Solar Cell Experiment
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Solar Cell Experiment
Aim: To see how individual factors affect the output of a solar cell.
Factors affecting the output of a solar cell:
This experiment is going to be performed in the confines of a school
laboratory, and so the complexity and cost of the experiment(s) should
reflect this. However, to see how different factors affect the solar
cell output, I will need to perform at least two experiments. The
question is, which ones?
Â· Distance from the light source will affect the solar cell output,
because intensity of light on the solar cell will decrease, the
further away from the light the cell is. This is because many waves,
including light, will travel away from the filament in a circular
motion, not straight lines directly towards the solar cell, so the
further away it is, the less rays will hit it.
Â· A changing power to the light source, and therefore, to the solar
cell, will affect the solar cell output. Theoretically, an increase in
power at the light source should result in more energy being
transferred to the solar panel, per second, resulting in a greater
solar cell output.
Â· The different colours of light would also affect the solar cell
output, as each colour of light has a different frequency. We can tell
this from Einstein's theory of photons being directly proportional to
Energy = Planck's constant x speed / wavelength
Different colours of light have the same speed, but different
wavelengths, which, in the above equation, changes the value for
energy, which is the solar cell output. And, because the wavelength is
the denominator for this equation, we can make the statement, that
'the larger the wavelength, the lower the energy'. A colour of light
with a larger wavelength will result in a lower solar cell energy
The two factors that I am going to study in this experiment are:
1. Changing power at the light source
2. Distance of solar cell, from the light source
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Solar Cell Cell Experiment Light Source Wavelength Output Rays Filament
I have chosen these factors purely for ease of measuring the values of
the energies involved, and for the (comparatively) low cost of the
Studying the colours of light would have required lasers, specialised
equipment and a very strictly controlled environment, which we can't
really get in school.
I predict that, the greater the power at the light source, the greater
the solar cell output.
I also predict that, the further away the solar cell from the light
source, the lower the solar cell output.
There must be a greater output at the solar cell if there is greater
power at the light source, if the cell is the same distance away,
because the intensity will be greater.
We know this through the equation intensity = power / area.
The power is a variable, but the area will stay the same because we
are using the same solar cell throughout the experiment, and because
power is the nominator in the above equation, we can say that 'the
greater the value for power, the greater the value for intensity' of
light upon the surface of the solar cell, and therefore, the greater
the solar cell output.
Text Box: Because this one changing variable is the only changing
value and therefore the only one that influences the intensity, the
power and solar cell output (dictated by the intensity of light upon
the cell) must be proportional, giving the graph in fig.1.
Text Box: Fig. 1The graph doesn't go through the origin (0,0) because,
at a very low voltage, the intensity of the light on the solar cell
won't be great enough for a reading to noticeably register on the
The further away from the filament the solar cell finds itself, the
lower the solar cell output.
The reason for this is not that the individual light rays become
greatly weaker than they were at the source because they have had to
travel an extra few centimetres through the air, but that the light
rays, collectively, become weaker at the surface of the cell because
less are hitting the cell. This simply means that the light is less
intense on the solar cell, when it is further away from the filament -
the light attenuates over distance. Why is this?
For the solar cell output to be the same, no matter what distance it
was away from the light source, light rays would have to travel in the
exact direction from the source to the cell. As this obviously isn't
the case, we can deduce that light rays do not travel in any single,
Text Box: Fig. 2Text Box: In fact, the light rays move steadily
outwards from the filament, equally in all directions, so that if you
were to draw a line around them at any given point, your line would
meet to make an exact circle (see fig. 2), and because the rays go
upwards as well as outwards, this makes a sphere.
This is a problem for the intensity of light that the solar cell
receives, for the rays of light that hit its edges at, for example,
5cm, don't hit it at all at 10cm (see fig.3), leaving less and less
rays, and therefore less and less photons, to hit the surface of the
solar cell. This reduces the solar cell's output as the distance
Text Box: Text Box: Fig. 3
There is a distinct relationship between distance of the solar cell
from the lamp, and the area of the 'sphere' of light. For every time
the 'radius' is doubled, the area of the sphere is quadrupled.
We can work this out by applying the change in radius to the formula
for the area:
Text Box: Original equation : 4Ï€r2 Double the radius : 4Ï€(2r)2 Multiply out the bracket : 4Ï€4r2 Factorise : 4(4Ï€r2) = 4 times the original equation
To prove this works, here is a theoretical example:
Let's say that r = 5.
