copper, Silver, and Gold in Solar Panels (Efficient Or Waste)

Silver is a one-of-a-kind metal. It has the highest electrical and thermal conductivity and is the most reflective of all metals, making it very valuable when employed in solar cells.

Silver is a fundamental component of photovoltaic cells, as it acts as a conductor, gathering electrons to generate a useful electric current and transporting it out of the cell to be utilized.

Here’s What This Article Will Guide You Regarding The Use of Solar Panels Without Silver:

  • How Silver Is Used In Solar Panels
  • Why is Silver Important In Solar Panels
  • How Can Silver Be Reduced and Replaced With In Solar Panels

Simply put, solar would not be as efficient in converting sunlight into electricity if it weren’t for silver. So can solar panels work without silver?

Silver bars with metal coins

How Is Silver Used In Solar?

The face of a conventional solar cell is covered in thin wires. These wires are really screen printed, similar to how your favorite concert t-shirt is made. Bus bars are heavier wires, whereas fingers are thinner ones.

Electrical resistance is crucial since the wires are so thin. Silver is utilized here to minimize electrical resistance and increase the panel’s efficiency.

The silver metal is applied to the front of the cell as a paste and is screen printed. A 60 cell solar panel may utilize around 8 grams of silver.

Does Using Silver In Solar Panels Increase Financial Burdens On Solar Industry?

Roughly two-thirds of an ounce of silver, or about 20 grams, is used in the average solar panel.

That may not seem like much, but at roughly 20 dollars an ounce, it adds more to the cost of solar than it does to other silver-based industrial products.

A laptop, for example, has just 750 milligrams to 1.25 grams of silver, and a mobile phone contains only 200-300 milligrams of silver, making silver a fraction of the cost of those gadgets.

The solar sector consumes around 5% of the world’s yearly silver supply, or 52.4 million ounces.

However, as the demand for solar grows, so will the demand for silver used in solar. As a result, the solar sector is expected to need 100 million ounces of silver by next year.

Due to the price volatility of solar, panel manufacturers are attempting to use less silver on each panel. Still, the solar industry’s need for silver is being driven by the general growth in demand for new solar panels.

In the years ahead, this rising need for silver might have a significant influence on the solar business, as solar could drive up the price of silver.

As a result, if silver prices rise, it might affect the cost of manufacturing solar panels, affecting the solar industry’s profitability.

See also: What Are Solar Panels? (How They are Made)

Is Silver Really Needed For Solar Panels?

Some experts believe that silver solar cell efficiency rates will plateau from where they are now. The material’s conductive qualities are required for energy generation, making its full removal difficult.

We must look at its conductive properties while assessing its use for energy generation. Silver is the metal that conducts the most energy on the earth.

It establishes the conductivity scale, with 100 being the most efficient and 0 being the least efficient.

The material is also moderately fire-resistant, so it won’t easily catch fire. It’s also a light metal so that roofs can sustain the weight of a panel.

The special characteristics of silver make it a valuable commodity in the manufacturing of solar panels.

Can Copper Be Used As An Alternative To Silver In Solar Cells?

Many academics are looking for ways to deal with escalating silver costs and efficiency rates.

Copper is a feasible and cost-effective conductivity solution for solar panels. Although the material has comparable energy-producing properties, experts are concerned about possible problems.

Copper is difficult to screenprint, posing a hurdle to the usage of traditional panels.

The researchers also looked into panel reconstruction to improve efficiency. They rebuilt solar cells, bringing them closer together and using smaller connections to reduce the amount of silver required.

Regrettably, the renovation proved pricey, restricting the company’s capacity to grow sales.

Can You Manufacture Solar Panels With Reduced Amounts of Silver?

Making the fingers as thin as feasible through manufacturing advances is one approach to utilize less silver in solar cells. They’re already very thin: some are only 30 micrometers broad and tall.

However, Fraunhofer ISE in Germany has developed a screen-printing technology that may lower this to 19 micrometers, reducing the quantity of silver consumed by roughly 30%.

The technique also boosts cell efficiency, so it’s a win-win situation. Hopefully, this production method will be widely used shortly.

How Can Silver Use Be Entirely Eliminated From Solar Industry?

Developing rear or back contact solar cells is a technique that can eliminate silver entirely while manufacturing solar panels.

The wiring is on the rear of the cell rather than the front in this sort of cell.

The cables no longer block light from reaching the front of the cell due to this location. This implies that the cables’ electrical conductivity is less important, allowing manufacturers to employ less expensive metals like copper.

Copper is equally costly, although it is around 50 times less so than silver. This implies solar panel makers may use much more copper in their rear contact cells while saving money.

Is Using Copper Instead of Silver In Solar Panels More Cost Effective?

Reduced energy generating costs for PV may be achieved through two mechanisms: improving solar cell efficiency and lowering production costs.

Both effects may be achieved simultaneously using modern solar cell metallization methods. Galvanic techniques, which are cost-effective and have high deposition rates, may deposit copper from chemical solutions.

The benefit of the particular costs will be much greater if the solar cell efficiency is enhanced further using such industrially practicable technologies.

The production of a homogeneous and qualitatively high-value layer between silicon and copper is the difficulty of solar cell metallization using copper.

This acts as a barrier to copper migration into the semiconductor. Copper-based front-side metallization in Si solar cells is a huge step forward in cost reduction while manufacturing solar panels.

Can Gold Be Used In Solar Panels?

Today’s solar panels require silver as a component. However, due to Stanford University researchers, solar panels may soon include gold to boost performance and efficiency.

In the traditional sense, solar panels are made up of cells that absorb solar energy. The power generated from the cells is transferred from the panels to the main wires via grids – these are highly viable on older solar panels and reduce the efficiency by up to 10%.

Engineers have worked to reduce the number of light-blocking cables while increasing solar cell efficiency. This is where gold is used because of its high properties in flexibility while being extremely conductive.

A gold film is manufactured on silicon, creating the maximum efficiency for the minimum trace of metal. The gold film has tiny nanoholes which allow the light to conduct through – reducing the coverage and absorbing the sunlight more effectively.

Using gold in solar panels has increased efficiency by up to 22%. Without the use of these precious metals, the efficiency of solar panels would not make it worthwhile to consumers where the sun is limited.

Are There Any Efficient Solar Panels Without Silver?

With a 25.54 percent efficiency, an Australian solar business has built the world’s most efficient commercial-sized solar cell, breaking the previous record of 25.26 percent.

The Institute for Solar Energy Research Hamelin in Germany investigated and validated the findings.

Sunriver, the firm behind the achievement, was created in a garage in 2015 by Vince Allen, a then-PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales. He had an idea to make solar panels cheaper by using copper instead of silver to absorb power.

For various reasons, using copper instead of silver proved to be wise. Copper is 100 times less expensive than silver, a scarce and expensive metal.

It also has a far greater supply and requires lower processing temperatures, resulting in less energy use.

Furthermore, the practical efficiency limit of a commercial-sized solar cell is approximately 27%, suggesting that the technology is reaching its efficiency limit, which is why switching to copper can be tremendously helpful for broad solar energy adoption.

This presses on the fact that in the future, the solar industry might be reverting to copper instead of silver to manufacture most of the solar panels, which would not only prove to be a cost-effective solution for the solar industry but would also lower the ever-increasing prices within the silver industry as demand would reduce.


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Elliot has 20+ years of experience in renewable technology, from conservation to efficient living. His passion is to help others achieve independent off-grid living.

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