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How different angles of incidence of solar rays impact the performance of a solar cell.Featured science projectScience project video

Abstract

This experiment was done to find out how changing the angle of incidence of sunlight throughout the day impacts the efficiency of a solar cell.

Hypothesis

The power output generated by a solar cell will be highest when the solar cell is positioned perpendicular to the direction of sunlight.

Scientific Terms

Solar cell, photovoltaic cell, solar tracker, monocrystalline cells, polycrystalline cells, amorphous cells, ammeter, and voltmeter

Background

Solar cells

Solar cells are used to convert energy from the sun into electrical energy which can be immediately used or stored in a battery for later use. They are made from silicon which is found in abundance on our planet. However the cost of converting raw silicon into useful solar cells is very expensive. Currently, there are 3 types of solar cells which are commonly used:

Monocrystalline solar cells have a good level of efficiency of between 14% - 18% of energy conversion, but these solar cells are expensive.

Polycrystalline solar cells are a cheaper alternative, but these have a lower efficiency rate of conversion of between 11% - 13%.

Amorphous solar cells are another cheaper alternative; however, these have the lowest energy conversion rate of between 8% - 10%.

Because solar cells are very expensive, it is necessary to optimize their performance to obtain a quick return on investment. This is why solar trackers are useful in enabling solar panels to work at high efficiency throughout the day.

Solar tracker

The rotation of our planet causes the sun to rise in the east and set in the west. From sunrise to sunset, the sun travels 180 degrees across the horizon. Since solar cells produce maximum output when the panels are placed perpendicular to the sun position, the solar tracker is a motorized device, which adjusts the disposition of the solar panel to follow or"track" the angle of incidence of sunlight throughout the day. This allows the solar panel to work at full efficiency at all times during the day.

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Complexity level:
5
Project cost ($):
60
Time required:
1 day to prepare, 1 hour for experiment
Material availability:
Safety concerns:

Exercise caution when sawing wooden blocks. Long hours of exposure to the sun may cause dizziness, dehydration or heat stroke. Make sure you drink an adequate amount of water and put on sunscreen. You should ensure that you protect yourself with an umbrella or wear a hat as you will be under the sun for a fair amount of time.