When the solar cell is r distance from the lamp,
area of the sphere = 4Ï€r2 = 314
When the solar cell is 2r distance from the lamp,
area of the sphere = 4Ï€(2r)2 = 1256
1256 / 314 = 4 (area for r is quadrupled).
This relationship comes under the 'inverse square law', for we can
see, through re-arranging the area of a sphere formula, that:
r = (4Ï€r2)
Text Box: (see fig. 4 for visual representation) 2r = 4(4Ï€r2)
3r = 9(4Ï€r2)
4r = 16(4Ï€r2)
and so onâ€¦
There is a proportion between the area and distance squared - area Î±
Text Box: In the above diagram: S = source strength I = intensity r = radius of sphere A= area
Text Box: Fig. 4 Text Box:
Due to the proportion that exists, and therefore the Inverse Square
Law, the results I will obtain can be best analysed on a graph of
'solar cell output vs. 1 / distance2.'
If it looks something like fig. 5, then I will be able to state that
the correlation I have explained in the hypothesis does exist, or if
the graph is different, that it doesn't exist, or the results are too
bad to tell.
Text Box: Fig. 5Text Box:
Method, diagram & apparatus:
Â· First of all, we set up the following circuit:
Â· The apparatus consists of:
15V power pack / filament lamp with bulb / solar cell / voltmeter /
ammeter / milliammeter / ruler.
Â· Power experiment:
I kept the solar cell a constant 6 cm away from the light bulb, so
that it would not be so close as for some of the bulb to be on the
non-photovoltaic side of it, but we be close enough for a strong,
The solar cell was leaning against a heavy paperweight, so that the
chances of it moving were very slim.
I took the readings as close to every voltage from 1V to 12V as
possible, measuring the ammeter and milliammeter readings at the same
I didn't have time to take two readings for every value in the
experiment, but I took two whenever I felt that a variable we had not
been testing had changed, and the result would therefore not be as
accurate as it should be.
Â· Distance experiment:
From the hypothesis, I could see that, due to the 'area of a sphere'
effect, the distance I could move the solar cell over and still get a
sizeable reading on the milliammeter would probably be fairly small.
For this reason, I decided to take the readings every centimetre, from
1cm to 15cm away from the bulb.
The ruler on the table, against which the solar cell was placed, was
held in place by a clamp so that it wouldn't change position and
disrupt my results.
At all times, the voltage and current were at constant 8.6V and 1.51I
Â· Background light was always going to be a key factor in this
experiment, and, as we couldn't get rid of it completely, we made sure
that the same conditions were maintained throughout the experiment.
That meant no lights were turned on or off in the laboratory and no
blinds were taken up or put down, after the practical had been
started. Also, during the experiment, I made sure that the group with
whom I was performing the experiment were quite still, so that they
would not move in the way of one of the background lights or the
Â· Variables that we weren't testing at a particular time were
constantly monitored so that, if they did change while we were taking
a result, we could repeat that part of the experiment.
Â· I made sure that I turned the power off when I was not taking a
result, so that the bulb and solar cells had the maximum amount of
time to cool down, so that their resistances would not be affected
more than was strictly necessary, given the time constraints.
Â· The only safety worries in this experiment were those of the
electrical appliances overheating, and when they inevitably did, not
to touch them with your bare hands.
Â· Also, the milliammeter, an extremely delicate, sensitive device, was
only allowed to be connected to the low-power solar cell circuit, as
the higher power lamp circuit would have immediately blown it up.
The only graph to plot for the first prediction -'the greater the
power at the light source, the greater the solar cell output' - is
solar cell output vs. power of the lamp.
This graph, below, shows a nearly straight correlation for the points
where the power is greater, but the line overall is a curve of
equation y = x1.5, or something close to that. This is because the
lower power values don't follow the same straight-line correlation (as
predicted in my hypothesis), as the greater values.
However, I think I can say that the correlation on this graph, between
power of lamp and solar cell output, is very strong.
The second prediction was 'the further away the solar cell from the
light source, the lower the solar cell output'.
The values that need to be compared and seen to be correlated, for the
above statement to be true, are solar cell output and distance from
The graph on the next page shows a steady curve of equation y = 1/x or
y = 1/x2, or somewhere in between. For the lack of a straight line, we
cannot say that there is any correlation.
