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Solar cells for amateurs

BEAM electronics, as it is known, has become quite popular. One of the central ideas is to drive small autonomous robots with solar cells, powered by ambient light.

Sunceram II

Two Sunceram II solar cells

Sunceram II BP-243318 at 200 W/m2-1200 W/m2

Sunceram II BP-373334 at 200 W/m2-1200 W/m2

Since 1983 Panasonic has been manufacturing solar cells from the Sunceram II series. These cells were very popular for amateur electronic projects until about 2003 when the production of these cells apparently stopped.

The datasheet of the Sunceram II solar cells explicitly mentions that you should not lick these cells. This is understandable since the cells consist of a fragile glass plate covered with layers of sintered cadmium telluride and cadmium sulfide.

The Sunceram II solar cells consist of monolithic series connected cells. Panasonic chose to designate the cells by their physical dimensions in millimeters. Among the popular cells were the ones from the following table which I happen to have in my collection. The BP-242221, BP-243318 and BP-373334 were all originally designed for outdoor use under full sun illumination, which is supported by their behavior in the solar simulator.

  BP-242221 BP-243318 BP-373334
size 24×22 mm2 24×33 mm2 37×33 mm2
thickness 1.2 mm 0.8 mm 0.8 mm
no of cells 6 5 8
cell area 0.6 cm2 1.2 cm2 1.2 cm2
weight 1.7 g 1.6 g 2.4 g
Voc(1)  V 3.9 V 5.9 V
Isc(1)  mA 13.6 mA 12.9 mA
FF(1)  % 53 % 56 %

Amorton

Sanyo Amorton AM-1602

Sanyo AM-1602 at 200 W/m2-1200 W/m2

Sanyo has been making solar cell modules of a similar size to the Sunceram series above for quite a while now. Similar to the Sunceram modules also the Amorton modules consist of a glass plate, but here the active layer is made of amorphous silicon. Amorton modules come in two different configurations: one for indoor use at low ambient light levels and one for outdoor use at full sun illumination.

The AM-1602 from my collection is an indoor module — the datasheet explicitly limits the use of these modules to illuminations of below 1000 lux. The measurement curves show the poor behavior of these modules under higher levels of illumination from 200 W/m2 to 1200 W/m2, caused by the high series resistance. However, at low light levels these modules work quite well.

Solarbotics

Solarbotics SCC3766

Solarbotics SCC2422 at 200 W/m2-1200 W/m2


Solarbotics SCC2433 at 200 W/m2-1200 W/m2


Solarbotics SCC3733 at 200 W/m2-1200 W/m2


Solarbotics SCC3766 at 200 W/m2-1200 W/m2


With the disappearance of the Sunceram II series of solar cells a need for an alternative source came up. The Canadian company Solarbotics created a series of small solar cell modules of similar (or better) performance to the Sunceram II series. These modules consist of small stripes of single crystalline silicon solar cells, mounted on a printed circuit board and encapsulated with clear epoxy resin.

The Solarbotics module SCC2433 for example is more or less meant to be a direct drop-in replacement for the Sunceram BP-243318 module. Compare the measurement curves and you will see that the Solarbotics modules are significantly better: a higher fill factor, higher voltage, higher current and less series resistance. However, this comes at the cost of about twice the weight as compared to the Sunceram II modules.

The Solarbotics modules are equipped with a printed circuit board on the backside, ready to build a capacitor-charging solar engine. In the inside the small solar cell stripes are series-connected at one edge and the solder joints are clearly visible. Originally the SCC3766 was planned to allow for two module configurations: two half-modules which can be connected in series for a high voltage or in parallel for a high current output by means of solder joints on the pcb. Currently this functionality is not provided by the actual modules since all individual cells are fixed in a series connection.

  SCC2422 SCC2433 SCC3733 SCC3766
size 24×22 mm2 24×33 mm2 37×33 mm2 37×66 mm2
thickness 2.6 mm 2.6 mm 2.6 mm 2.6 mm
no of cells 7 8 12 14
cell area 0.5 cm2 0.6 cm2 0.6 cm2 1.4 cm2
weight 1.6 g 2.7 g 4.3 g 8.5 g
Voc(1) 4.1 V 4.7 V 7.1 V 8.4 V
Isc(1) 16.9 mA 20.7 mA 21.9 mA 43.3 mA
FF(1) 76 % 74 % 74 % 76 %

Conrad

YH-39x55 at 200 W/m2-1200 W/m2

The German electronics distributor Conrad sells compact silicon modules of a similar type as the Solarbotics modules. The difference is the lack of the solar engine on the back of the printed circuit board. Another cosmetic difference is made by hiding the solder joints under a strip of black tape inside the epoxy package.

  YH-39×35
size 39×35 mm2
thickness 3 mm
no of cells 8
cell area 0.9 cm2
weight 4.8 g
Voc(1) 4.7 V
Isc(1) 34 mA
FF(1) 71 %

(1) measured under standard test conditions of 1000 W/m2, 25 °C and AM 1.5

75 comments to Solar cells for amateurs

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      Thanks!

      No, I have no intention to include more videos right now. Partly also because the web space I can allocate at my provider is limited and partly because I right now would not have the time….

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  • Martin

    hi
    i like this article about sollarcells and i have a question for u. I am from central europe and i really need a sollar cell maybe u can help me. the best for me is BP 373334

    • uwezi

      How central is your position in Europe? I am from Germany and have been living in Sweden now for 13 years…

      You will not find many of the “old”-style Panasonic modules anymore. These are not manufactured any longer. I recently ordered from solarbotics.com in Canada which was trouble-free and quick. Otherwise you will find some small solar cell modules at Conrad Electronics (headquarters in Germany, but now locally available in several other European countries).

      Uwe.

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    • uwezi

      Hi Corey and thanks for the compliments!

      Currently I have a lot of things to do outside the web in the real world, therefore I am afraid that I will not be able to write much more frequently in the near future. I will, however, try to create at least some articles from time to time…

      Uwe.

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  • My name is Piter Jankovich. oOnly want to tell, that your blog is really cool
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    • uwezi

      Hi Piter,

      welcome to my blog! Yes, it is my hobby and you are my first confirmed reader. So far I have not really made the blog public and as you can see, the first enthusiasm has cooled down – no new articles for several weeks already.

      Professionally I am a researcher at Uppsala university on thin-film solar cells and a teacher in electronics and renewable energy. More about that: probably soon in this blog…

      Bad english? Why, you didn’t make a single mistake and even if I would not care…

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