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What Is a Solar Simulator? [What Is Its Purpose?]

Tim Carter
Written by Tim Carter Last Updated: July 21, 2022

When we talk about solar panels and technological advancements, as end users, we are rarely aware of the science behind them. We know are what solar panels and how they function, but which technologies take part in their testing. How do researchers know if they are on the right track when testing new solar cells? Solar simulators play a big part in photobiology, photooxidation, photodegradation, photovoltaics cells, and many others. So what is a solar simulator?

A solar simulator is a machine that emits light that resembles natural sunshine. The function of a solar simulator is to mimic sunlight under controlled lab circumstances when testing photosensitive procedures or products.

This device is also known as a sun simulator, sunshine simulator, or sunlight simulator.

Table of Contents

What Is a Solar Simulator?

The solar simulator’s function is to offer a controllable indoor testing space under controlled lab circumstances.

Any photosensitive procedures or products, such as solar cells, sunscreen, cosmetics, plastics, aircraft components, skin cancer, bioluminescence, photosynthesis, water treatment, crude-oil deterioration, and free radical production, can be tested using this technique.

Since the sun fuels every aspect of life on Earth, it is essential to harness its light source to develop, test, and use technology for the benefit of humanity.

The sun, which is visible to everyone, is the brightest object in the sky.

Without the sun, life on our planet would not be conceivable. It supplies the fuel we burn today to generate energy and the energy for the plants we eat.

The notion of “solar simulation” is described in this article. It refers to a technology that imitates the sun for research labs, industrial applications, and commercial use.

Solar Simulation: What Is It?

To provide a controllable indoor test facility under laboratory settings, solar simulation technology’s primary goal is to generate illumination that closely resembles natural sunlight.

A solar simulator is a device that simulates sunlight in a lab environment. A light source in a solar simulator has a brightness and spectral makeup that is like those of sunshine.

a prism with light passing through it

All the colors that people can see are in sunlight. When white light or sunshine passes through a glass prism, we can divide it into many hues (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet).

The light source serves as the solar simulator’s primary component. A short-arc and long-arc Xenon (Xe) lamp is the most often used type of light source. Other types of light sources are also widely used, including metal halide (MH) arc lamps, quartz tungsten halogen (QTH) lamps, and more recently, light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

Although lamp-based systems often have weaker temporal stability, greater running costs, and a shorter lifetime, the Xenon arc lamp has dominated the market due to the Xenon bulb’s reasonably continuous spectrum from 300 nm to 2000 nm.

LEDs are superior to alternatives in several ways:

  • They have a consistent light output over time,
  • they allow for microsecond output adjustments, and
  • they have a controllable light source with a resolution of 30–50 nm

What Types of Solar Simulators Are There?

Pulsed and continuous or steady-state solar simulators fall into two broad kinds.

A light source of the continuous type provides continuous illumination of one or up to many suns (1000 W/m2).

On the other hand, pulsed systems are interrupted flashes and pulses in this simulator that typically last a few milliseconds and can reach very high intensities of up to several thousand suns.

What Is Sunlight?

The term wavelength refers to the length of the waves that make up sunlight, some of which correspond to the colors we perceive. Not every wavelength of light that the sun emits is visible to the human eye.

We cannot see radio waves, microwaves, infrared (IR), ultraviolet (UV), X-rays, and gamma rays.

The sun’s temperature causes it to radiate light, just like the element in an oven.

The temperature of the sun’s surface can be roughly calculated to be 5800 Kelvin (K), or 5500 Celsius (C).

The energy released by the sun’s heated surface as electromagnetic radiation creates sunlight. The sun’s radiation spectrum thus corresponds to that of a 5800 K blackbody.

The variation in the earth/sun distance causes an annual shift in the amount of sunlight falling on the earth’s atmosphere of roughly 6.6 percent, while variations in solar activity induce changes in the sunshine of up to 1 percent.

All radiation that reaches the ground also travels through the atmosphere, which alters the spectrum through absorption and scattering.

Varied regions of the planet, seasons, days of the week, and even altitudes have different effects on the specific physical and spectroscopic characteristics of sunshine.