As the above graph might have had an equation of y = 1/x, I decided to
try it out, making the new graph 'solar cell output vs. 1/distance'.
Text Box: The resulting graph also followed a curve, whose equation
was approximately y = x1.7. There was still no correlation directly
linking the two values. There was only one logical step to take after
Being backed by the Inverse Square Law that I had researched in my
hypothesis, I tried the graph I had mentioned in that section, solar
cell output vs. 1/distance2. This time, the line of best fit was a
straight line, although it missed quite a few of the points where the
value for 1/distance2 was at its lowest, but more about that in the
This showed correlation between the output and distance away from the
source - it told me that the solar cell output was indirectly
proportional to the square of the distance
Â· The graph showing a variation in power versus solar cell output
corresponds with my first prediction, that solar cell output increases
as the power in the lamp increases, if the distance between them stays
However, the hypothesis I made, although correct (I think), was
defeated in practice by the presence of background light, which didn't
let the milliammeter drop beyond a certain point of 2mA or so. The
higher values of power, which weren't as greatly affected by the small
presence of background light, produced a straight line.
From this, I could draw the conclusion that 'solar cell output
increases in direct proportion to power, at a fixed distance'.
Â· The trend for the second prediction was detailed in the hypothesis,
and was completely supported by the findings from my experiment -
solar cell output has a 1/x2 relationship with distance; there is
concrete proof of the inverse square law.
The reason for this relationship must be that light does in fact
expand in an ever-expanding spherical shape, and the surface area of
the sphere increases in proportion to the square of the distance
between the cell and the bulb (the radius of the sphere).
The graph of 1/radius2 dependence is produced, and from both it and
the above proportion, we can deduce that 'energy twice as far from the
source is spread over 4 times the area, and therefore the intensity is
Â¼ of what it was'. This is the inverse square law.
The fact that a consistent proportion exists will explain why the
graph of solar cell output vs. distance has such a steep initial curve
- the intensity (and therefore the solar cell output) decreases by
greater amounts, the greater the energy value it is dealing with.
What is the science behind this theory?
When photons of light hit solar cells, they give an electron(s) the
energy to break away from its atom, so that it becomes a free electron
and can conduct electricity. Obviously, the more photons that hit the
solar cell, the more electrons that will be freed and the more
electricity that will conducted (a greater the solar cell output).
Text Box: Text Box: Fig. 3As is shown in fig. 3, the further away from
the light the cell is, the less photons reach its surface due to the'
ever-expanding sphere theory' of the area the light covers. It is only
the inverse square law photons that hit the solar cell, meaning there
are a high intensity of photons at the cell close to the lamp, but a
lower intensity at the cells further away.
In an experiment involving many measurements by the human eye, there
were always lots of things that could go wrong, and many of them did,
and they unfortunately affected our results:
Â· The voltmeter readings throughout the experiment are unlikely to be
completely correct, as the reading constantly fluctuated, so that I to
guess an average of the numbers that were flickering before my eyes.
This could be the reason why some of the points on the graph of solar
cell output vs. power look slightly out of place in the curve.
Â· Reading the milliammeter was an error-strewn process as well,
because the needle was a few millimetres off the scale, and cast a
deceptive shadow across a point about 4 milliamps off the actual
reading. This made reading the instrument quite time-consuming and
didn't contribute positively to the accuracy of my results. I would
have preferred a milliammeter whose needle was closer to the surface
of the scale, or that simply had a digital display.
Â· In the varying distances experiment, the milliammeter reading would
not go lower than 2mA because that was the level of background light.
This was the reason why the graphs for this experiment have flat
bottoms and make the straight-line graphs look like curves. This
problem also made the curves have a straighter line than they would
have, otherwise! To remedy the negative effects of background light, I
would perform the practical in a photography lab or a room with a
similar, dark environment.
Â· The inefficiency of both the filament lamp and the solar cell (they
were 20% and 4% efficient, respectively) served to give us a very
small range of results to work with. At least their efficiencies were
fairly constant over the course of the experiment.
Â· Another factor that altered the results was the resistance that
built up in the circuit, as we couldn't afford to give the instruments
time to cool down properly in between readings. A solution to this
would have been to have more time to do the experiment in. This factor
was, in my opinion, at east partly to blame for the last point on the
graph of solar cell output vs. 1/distance2.
