SiS_Photo_Schools

Changing the World – One Student at a Time

Today’s youth need to understand energy in order to wisely power their homes, their cars and their careers. The Solar In the Schools outreach program is devoted to teaching the growing importance of energy – both how it is used and where it is sourced. Our hands-on renewable energy education approach not only teaches these vital concepts, it instills precious hope for the future.

School Presentations

Since its inception in 2002, thousands of students and teachers have participated in the Solar In the Schools program through our regional Hands-On Classroom Presentations. Each year we reach more than 2000 K-12 students, 20 at a time, with dynamic presentations that have kids generating human-powered electricity and wiring small solar cells together in no time. Renewable Energy Science Kits are also provided to regional teachers through our lending library.

Teacher Training Workshops

In 2007, SEI created its first accredited teacher training workshop, now called Teaching Solar Energy to Kids. This workshop allows us to effectively increase our national outreach by bringing in youth educators from around the country. These teachers and non-formal educators return to their schools as energy champions, armed with hands-on techniques and materials for effectively conveying renewable energy concepts. Our presentations have been aligned with current Colorado State educational standards. Please contact Solar In the Schools to learn more.

Free Renewable Energy Online Course

In 2010 Solar In the Schools dramatically increased its range by adding a free, high-school-level Introduction to Renewable Energy online course covering energy efficiency and the many types of renewable energy. We highly encourage teachers to take this course and evaluate it as curriculum to be used with high school students. This course is now also available EN ESPAÑOL.

Creative Change This is the best curriculum resource for teachers (2011).  Combining all educational diciplines and audiences with a common theme of sustainability and social equity.  Wholistic education that understands the need to retell the story of our history and humanity from the perspective of environmental sustainability and conscientious social behavior.  WOW!

 

Facing The Future Workbook – Engaging Students through Global Issues: Real World Math

 

Green Teacher – wow, you should know about GreenTeacher.  SEI carries some of their curriculum for sale.  This is a collaborative effort of teachers all around North America.  Their lesson plans address all different learning styles, and they are usually hands-on, creative, and impactful.

 

Energy Teachers – this site gives teachers the latest links and bibliographies on energy related lessons.  This is a great diverse and independent resource for teachers.

 

U.S. Department of Energy: Energy Education This is a good resource for teachers looking for lesson plans, scholarships, volunteer, jobs and more.  Searchable and indexed.

 

No Impact Project - This curriculum uses No Impact Man – the book and the film – to help middle and high school students explore the effects their everyday behavior has on the environment, their health, and their well-being.  I like this site, practical, empowering, and up to date (2011)

 

Wisconsin Renewable Energy Program – Wisconsin’s K-12 Renewable Energy Education program.  This site has a wealth of information for everyone!

 

Population Education CD-ROM – Earth Matters: Studies for Our Global Future.

 

U.S. Energy Information Administration -Independent statistics and analysis on energy in the U.S. Has LOTS of information, and plenty of graphs, charts, and maps that can be used in lession plans or projects.

 

Classroom Earth -Designed for high school teachers, this website includes resources, lesson plans, and other ideas on how to incorporate environmental topics into science curriculum, a wealth of information.

 

Energy Conservation Curriculum - The Bonneville Power Association’s 3rd – 8th grade curriculum for energy conservation.  A great resource for North West region educators.

 

Oil Consumption Poster – Resources for teachers on energy consumption and carbon footprint activities.  You can also sign up to receive a free poster on world oil consumption at their home page.  This poster is worth the time to ask!

 

Florida Solar Energy Center – Find classroom activities, a calendar of events, kits, competitions, continuing education opportunities, and general information on renewables.

 

Solar School House – Out of California, this organization offers curriculum and solar kits for sale while offering accredited teacher training workshops in Renewable Energy for California teachers.

 

National Energy Education Development (NEED) – A project that creates networks of teachers and students interested in promoting an energy conscious society while offering free grade specific curriculum and kits for sale.  It should be noted that Need is funded by Conoco Philips and is biased towards fossil fuel energy production.