The sun’s radiation does not hit every part of the planet at an angle equal to that of the planet’s surface because of its curvature.

The sun, for instance, shines directly at the equator but more obliquely toward the poles when it is almost overhead.

We can separate the radiation that the Sun emits below the atmosphere into two types: direct radiation that originates from the Sun and dispersed radiation that comes from the rest of the sky. Some light is reflected from the ground.

Various situations’ spectrum distributions of sunlight are simulated via solar simulators.

What Is a Solar Spectrum?

The electromagnetic spectral distribution that the sun radiates captured by a collector or device on Earth is referred to as the solar spectrum.

A spectrum of wavelengths known as the Solar Spectrum makes up the radiation of solar energy, also known as sunlight.

The Sun produces radiation in a range of wavelengths, from X-rays to radio waves, but the earth’s surface primarily absorbs light that falls between the 4000-nanometer to the 4000-nanometer range.

Only the range from 400 to 700 nanometers, or about 43% of the total energy, is visible to humans.

The sun’s surface, which we previously explained can be represented as a black body with a temperature of 5800 K, produces the solar spectrum. As we already noted, atmospheric absorption and scattering change the spectrum we get on the Earth’s surface.

Complicated atmospheric processes may significantly alter the sun spectrum that reaches the earth’s surface.

H2O and CO2, for instance, are potent sun infrared radiation absorbers in the gaseous state.

Precipitation, clouds, sandstorms, etc. cut down on solar radiation in the visual range.

The peak of solar radiation that reaches the earth’s surface is in the visible portion of the spectrum since most ultraviolet light from the solar spectrum is absorbed and does not reach the surface.

About 3/4 of the radiation ultimately reaches the earth.

The sun spectrum’s energy content is roughly 5 percent UV, 43 percent visible, and 52 percent infrared.

Therefore, a variety of factors, including solar activity, Earth-sun distance, precipitation, solar angle, clouds, sandstorms, and more, affect how much sunshine we see.

You can certainly understand how challenging it is to answer o the question of how much sunlight do we get when it depends on so many factors.

How Is Synthetic Sunlight Standardized?

Solar simulators attempt to simulate sunshine artificially.

International standards were needed to accomplish reliable and consistent measurements in laboratory conditions.

A series of workshops were held in 1975 and 1977 under the sponsorship of ERDA and NASA during which they developed common methods for measuring terrestrial solar cells.

These included thorough explanations of common solar simulators.

These conferences allowed scientists to agree on a baseline by averaging the spectrum and observable sr the purposes of this research, 1000 W/m2 was chosen as the standard solar irradiance and AM1.5 was selected as the spectral composition to simulate sunlight on Earth.

Many other international standards, including ASTM E927, ASTM G173-03, and ASTM E490, as well as standards for intensity and spectrum composition (such as IEC 60904-9 and JIC C8912) were adopted.

These standards establish the basis for sunlight calculation and validate and qualify solar simulators.

Standard sunshine has an intensity of 1000 W/m2 and a spectral distribution that matches AM1.5G.

What Is Air Mass [And Why Is It Important]?

We refer to a volume of air with a specific temperature and vapor content as an air mass in meteorology.

As a result, gases and particles in two identical air masses will exhibit similar chemical and spectral behavior. The definition that applies to the study of solar energy is not this one.

The amount of atmosphere between you and the Sun is determined by air mass, which is more accurately referred to as “air mass coefficient” in solar energy.

The atmosphere absorbs and scatters light, but the air mass coefficient informs you how far (or how long a path) it must travel through the atmosphere to reach you.

Although there are some parallels between these two definitions, it is crucial to understand that they cannot be used interchangeably.

Final Thoughts

A device with a light source that is comparable to real sunshine in terms of intensity and spectrum makeup is called a solar simulator.

Solar simulators, often known as “sunshine simulators,” are pieces of scientific apparatus used to simulate sunlight in controlled lab settings.

They are crucial for the development and testing of solar cells, solar fuels, sunscreens, polymers, coatings, and other photosensitive materials and processes and products.


Tim Carter
Tim Carter

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