Â· Finally, to make the readings more accurate overall, and negate the
effect of any anomalies that might have been taken (luckily, my
experiment didn't have any serious anomalies), if we had had more
time, the whole practical could have been performed twice, and an
average of the results taken.
Â· Have more time for the experiment.
Â· Perform it in a darkened room or fume cupboard etcâ€¦
Â· Study the effect of colour of light, maybe using basic colour
filters instead of the complicated equipment mentioned at the
beginning of the coursework.
The heat of the sun is about equivalent to burning a billion trillion tons of coal an hour. Even though only a small fraction of that heat ever reaches the earth it is still more then enough to power the whole world.
People seemed to realize the importance of the sun around 30,000 BC. This was when people first started planting crops of wheat. They realized plants did better when planted in the sun over the shade. This caused them to worship the sun as a God. Many cultures built large and extravagant temples to worship the sun in. Other cultures built places to observe the sun in, such as Stonehenge in England.
Different Types of Solar Panels
There are three main types of solar panels. They are flat plate collectors, focusing collectors, and solar cells.
The first kind is a flat plate collector. Flat plate collectors are fastened on the top of the roof of a house. They usually either heat the house or its water. A flat plate collector consists of a black rectangular frame, two or three sheets of glass, and copper plumbing. A flat plat collector uses the greenhouse affect. The sunrays go through the glass but can’t get out through the glass. The sunrays heat the water-filled copper tubes. Then the water is used to heat the home or water.
Another type of a solar panel is a focusing collector. They consist of a mirror or mirrors which are focused in one spot. Some focusing collectors are solar furnaces, parabolic dishes and troughs and power towers.
The first type is a solar furnace. A solar furnace consists of many mirrors that are aimed at a large curved mirror that is aimed at a large steel building. This building can get as hot as 5,790 F. Scientists use solar furnaces to run experiments to see how certain materials react to extreme heats. They are also used industrially to melt metals.
The next kind of focusing collector is a parabolic trough and dish. A parabolic dish looks just like a satellite dish except the dish part is to reflect the sunrays onto the vocal point which is filled with oil. The heated oil is used to produce steam to turn a turbine. A parabolic trough uses the same principles as a parabolic dish. The only differences are how they look, the mirror is shaped like a large feeding trough and the vocal point is an oil filled tube. These are used for either commercial such as in a power plant.
The last focusing collector is a power tower. A power tower has many mirrors all focused on a large tower. This tower gets extremely hot. The tower is filled with oil. When the oil is heated it is piped to a power plant where it is used to produce steam that turns a turbine. These are used for power plants.
The final type of solar panel is a solar cell. A solar cell usually consists of two layers of silicon that produce an electric charge which is picked up by wires that are laid across the silicon. Solar cells can be used for anything from powering an isolated phone booth to a whole city or even an airplane.
Solar Energy started around 30,000 BC when people first desalinized water, or took the salt out of salt water. In 1,000 BC a king had the water in his castle heated by the sun. Romans passively heated their homes in about 100 AD. In a passive solar home there is no machinery, but there are windows and the floors and windows are made of materials that absorbs heat, like adobe.
Solar heating was not used until the late sixteenth century when European scientists started experimenting with the power of the sun. In 1714 many people worked together to create the world’s first solar furnace. In 1720 a Swiss scientist, Horace Benedict de Sasure, built the first modern solar water heater. In 1774 Antoine Lavoiser made a printing press powered by the sun. Later in 1880 in Chile a solar desalinization system was made. Also in 1880 the first solar cells were made. Solar cells when originally made they were very expensive and were not available on the market. Now you can buy solar cells cheaply.
Today we use solar power to do many things. We use solar power for everything from calculators to large power plants that can power large cities.
Most common solar power is used for small things. Many calculators are run by solar cells so they will never run out of batteries. Some watches run on solar cells, too. Also you can buy radios that run on solar cells.
There are also many big things that run on solar power. Almost all satellites run on solar power, because otherwise they would run out of power. There are also large desalinization plants that use solar power in places where there is little or no fresh water. There are solar furnaces in many countries. Solar power is also used commercially and residentially. It is also used for many forms of transportation, but these are all in the experimental stage now. Solar powered cars may soon come out.
