Solar energy has become one of the major renewable energy sources to meet a significant portion of the global energy demand in the near future. The photovoltaic (PV) industry is growing at a fast pace and is predicted to reach tera-watt scale power production capacity by 2050. Thus, creating highly qualified engineers by providing effective hands-on education is of primary importance. This paper discusses on the design, fabrication, and implementation of a low-cost, portable, and programmable solar module to improve the student learning outcomes of a solar power and renewable energy course by facilitating hands-on experiments. Solar cells within the smart module can be electronically interconnected in various configurations and I-V characteristics of the resulting module or any individual cell can be measured using integrated microcontroller and measurement circuits interfaced by a LabVIEW-based interactive data acquisition software. The developed plug-and-play smart solar module is an affordable and effective teaching tool that can be used for in-class demonstrations or to perform hands-on experiments. An experiment-based project was included into the course syllabus where students perform solar cell I-V characterization and extract the cell parameters by analyzing the experimental data. Student perception on the learning outcome and the impact of the project were measured based on student feedback. All of the students found that the experiment-based project helped them to reinforce the theoretical knowledge and a majority of the students believe that the learning outcomes of the course would be incomplete without it.
2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition
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