Solar Cell Testing

I have a dream of outfitting our future home with a solar array and wind turbines, so I spent some of my vacation learning about solar cells and ways I can apply them in the home-building plans.

I wanted to be on the cheap, so I got some $1 solar yard lights to harvest the cells.

Cheap Solar Yard Light

Picked up six of these for $1 each.

To my surprise, I found that they are powered by a 350 mAh Nickel Cadmium AA Battery. There was also some simple circuitry and a small, low watt LED.

Here you can see a cheap battery, simple circuitry and a LED light.

Here you can see a cheap battery, simple circuitry and a LED light.

I took it all apart, carefully peeling the cell from the hot glue and hooked up a voltmeter. I got about 2.5 volts in overcast and 4 volts in direct sunlight. I discovered that in the sunlight it puts out about 25 milliamps. Not a lot. I guess that makes this a 0.1-0.2 Watt solar cell. Pretty weak, but enough to charge a small battery.

Here you see the solar cell producing 2.7 volts in the partially covered sun.

Here you see the solar cell producing 2.7 volts in the partially covered sun.

I want to be able to pump out a constant 5v, so I got all my cells out and constructed a small array of three parallel sets of two cells in series. I also made some circuitry to regulate the cells: a 5V regulator, a one way diode, and a few capacitors. In the direct sun, I was able to get 4.7 volts and 100 milliamps. Overcast, the voltage dropped to 2.7.

Hooked up my makeshift solar array to a voltmeter in the direct sunlight.

Hooked up my makeshift solar array to a voltmeter in the direct sunlight.

In only direct sunlight can it get a phone to recognize a charge state, but I would like it to happen during overcast too. I changed up the layout of the solar cells to have 2 parallel sets of 3 cells in series. This upped the voltage in overcast to 4.7 after being regulated, but the amps went way down. I put the array and phone in a place that had good amount of sun (ironically on the watt meter) facing south. Left it there for an hour with a dead battery in phone. Came back and found 2 percent when I turned it on. Not a lot of charge, but got the proof of concept I wanted to achieve.

I left the array in a the sun for an hour to charge a dead phone.

I left the array in a the sun for an hour to charge a dead phone.

What would I do differently next time? If I were to do this again (and I might), I would order some cheap cells on ebay. The allpowers 5V 150mA ones look promising. Two of those in parallel would provide enough power to charge a phone while in use. Maybe I will do that next month or so… when the sun finally comes out.

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About Brian

Husband, father of two, android programmer. Hoping to one day use my skills to achieve a life of self-sustainability for me and my family.

Posted on March 6, 2013, in Tinkering and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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