Indirect Solar Power
There are three forms of indirect solar power. They are wind power, waterpower, and ocean thermal energy. You might think these have nothing to do with each other or solar power but they do, in some way they each use the sun.
The first type is wind power. The reason this is a form of solar energy is because the sun heats the air that creates air currents, or wind. The wind turns propellers that turn turbines which creates electricity. Wind power has been used for a very long time. Places in Europe like the Netherlands have had windmills since the Middle Ages. Though these windmills were used to pump water or to grind grain.
The next form is waterpower. This is considered solar power because of the hydrologic cycle. The hydrologic cycle is water evaporating from bodies of water then coming back to earth in different places. This allows them to go back through dams to produce electricity. The water turns turbines, which then create electricity. Waterpower is also an old process it used to be used at sawmills and to grind down grain.
The last kind of indirect solar power is ocean thermal energy. Ocean thermal energy is a power plant that uses the difference between the surface temperature and the temperature of the bottom of the ocean to produce electricity. When the cool water meets the hot water it produces steam that turns a turbine to produce electricity. The electricity is then sent to land through wires. This is solar power because the sun heats it.
The Solar Future
Today the use of solar power is very limited. Today we use very little active solar heating. Though in the future many more homes will be solar heated. More homes will have passive solar heating. Scientists want to make a satellite that will orbit over one place. This satellite would have giant wings made of solar power, this satellite would beam electricity down to earth. This would allow the solar cells not to be obstructed by clouds or buildings. Also ground solar power plants are predicted to be used more frequently. Another thing predicted to be popular is solar powered cars. The drawback of these cars is the fact that you can only travel at high speeds for a short time and they don’t work on cloudy days. Solar powered cars are only used for racing and experiments now.
I think if there is another oil crisis there will be much more use of solar power. Solar power will be given more federal funding which will increase studies. The increased studies will make solar power cheaper and more efficient. This will make solar power more available on the market.
I think that solar power is a good alternative energy source. It has many advantages over fossil fuels. One is that the sun is free and does not have to be bought like other fuels. It also doesn’t hurt the environment and it is a renewable energy source. There are a few drawbacks to solar power. One is that it can be expensive to make and can be hard to use on cloudy days. Solar power is also difficult and expensive to store. Another bad thing is that silicon the material that solar cells are made of can be hard to find.
If there is another energy crisis like the United States experienced in the 1970’s, solar power will be greatly increased. Federal funding will be increased to promote the studies of solar power. This will make solar power more efficient which will cause it to become cheaper.
After the last energy crisis, most federal funding was decreased or stopped. This is very unfortunate because solar power would be far more advanced with more funding.
Hypothesis: I think that some of the water will get into the inner bowl, this water will be fresh and the salt will still be in the outer bowl. I think that it will work better on sunny days than on cloudy days.
Procedure: First I mixed two cups of water with two tablespoons of salt. I put the salt water into a large aluminum bowl. Then I put a small cereal bowl into the large bowl. I covered the large bowl with plastic wrap to keep the water from evaporating out of the bowl. After the bowl was covered I put a weight on the plastic wrap so the water would drip into the cereal bowl after it evaporated. I started this experiment at seven o’clock and then took observations at three and eight; I took all three observations for five days.
Observations: On the first day at three there was some water on the plastic wrap after it had evaporated. At eight most of the water on the plastic wrap had dripped into the inner bowl. That day it was sunny. At seven the next there was a little more water in the small bowl. At three that day there was a little on the plastic wrap. At eight the little water on the plastic water had gone into the cereal bowl. It was cloudy that day. In the morning at seven there was no change from the night. At three that day there was a little water on the plastic wrap. At eight most of the water on the plastic wrap was in the cereal bowl. On the fourth day at seven the rest of the water was in the cereal bowl. At three the rest of there was a little on the plastic wrap. That night at eight the rest of the water on the plastic wrap was in the cereal bowl. It was partly cloudy that day. On the last day in the morning there was no change from the night before. At three there was a little more water on the plastic wrap. The water on the plastic wrap was in the small bowl. It was partly cloudy that day.
Conclusion: My hypothesis was correct, but I thought more water would be purified then actual did get purified. The water in the cereal bowl had no salt in it. This experiment proves that solar power works and that it works better with no clouds than with clouds.
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