The idea is simple, the solar panel converts sunlight into a trickle of electricity. The electricity is used to run a white LED. It would make for an excellent science fair project, and would also serve as a good introduction to solar powered circuitry. It may also have some practical uses, such as shedding some light into a dark part of your house.
The remote solar powered LED light takes advantage of the current limited nature of solar photovoltaic cells. If light shines on the solar array, current will flow through the circuit. For a typical size of solar cell, there is a maximum current that can be produced. The maximum solar cell current is simply matched to a value of current that the LED can handle. If there is enough light to raise the solar panel’s voltage above around 3.7V, the white LED will light up. The LED regulates the maximum voltage across the circuit to around 3.7V.
If the solar panel that you use produces more than 20ma, it may be necessary to insert a series resistor between the LED and the solar panel to prevent the LED from burning out. A 50 ohm 1/4 watt resistor is probably about right for the job, the exact value may need to be optimized according to the solar panel that you use.
This concept could easily be expanded to systems with larger arrays of solar cells and more LEDs. The capacitor is not required, but it will keep the LED from flickering if the panel is briefly blocked, such as when a bird flies by. With 7 solar cells, the LED will only light in fairly bright light, if you use up to 10 solar cells, the circuit will work nicely in overcast skies.
For an interesting modification to this circuit, replace the 1000uF capacitor with a 1 Farad/5.5V “Memory Backup Capacitor”. An Elna DB-545D105 device was tested on the circuit, after charging up in the sun for a few minutes, the capacitor was able to light the LED for several minutes.
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