Climate change is a major concern for the planet, both now and for future generations. A key contributor to the phenomenon is the global reliance on fossil fuels. Scientists, engineers, and technicians across the world have been working tirelessly for decades to create power generation techniques that utilise renewable energy – sun, wind, water, and so on.
One of the most popular and well known of these is solar power. Invented as far back as 1884, solar power only became a serious consideration for mass power generation in the 1970s, following the global oil crises of 1973 and 1979. Since then, the technology has become more efficient, more cost-effective, and more readily-available.
As with any new technology, electroplating has had its part to play in the successful development of solar power.
How solar panels work
At its most basic level, solar panels (or, more accurately, ‘photovoltaic panels’ are made up of a series of solar cells. These cells are normally produced from silicon or silver, both of which absorb light that they use to energise electrons, producing high-voltage electricity. These electrons are then moved from the solar cell to an external circuit or battery, discharging their energy before completing their circuit back to the cell.
The role of plating in solar panel production
Both silicon and silver are expensive metals, but essential to solar power generation because of their photovoltaic properties. The plating process is used to improve the conductivity of the cell, forming reliable connections between the silver or silicon substrate components. This helps to reduce the amount (and therefore cost) of these materials, without losing efficiency.
Some of the most commonly used metals in solar cell manufacturing include:
Nickel plating for solar panels
Nickel plating provides a lustrous, silver-white finish and is known for both its ductility and hardness. It offers excellent resistance to both wear and corrosion, while also substantially increasing the thickness of the substrate. You can electroplate nickel onto a solar panel, or use our preferred method of electroless nickel plating (ENP). This second option provide a more uniform nickel coating, allowing us to control the thickness of the deposit more easily.
Compared to nickel, copper is more malleable and a little softer. However, its most important quality for the purpose of power generation is how good it is at conducting electricity. Indeed, it is common to plate solar panels with copper for this very purpose, creating a thin, conductive undercoat for a more resilient nickel layer above.
Whilst too costly for plating the photovoltaic cells themselves, gold is a popular choice for the circuit boards used in the solar-panels’ operation. A naturally conductive material, gold-plated electrical components are used as standard across many industries that utilised solar power.