How Much Silver Is Used in Solar Panels?

Solar panels and their accompanying systems are growing more popular among people looking for an alternative electricity supply or a backup for the grid. Unknown to many, silver plays a key role in the fabrication of these panels, and its supply is affected by the continuous rise in demand for solar power.

Solar Panel Demand Causing Increase in Silver Prices

If you’re wondering why silver is so important in making solar panels, it’s because silver is a metal with incredibly low electrical resistance. Other closely related metals cannot sufficiently match its conductivity for these panels. Silver is so crucial that it can equate up to 6 percent of the total cost of building each unit of the panel.

The average panel of approximately 2 square meters can use up to 20 grams of silver. There’s a silver paste in the solar photovoltaic (PV) cells that collects the electrons generated when the sunlight hits the panel. Because of silver’s high conductivity, it maximally converts sunlight into electricity.

A recent market trend report conducted by London-based consultancy CRU explored the relationship between the demand for solar power and the market trend of silver. According to this study, the solar power industry will likely continue to face expansion as a result of the combination of favorable government policies and global efforts to diminish our reliance on fossil fuel. Even industrial sites, especially those in remote locations, recognize solar as a competitive alternative to power supply from the grid.

New research anticipates that the cost of silver’s use in building each solar panel unit will increase to over 10 percent by the end of 2020. Also noteworthy, the growing cost of its contribution to the panels could greatly outweigh its expense percentage per unit with any other industrial use of silver in the future.

As of 2018, the solar panel manufacturing industry used about 8% of the world’s annual physical silver supply. In the near future, the entire world, and especially in fast-growing countries like China, is expected to experience an increased demand for solar power systems, which may cause a temporary rise in the price of silver. This, of course, would negatively affect the cost of producing solar panels.

Silver To Be Less Needed in Future Panels

The CRU study predicts that the PV sector will consume about 81 million ounces of silver per year over the next decade. Much more silver was used in 2019 in making PV cells (100 million ounces). This anticipated drop implies that the market demand may have peaked in the previous year.

Also noteworthy, PV cells made with materials other than silver, such as copper and aluminum, usually turn out to be less reliable. This presents a major challenge for the commercial progress of these non-silver PVs, but it is one that leading manufacturers are making progress towards resolving.

Recovering the Value of Used Silver in PV Equipment

Being as silver is a finite natural resource, and although solar panels do have long lifespans (some models can be effective for up to 30 years), the demand for silver can be profitable for owners of broken or decommissioned solar equipment.

Through unique direct-to-refinery approaches, silver from damaged or otherwise unusable PV cells can be extracted and the value recovered. The value of this silver can off-set disposal or removal costs related to a solar installation. Even if the effects that the solar industry have on silver pricing lessens, panels still provide multiple trace elements that can provide value.