Effect of Temperature on Solar Cells?

  • What is the effect of temperature on the power output of a solar cell?
  • Is there a different effect on cells manufactured by different vendors?

Recommended Items:

  • Digital multi meter
  • Solar cells
  • Thermometer
  • Hot pad

Concepts used:

  • Solar cells, Electricity, Materials

Background:

Solar cells are semiconductor devices that absorb light energy and convert it into electrical energy. Semiconductors are interesting materials because they have special properties. Like metals they have free electrons that can move through the material. However, unlike metals there are not as many free electrons to move. In the case of solar cells, light from the sun or a powerful lamp is absorbed, freeing electrons and creating electricity. In addition, like metals, semiconductors can give up electrons or receive electrons depending on whether they are more negatively or positively rich. However, the generation of electrons in semiconductors is also temperature dependent. This means that as the temperature increases or decreases there electrical properties (the ability to produce electrons, or current, by illuminating the cell with light) of the solar cell change. Understanding this behavior is important for determining how well cells will perform in hotter and cooler climates.

In this experiment, take a solar cell and connect it to a digital voltmeter so that the current output can be recorded. Illuminate the solar cell, either with a strong light bulb or by taking it outside and placing it in full sunlight. Place the solar cell on a hot pad and raise the temperature of the cell while recording both the cell temperature and the current output of the cell. Observe the effect of temperature on the solar cell performance for a variety of different solar cells over a range of temperatures. Use caution if the solar cell is tested outside during different times of day. It is critical to keep the angle of the sun constant with respect to the solar cell so that only the effects of temperature (and not effects of changes in sunlight exposure) are monitored.