Effect of Light Intensity

Changing the light intensity incident on a solar cell changes all solar cell parameters, including the short-circuit current, the open-circuit voltage, the FF, the efficiency and the impact of series and shunt resistances. The light intensity on a solar cell is called the number of suns, where 1 sun corresponds to standard illumination at AM1.5, or 1 kW/m2. For example a system with 10 kW/m2 incident on the solar cell would be operating at 10 suns, or at 10X. A PV module designed to operate under 1 sun conditions is called a "flat plate" module while those using concentrated sunlight are called "concentrator" modules.


The effect of concentration on the IV characteristics of a solar cell. The series resistance has a greater effect on performance at high intensity and the shunt resistance has a greater effect on cell performance at low light intensity.


A concentrator is a solar cell designed to operate under illumination greater than 1 sun. The incident sunlight is focused or guided by optical elements such that a high intensity light beam shines on a small solar cell. Concentrators have several potential advantages, including a higher efficiency potential than a one-sun solar cell and the possibility of lower cost. The short-circuit current from a solar cell depends linearly on light intensity, such that a device operating under 10 suns would have 10 times the short-circuit current as the same device under one sun operation. However, this effect does not provide an efficiency increase, since the incident power also increases linearly with concentration. Instead, the efficiency benefits arise from the logarithmic dependence of the open-circuit voltage on short circuit. Therefore, under concentration, Voc increases logarithmically with light intensity, as shown in the equation below;

where X is the concentration of sunlight.

From the equation above, a doubling of the light intensity (X=2) causes a 18 mV rise in VOC .

The cost of a concentrating PV system may be lower than a corresponding flat-plate PV system since only a small area of solar cells is needed.

The efficiency benefits of concentration may be reduced by increased losses in series resistance as the short-circuit current increases and also by the increased temperature operation of the solar cell. As losses due to short-circuit current depend on the square of the current, power loss due to series resistance increases as the square of the concentration.

Low Light Intensity

Solar cells experience daily variations in light intensity, with the incident power from the sun varying between 0 and 1 kW/m2. At low light levels, the effect of the shunt resistance becomes increasingly important. As the light intensity decreases, the bias point and current through the solar cell also decreases, and the equivalent resistance of the solar cell may begin to approach the shunt resistance. When these two resistances are similar, the fraction of the total current flowing through the shunt resistance increases, thereby increasing the fractional power loss due to shunt resistance. Consequently, under cloudy conditions, a solar cell with a high shunt resistance retains a greater fraction of its original efficiency than a solar cell with a low shunt resistance1.