layers of silicon to a glass substrate.

Amphora solar panels are much cheaper and less energy-intensive to manufacture. This is due to the use of a smaller amount of silicon to create structures. However, there are also disadvantages. Installations have a significantly lower level of productivity than other varieties.

Perovskite Solar Panels

The physics of solar energy also allows interaction with other types of materials. One of them is perovskite – an innovative development that has a special crystal structure. Organic compounds of iodine, bromine or chlorine, and lead can be used to make this material. The main features of perovskite are high efficiency and relative cheapness in production. However, scientists are still working on extending the service life.


The history of solar panels began decades ago. During this time, scientists were able to achieve significant success in this field and create several types of structures. The most popular of them are currently polycrystalline and monocrystalline models. In addition to them, you can see organic solar cells, perovskite elements, and thin-film varieties on the market. However, engineers and researchers do not stop there. They are constantly working on improving the technology and making its production much cheaper.

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