Solar Basics

Introduction to Solar Panels and Solar Energy

How are solar panels made? How does a solar system work? Here's a primer on solar energy from the world's largest solar panel manufacturer.

How Solar Works

Turn Your Roof Into a Power Plant

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  • house
  • inverter
  • wiring
  • solar
  • battery
  • power
  • Inverter

  • Wiring

  • Solar Panels

  • Batteries

  • Power Meter

You own the sun. Well, not exactly, but you do have the right to its power. Why not put it good use? With solar technology, you can turn your rooftop into a power plant.

Most houses use AC power (thanks Thomas Edison), but solar panels generate DC power. Enter the inverter: problem solved.

This allows the electricity to travel from the solar panels to the inverter and then into your house safely.

These elegant devices will sit on your rooftop and turn sunlight directly into electricity, all without noise or emissions. How cool is that?

Want to go totally off-the-grid? With batteries you can store your own electricity, consume it when you want to, and say goodbye to electric bills! (Not required for grid-connected installations.)

Plugging your solar system into the power meter means flexibility. In many regions, when you're not using your solar electricity, you may be able to share with your neighbors and earn a credit from your local utility.

How Solar Panels are Made

How Solar Panels Are Made

From Sand to Sun

Step 1: Sand

Learn how a humble bit of dirt attains the power to turn sunlight into electricity.

Sand: Humble Beginnings

  • sand
  • silicon
  • ingot
sand ingot silicon

Most solar panels produced today are made from Silicon, the second most abundant element on Earth and the primary ingredient in beach sand. The first step in making a solar panel is to create silicon ingots, giant blocks of high-purity (99.999999%) silicon.

To do this, we put hundreds of pounds of silicon chunks (i.e. rocks) into a giant crucible and add a little boron (called a ‘dopant’) to give the silicon positive polarity. Then, we cook it altogether at over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit!

Ingots & Wafers

We let the large silicon ingot cool down before slicing it into thin wafers using wire saws. Each fresh-cut silicon wafer is less than 200 microns thick – similar to a heavy piece of paper. These wafers must be carefully handled, inspected and cleaned before further processing.

The next step is to reduce the reflectivity of the wafer from about 30% to 10% through a chemical surface texturing process that creates tiny pyramids on the wafer’s surface. Now, when a photon (sunlight) hits the wafer's surface, it is more likely to be reflected into the wafer rather than back into space.

Solar Cells: From "Photo" to "Voltaic"

Sun Panel light wire wire bulb
  • N-TYPE SILICON
  • FRONT ELECTRODE
  • CELL
  • BACK ELECTRODE
  • P-TYPE SILICON
  • CURRENT

It's time to turn our silicon wafer into something that converts sunlight into electricity. This is where the solar cell, the heart of a solar panel, is officially born. To do this, we first inject phosphorus into the silicon wafer at high temperatures. Then, we carefully clean the phosphorous off the rear surface and around the edges of the wafer.

Now we have a photovoltaic (photo = light, voltaic = energy; thus, “light into energy”) device! Next, we deposit metal contacts on the front and rear surfaces of the cell, allowing us to collect those electrons generated in the silicon. We also deposit a thin chemical layer on the cell's surface to reduce its reflectivity from about 10% to 1%.

Solar Panel Assembly

  • Glass
  • Frame
  • Solar
    Cells
  • EVA
  • Backsheet
  • Junction
    Box

To make a solar panel, we string together 48, 60, or 72 of our solar cells and lay them carefully between two clear sheets of ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA). We put high-transparency glass on the front surface and a highly durable, polymer-based backsheet on the backside. Then, we warm the whole stack (like a toasted solar sandwich) to create a protective cocoon around the solar cells.

Next, for structural stability and long-term protection, we place rigid aluminum frames around the perimeter, bonded together with a waterproof adhesive. Finally, we add a junction box to the back of the solar panel: a connector to facilitate the flow of electricity. Now, the solar panel is ready for quality testing, packaging, and delivery.

Sun: Unlimited Energy

Once your solar panel is installed on your rooftop, sit back, relax, and let the sun save you money. Write a book, make coffee, or watch a soccer match on TV: you choose what to do with your solar electricity.

