Vernier Software and Technology
Vernier Software & Technology

Introduction to Solar Panels and Solar Energy

Figure from experiment 2 from Solar Energy Explorations

Introduction

Solar energy is used in many different ways, such as providing heat and light in buildings, powering school zone speed signs, heating swimming pools, and charging electronic devices.

When we burn oil, natural gas, and coal to drive a car or heat a classroom, we are also using energy that came from the sun. Oil, natural gas, and coal were formed long ago from plants and animals. Plants use solar energy to grow and then store the energy in their roots and leaves. When animals eat the plants, they are consuming energy that came from the sun. When you ride in a car that runs on gas, you are using energy from the sun to travel.

Because it takes millions of years to form oil, natural gas, and coal, people are developing ways to use solar cells to quickly convert solar energy into electricity.

Solar cells are made of two thin pieces of silicon (an element that forms glass-like crystals) that are connected together. When radiant energy from the sun strikes the solar cell, energy is transferred to electrons in the silicon. When the solar cell is connected to a closed circuit, the electrons start to flow through the circuit.

A single solar cell can only convert a small amount of energy, so engineers connect many solar cells together to build a device called a solar panel.

Objectives

  • Use electricity generated by a solar panel to make sound.
  • Build and understand a basic circuit.
  • Verify that energy is transferred by electric currents in a closed circuit.

Sensors and Equipment

This experiment features the following Vernier sensors and equipment.

Additional Requirements

Graphical Analysis 4

Next Generation Science Standards

Science and Engineering Practices

  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • PS3.A: Definitions of Energy
  • PS3.B: Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer

Crosscutting Concepts

  • Cause and effect
  • Scale, proportion, and quantity
  • Systems and system models
  • Energy and matter

Solar Energy Explorations

See other experiments from the lab book.

1Renewable Energy
2Introduction to Solar Panels and Solar Energy
3Measuring Energy
4Making Connections: Circuits
5Solar Panel Output: Effect of Load
6Solar Panel Output: Effect of Shade
7Solar Panel Output: Effect of Angle
8Solar Panel Output: Effect of Temperature
9Project: Build a Solar Car

Experiment 2 from Solar Energy Explorations Lab Book

Solar Energy Explorations book cover

Included in the Lab Book

Vernier lab books include word-processing files of the student instructions, essential teacher information, suggested answers, sample data and graphs, and more.

Buy the Book

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