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A Simple Laboratory Exercise Introducing Photovoltaics

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Instrumentation Technical Session III

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

23.104.1 - 23.104.8



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Paper Authors


Herbert L. Hess University of Idaho, Moscow

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Herb Hess received the PhD degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1993. He then joined the University of Idaho where he is Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. His interests are in power electronics, broadly construed, to benefit the people of the Inland Pacific Northwest.

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A Simple Laboratory Exercise Introducing PhotovoltaicsA number of universities have begun to teach topics in renewable energy. Textbooks of goodquality and appropriate depth to support the coursework have appeared. Some of the moreadvanced academic experts have even placed some superb course notes on line. With thesetools, creating a good course or sequence on a minimal budget is well within reach. One of thechallenges is to create exciting laboratory exercises. The paper proposed here requires a smallinvestment to create enthusiasm in a small lab section within an hour. The lab work was createdand executed for the first photovoltaics lab in an introductory renewable energy course at_______________ university.With four different small photovoltaic panels, a lab section of eight electrical engineeringstudents can investigate a remarkable wealth of introductory topics. The panels for thisinvestigation are of the following closely related types: monocrystalline cells, polycrystallinecells, and two different thin film cells, one on a rigid backing and one on a flexible material.These are easy to find on-line, including their prices, in small quantities. Only easily portableequipment that is common to a typical undergraduate electronics laboratory is required. Thefollowing experiments, fully described in the paper, can be run in less than an hour: a) Theeffect of azimuth angle on generation, b) an estimate of maximum power output, c) an estimateof energy efficiency, and d) an estimate of the cost effectiveness of a large array of the samepanels. Comparing the relative performance for the cost of the four photovoltaic panels is animportant and readily understood conclusion.The simplicity of the lab perhaps hides the remarkable amount of learning that the studentsretained. For example, item b requires two easy measurements with a common multimeter and abasic knowledge of the voltage-current characteristic of a photovoltaic cell. Item c) uses theresult of item b) and some data quickly accessible from the NOAA website. A full set ofmeasurements, graphs of experimental results, and analysis will appear in the paper. Assessmentof the effectiveness of this laboratory exercise is based on student comments from the lab andfrom student performance on a subsequent examination. Assessment is also based on theunusually high number of unsolicited comments about this lab the course-end evaluation.Moreover, students taking measurements while holding photovoltaic panels up to sunnywindows along the main hallway of the university’s largest academic building was greatadvertising for the renewable energy program. 

Hess, H. L. (2013, June), A Simple Laboratory Exercise Introducing Photovoltaics Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19118

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