Furthermore, solar panels don’t have any emissions and they don’t make noise: they just sit their and do their job. Finally, take pride in the contributions you have made to combat climate change and to ensure a sustainable future for all.

History in the Making

The Global Solar Movement

It's Abundant.

Solar energy is everywhere. You may not be able to dig a coal mine or oil well in your back yard, but with Yingli Solar panels you can harness nature’s highest source of power.

The sun sends enough energy to Earth each hour to meet human energy demands for an entire year! It’s the world’s most abundant and accessible source of energy.

Perez, Richard, ASRC, University of Albany. As seen in: SHC 2008 Annual Report. International Energy Agency. March 2009. [Source]

Energy Resources of the World i

TERRA-WATTS PER YEAR*
  • Solar
  • Coal
  • Uranium
  • Oil
  • Natural Gas
*Solar represents annual global irradiance. All others represent total global reserves.

It's Affordable.

Any serious, long-term global energy source must be scalable. Fossil fuels are generally supply constrained: as demand goes up, so do prices. With solar panels, it’s the exact opposite: as demand goes up, prices tend to go down!

The solar industry’s learning curve has been unprecedented. For the last 30 years, each doubling in global solar panel production has led to a roughly 25% reduction in solar panel prices!

Bloomberg New Energy Finance. As seen in: Solar Silicon Price Drops Brings Renewable Power Closer. Bloomberg News. March 2012. [Source]

Price of Crystalline Silicon Solar Panels i

$ PER WATT
crystalline silicon solar panels

It's Sustainable.

How do we want to leave the Earth for our children? Silicon solar panels generate electricity without noise or emissions, and are comprised almost entirely of recyclable materials (like silicon, silver, and aluminum). In addition, solar (photovoltaic) panels do not require water for operation, critically important for sustainable communities around the world.

Farrell, John. Water Use May Decided Future of Centralized Solar Power. Institute for Local Self-Reliance. May 2011. [Source]

Water Use for Power Plants i

Gallons PER MWh
  • Nuclear
  • Coal
  • Gas CC
  • SOLAR PVs

A Timeline of

The History of Solar

200 B.C.

Archimedes

Legend holds that Archimedes, a Greek scientist, used a series of mirrors on the shoreline to concentrate the sun’s energy and set fire to incoming enemy ships.

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1839

Photovoltaic Effect

A.E. Becquerel observes that shining light on certain materials would cause the creation of electric current. This was the launching point for photovoltaic technology.

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1883

1st Solar Cell

Charles Fritts produces the world’s first solar cell, a device that converts sunlight into electricity, using selenium and gold. The cell’s efficiency was less than 1%, meaning than less than 1% of the light energy was converted into electricity.

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1921

Photons

Albert Einstein is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his “discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.” Einstein was the first to postulate the existence of light quanta, now called photons, providing a theoretical foundation for modern PV technology.

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1954

Commercial Solar

Silicon solar cells make their way into the mainstream market. The New York Times noted that the silicon cell could lead to “the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.”

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1958

The Space Race

The space race between the U.S. and Russia sparks significant investments in solar technology. Some of the earliest man-made satellites, including Vanguard 1, were powered by photovoltaic cells.

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2000

1GW of Solar

Cumulative global solar installation passes 1GW, a critical turning point for our industry’s global development.

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2006

The Silicon Rush

Solar industry surpasses the computer industry as the largest consumer of high-purity silicon. Although this created a temporary silicon supply shortage, it sparked major industry investments that lowered the price of solar panels.

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2011

$1/Watt Solar Panels

The cost of high-quality silicon solar panels falls to roughly US$1 per watt, opening new markets around the world and driving a global energy revolution.

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2012

New Global Leader

Yingli Solar becomes the world's largest solar panel manufacturer, as global demand for solar panels grows to over 30GW per year.

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Solar Panel Portfolio

High-quality, reliable solar panels for homes, large commercial buildings and power plants.

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Home Solar Systems

As a homeowner, solar panels could provide a secure, long-term investment for the planet and your wallet.

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Advanced Manufacturing

Yingli Solar controls the solar manufacturing process from sand to sun, ensuring quality at every step.

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