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The Role of Silver: Why is Silver Used In Solar Panels?

Reasons Why Silver Is Essential To The Production Of Solar Panels

Metals Focus Data reported that in 2019, the photovoltaic sector accounted for 10% of total global silver demand, or 98.7 million ounces out of 991.8 million ounces consumed worldwide. But, in the first place, why is silver used in solar panels?

One of the biggest reasons is silver’s high electrical conductivity, which, in turn, makes for more efficient solar power generation.

There are other reasons that I’ll be detailing in this post but I will also cover other related topics, such as:

3 reasons why silver is essential to the production of solar panels

Superior electrical conductivity

Silver has a score of 100 on the conductivity scale, making it the most conductive metal around. According to the University of Cambridge, silver defines conductivity and other metals are compared against it.

This is the reason why silver is used in many electrical circuits, including those found in pv panels.

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Versatility

Silver’s temperature coefficient also helps make a solar panel array generate a more consistent amount of renewable energy during hotter and cooler temperatures.

Silver is also a light metal, so it’s ideal for the rooftop solar arrays that we see in Australia.

Safe to Use

This metal doesn’t oxidize as easily as others, making it highly resistant to corrosion. Not only that, but silver is also fire-resistant.

This means that a solar panel array that uses silver doesn’t pose health and safety hazards, nor are they likely to short-circuit your system.

How is silver used in solar panels?

Silver has 2 primary functions in solar panels:

  1. To coat the electrodes on the solar photovoltaic cells. This typically comprises 3 layers which are the electrical conductor, the active layer, and the electrical insulator.
  2. Fusing silver paste onto the connecting ribbon that binds the solar photovoltaic cells together. This allows for efficient renewable energy transfer from one cell to the next.

Silver has become integral to the growth of the solar panel industry with modern solar panels now operating at about 15-20% efficiency.

How much silver is used in solar panels?

amount of silver used in solar panels varies depending on the size, type, and intended use

The amount of silver used in a solar panel system varies depending on the size, type, and intended use (residential vs. commercial).

But, on average, one panel will contain about 20 grams of silver according to professor Mool Gupta of the University of Virginia. Per that estimation, the solar panel manufacturing industry uses 8% of the world’s supply of silver.

The demand for silver from the solar industry has been fairly stable over the past few years but reports are saying that this is likely to dwindle due to technological advancements. This brings us to the next topic.

Innovative strategies to diminish the use of silver in solar panels

A recent study (2022) from Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells says that there have been great improvements in solar technology over the years.

But, despite that, there is still a need for improvement particularly in reducing the use of silver while also increasing the supply of solar power systems.

Here are some of the strategies currently being explored:

Using copper instead of silver

Infographic showing the good and bad of using copper instead of silver for solar panels

Copper is second only to silver in terms of conductivity with a score of 97 on the conductivity scale. It is also cheaper and widely available, making it an ideal replacement.

The problem is that copper doesn’t bond well with the silicon used in today’s solar panels. Copper also oxidizes more easily when exposed to air. One method used to counter this is to make rear contact solar photovoltaic cells where the wires are at the back instead of the front.

This method is already being used in some of today’s premium solar panel systems, so there’s hope that this could curb the use of silver.

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Graphene and perovskite solar panels

Perovskite is made to replace the silicon-based solar cells that we generally use today. They’re more flexible, too, so they can be part of solar panel installations in places where more rigid silicon panels can’t.

The problem is that they are significantly less durable. Enter graphene. Combined, graphene makes perovskite solar arrays more stable, efficient, and durable. A graphene paste will also be used instead of silver as it is also highly conductive, more available, and more affordable.

These combinations are still in the lab though, so keep your eyes open for the future of the solar industry.

Manufacturing solar cells that are closer together

There’s ongoing research about bringing solar photovoltaic cells closer together. The shorter distance theoretically means better efficiency rates while using less silver.

Unfortunately, current procedures for this type of panel reconstruction have been costly. Thus, explaining why these panels haven’t yet been out to the general public.

Using other metals

Researchers are exploring using other metals, such as nickel, cobalt, or aluminum, to replace the need for silver in photovoltaic cells. These metals are more common and often cheaper than silver, providing viable alternatives.

The Pros and Cons of Using Silver in Solar Panels

Infographic showing the pros and cons of using silver in solar panels

Silver provides numerous essential advantages to the production capabilities of a solar panel system, although it does come with its own set of drawbacks. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using silver for photovoltaics:

Pros

  • Safe to use and requires minimal maintenance
  • Silver is the most conductive metal, enabling superior renewable energy production and efficiency.
  • Silver has the ideal temperature coefficient, making it ideal for use in different climates.
  • It’s highly resistant to corrosion and requires minimal maintenance or upkeep.

Cons

  • The cost of silver can be expensive depending on the market rate.
  • Silver has limited availability and can be volatile in the commodities markets.
  • Excessive use of silver can have a negative environmental impact due to its non-renewable nature.

Conclusion

Silver is a large reason why modern solar panel systems have become so efficient. And, as the solar power industry grows, there’s a chance that it also strains global supply. Thus, the possibility of increasing solar panel and silver prices.

Thankfully, researchers have shed positive light on the industry with numerous innovations that can reduce (if not eliminate) the need for this precious metal.

That being said, there is no better time than now to install solar panel systems. Prices are low and incentives from the Australian government are still in place. If you’re still on the fence, though, here’s where you can get 3 FREE quotes from our network of pre-vetted installers.