Mistakenly, when people hear the term “solar cells” they immediately think of solar panels that are seen on top of homes, or in solar farms. However, solar cells are actually the individual units that make up these larger structures.

In other words, if solar panels were considered the “skeleton” of solar power, then solar cells would be the “muscles”.

Now you know the distinction, let’s explore what a solar cell is and what it is made of.

What is a Solar Cell?

Solar cells are semiconductor devices that convert sunlight into electricity. They are produced and processed in the same way as computer memory chips.

Solar cells, like all other types of solar technology, are mostly composed of silicon, which absorbs photons emitted by sunlight.

The process was discovered as early as 1839 by a French physicist named Antoine-Cesar Becquerel.

When photons are absorbed by the silicon, it causes an electric current to flow. The amount of electricity produced by a solar cell is directly proportional to the amount of sunlight it absorbs.

Related: Is It Possible To Charge Solar Panels Without Sunlight? MAYBE?

Solar Panel Materials

Solar panels are made from solar cells, so the materials that make up a solar panel are indeed the same as those that make up a solar cell.

The following elements are the materials that are used on solar panels to allow them to produce electricity.

There are four main types of materials used in solar cells:

  • Crystalline silicon (c-Si)
  • Amorphous silicon (a-Si)
  • Gallium arsenide (GaAs)
  • Organometallics (soluble platinum)

Crystalline silicon (c-Si)

Crystalline silicon (c-Si) is the crystalline forms of silicon, including monocrystalline silicon (mc-Si) and polycrystalline silicon (pc-Si). These materials are selected for solar cells because they can be highly purified, making them ideal for light absorption.

c-Si solar cells are currently the most common type of cell on the market, accounting for about 90% of all shipments.

Crystalline Silicon (c-Si) cells are made from thin slices of silicon (wafers) 160–240 microns thick, which come from a single crystal or a block.

The type of crystalline cell produced is determined by the wafer production method. Monocrystalline is the most common form of crystalline cell.

Amorphous silicon (a-Si)

Amorphous silicon (a-Si) is a non-crystalline form of silicon. It is used in Thin-film solar cells (TFSCs), which are made by depositing a layer of this material onto a substrate, such as glass or metal.

a-Si has a number of advantages over c-Si, including its ability to be deposited in very thin layers, which reduces production costs. However, it is not as efficient at light absorption as c-Si.

Gallium arsenide (GaAs)

Gallium arsenide (GaAs) is a compound of two elements, gallium, and arsenic. It is used in solar cells, specifically in multi-junction solar cells.

Gallium arsenide is a type III/V semiconductor with higher electron mobility and saturated electron velocity than silicon, allowing gallium arsenide transistors to operate at frequencies above 250 GHz.

Gallium arsenide electronics are not damaged by heat because of their wide bandgap.

GaAs has a number of advantages over other materials, including their high absorption coefficient and their ability to be deposited in very thin layers. However, it is also the most expensive material used in solar cells.


The term organometallic compound refers to a compound in which one or more atoms of carbon are bonded to a metal atom.

One example of an organometallic compound is trimethylgallium (TMG), which is used in the production of gallium arsenide (GaAs) solar cells.

Organometallics are a class of materials that contain both organic and inorganic components. They are used in soluble platinum solar cells, which are a type of thin-film solar cell.

Organometallics have a number of advantages over other materials, including their high absorption coefficient and their ability to be deposited in very thin layers. However, they are also the most expensive material used in solar cells.

Basic Principles Of A Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Energy

The photovoltaic effect, in a nutshell, is the conversion of light into electric energy without any intermediate step.

Solar panels are made up of a number of layers that include a glass-based protective layer, a contact layer overlying individual solar cells connected in series, and then a metal back plate that conducts electricity and is laminated to waterproof the cells.

Solar cell properties

The short-circuit current (ISC), open-circuit voltage (VOC), fill factor (FF) and solar energy conversion efficiency (η) are the four most fundamental features of a solar cell.

The impact of both diode saturation current density and ISC on VOC, FF, and η is investigated for ideal solar cells.

How Do Solar Cells Work?

The photovoltaic effect – When sunlight falls on a solar panel, it is absorbed by the PV cells in the panel.

Electricity is produced as a result of this energy by charges moving within the cell in response to an internal electrical field.

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Passionate about helping households transition to sustainable energy with helpful information and resources.

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