Clean and renewable energy generation and supply has drawn much attention worldwide in recent years, the proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells and solar cells are among the most popular technologies. Accurately modeling the PEM fuel cells as well as solar cells is critical in their applications, and this involves the identification and optimization of model parameters. This is however challenging due to the highly nonlinear and complex nature of the models. In particular for PEM fuel cells, the model has to be optimized under different operation conditions, thus making the solution space extremely complex. In this paper, an improved and simplified teaching-learning based optimization algorithm (STLBO) is proposed to identify and optimize parameters for these two types of cell models. This is achieved by introducing an elite strategy to improve the quality of population and a local search is employed to further enhance the performance of the global best solution. To improve the diversity of the local search a chaotic map is also introduced. Compared with the basic TLBO, the structure of the proposed algorithm is much simplified and the searching ability is significantly enhanced. The performance of the proposed STLBO is firstly tested and verified on two low dimension decomposable problems and twelve large scale benchmark functions, then on the parameter identification of PEM fuel cell as well as solar cell models. Intensive experimental simulations show that the proposed STLBO exhibits excellent performance in terms of the accuracy and speed, in comparison with those reported in the literature.