Vernier Software and Technology
Vernier Software & Technology

Exploring Solar Collectors

Figure from experiment 24 from Renewable Energy with Vernier


Using the sun to heat water is not a new idea. Humans have been harnessing the thermal energy of the sun for centuries. Today, solar thermal systems are found on roof-tops around the world, providing affordable, pollution-free hot water for millions of people.

The KidWind Solar Thermal Exploration Kit that you will use in this experiment is a model of an “active” or “forced circulation” system. This type of solar water heater requires a pump to move water from the storage tank to the collector. Most solar water heaters in the United States are forced circulation systems because this type of system works well even when temperatures drop below freezing. Passive systems that do not use an electric pump are also common, but are not practical for colder climates where the water may freeze.

The color of the solar absorber affects the ability of the solar collector to take advantage of the greenhouse effect. Every color reflects a certain amount of light while absorbing the rest as heat energy.

In this experiment, you measure the reflectivity of various colors using a Light Sensor, and then compare these values to the reflection value of aluminum foil. Aluminum foil will arbitrarily be assigned a reflectivity of 100 percent. You will calculate percent reflectivity using the relationship

\text{\% reflectivity} = \frac{\text{value for paper}}{\text{value for aluminum}} \times \text{100}

After determining the best color choice for the background of the solar collector, you will set up a solar collector and determine the change in water temperature during data collection.


  • Use a Light Sensor to measure reflected light.
  • Use a Surface Temperature Sensor to measure changes in temperature.
  • Calculate percent reflectivity of various colors.
  • Use results to design and set up a solar collector.
  • Determine the temperature change of the water in a solar collector.

Sensors and Equipment

This experiment 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?

Renewable Energy with Vernier

See other experiments from the lab book.

1Renewable Energy: Why is it So Important?
2What is Energy?
3Project: Energy Audit
4Voltage and Circuits
5Current and Resistors
6Mechanical Power
8Exploring Wind Turbines
9Effect of Load on Wind Turbine Output
10Blade Variables and Power Output
12Turbine Efficiency
13Power Curves
14Power and Energy
15Project: Maximum Energy Output
16Project: Build a Wind Farm
17Exploring Solar Panels
18Effect of Load on Solar Panel Output
19Variables Affecting Solar Panel Output
20Effect of Temperature on Solar Panel Output
21Project: Build a Solar Charger
22Exploring Passive Solar Heating
23Variables Affecting Passive Solar Heating
24Exploring Solar Collectors
25Variables Affecting Solar Collectors
26Project: Solar Cooker

Experiment 24 from Renewable Energy with Vernier Lab Book

<i>Renewable Energy with Vernier</i> book cover

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