Vernier Software and Technology
Vernier Software & Technology

Photovoltaic Cells

Figure from experiment 29 from Investigating Environmental Science through Inquiry


Energy produced by the sun is called solar energy. It is produced during nuclear reactions that take place throughout the volume of the sun. The energy travels to Earth in the form of light. Photovoltaic (PV) cells, or solar cells, change the light energy to electrical energy that can be used to power calculators, cars or even satellites. A photovoltaic cell is usually made of a semiconducting material such as silicon. When light strikes the cell, it provides enough energy to move electrons through the cell producing an electric current. A single photovoltaic cell is approximately the size of a fingernail and puts out a very small current when struck by the light. Objects requiring higher currents to operate can be powered by wiring large numbers of photovoltaic cells together.

Items powered by solar energy are said to be using solar power. Streetlights that must operate in the dark store the energy in a battery while the sun is shining and then use the energy at night. Scientists working in remote places rely on solar power to operate their computers and equipment. What things can you think of that are powered by solar energy?


In the Preliminary Activity, you will measure the current and voltage produced by a photovoltaic cell when exposed to sunlight. You will calculate the power output of the cell using the relationship

{\text{P  =  V I}} {\text{Power}} = {\text{voltage }} \times {\text{ current}}

Where power has units of watts (W), voltage has units of volts (V), and current has units of amperes (A).

After completing the Preliminary Activity, you will first use reference sources to find out more about photovoltaic cells before you then choose and investigate a researchable question.

Sensors and Equipment

This investigation features the following Vernier sensors and equipment.

Additional Requirements

You may also need an interface and software for data collection. What do I need for data collection?

Standards Correlations

See all standards correlations for Investigating Environmental Science through Inquiry »

Investigating Environmental Science through Inquiry

See other experiments from the lab book.

1Seasons and Angle of Insolation
2A Local Weather Study
3Investigating Dissolved Oxygen
4Water Quality
5Long Term Water Monitoring
6Water Treatment
7Investigating Salinity
8Soil Temperature
9Soil Salinity
10Soil pH
11Soil Moisture
12Soil and Acid Rain
13Managing Garden Soil Moisture
14Cell Respiration (CO2)
15Biodiversity in Ecosystems
16Biochemical Oxygen Demand
17Water Cycle Column Investigations
18Decomposition Column Investigations
19Ecocolumn Investigations
20Global Warming
21UV Investigations
22Comparing Sunscreens
23Primary Productivity
24Modeling Population Growth
25Insulation Study
26Fossil Fuels
27Energy Conversion
28Wind Power
29Photovoltaic Cells
30Investigation of Passive Solar Heating
31The Effect of Acid Deposition on Aquatic Ecosystems
32Measuring Particulates
33Investigating Indoor Carbon Dioxide Concentrations
34A Pollution Study

Investigation 29 from Investigating Environmental Science through Inquiry Lab Book

<em>Investigating Environmental Science through Inquiry</em> book cover

Included in the Lab Book

Vernier lab books include word-processing files of the student instructions, essential teacher information, suggested answers, sample data and graphs, and more.

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