Alliance for Climate Education (ACE)  A Complete and well organized website of information and links. This also is a great organization for school presentations on climate change and supports proactive action from students. Worth lots of time!

Climate Crisis – “An Inconvenient Truth” homepage.  Lots of good tips.

National Resource Defense Council – The National Resource Defense Council FAQ’s on Global Warming and what we can do about it.

Climate Change – The Campus Climate leverages the power of young people to organize on college campuses and high schools across Canada and the U.S. to win 100% Clean Energy policies at their schools.

Learn More About Climate features six short educational films about climate change in Colorado and three model lessons for middle and high school teachers.

Union of Concerned Scientists – the Union of Concerned Scientists, a coalition of citizens and scientists for environmental solutions, offers more technical papers, facts, and solutions appropriate for high school students.

Aspen Canary Initiative – “Calculate your Cox emissions” page.  This site also promotes energy conservation by listing many things you can do at home.

EPA Energy Profiler -Enter your zip code into this power profiler and see where your energy actually comes from, emissions, and how that compares to national averages.

Class Room Earth -Energy Audit Lab designed for high school AP classe.

Kidwind – Kidwind is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving science education while introducing curriculum for wind power.  In addition to providing student geared wind power kits, Kidwind is a great resource for teachers wanting to take accredited workshops on teaching about wind power.

Science Shareware – this site tells you how to build a human powered bicycle generator for your classroom

Solar Cooking – everything you would ever want to know about solar cooking and making your own solar ovens!!!
Solar Household Energy – expansive website on solar cooking on a global level

Solar Cooking Wiki – frequently asked solar cooking questions and answers


Pitsco Education Resources – A complete resource for grants: grant applications, tips, searchable index, and more,  lots of federal education grant links!!

Database for State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency – this site gives state by state financial incentives for homeowners and businesses which implement renewable energy.

BP Energy Education Grant – BP Solar’s A+ for Energy grants for Teachers (due in spring).

http://www.socialstudies.org/awards/grants/mcauliffe/ -$1500 grants for social studies teachers.


Building Green Schools – the US Green Building Council’s “How to Build Green Schools” and tons of other green building resources.

Climate Change initiatives – The Campus Climate leverages the power of young people to organize on college campuses and high schools across Canada and the U.S. to win 100% Clean Energy policies at their schools.

International  Action on Climate Change and Renewable Energy

Australian Government Climate Change  Resources that help teachers and students understand and act on Climate Change issues affecting the continent.

Answers for Older Students

Our free Intro to Renewable Energy online course is written at a high-school-level. It includes video, audio, interactive exercises, quizzes and discussion forums for each of 10 lessons. The course covers energy efficiency, solar electricity, wind energy, other types of renewable energy as well as careers in renewable energy. Finish with good grades and you can print out your SEI Record of Completion.
Solar In the Schools answers your energy questions. If your question isn’t covered, please contact us directly.

Photovoltaic (fo-to-vol-ta-ik) systems are solar systems that produce electricity directly from sunlight. The term “photo” comes from the Greek “phos,” meaning light. “Voltaic” is named for Alessandro Volta (1745-1827), a pioneer in the study of electricity for whom the term “volt” was named. Photovoltaics, then, means “light electricity.” Photovoltaic systems produce clean, reliable electricity without consuming any fossil fuels. They are being used in a wide variety of applications, from providing power for watches, highway signs, and space stations, to providing for a household’s electrical needs.

Photovoltaics is one form of solar energy. The term solar energy can refer to something as simple the energy gathered in your parked, sealed car (your solar collector) and converted into heat. Solar energy is often used to heat houses directly through passive means (sun enters window, room warms). Solar energy is also often used to heat water (a solar collector is mounted in direct sunlight, which warms a heat transfer fluid, which in turn heats the water in your hot water tank).
Photovoltaics refers specifically to the practice of converting the sun’s energy directly into electricity using photovoltaic cells. Photovoltaic cells are often referred to as PV cells or solar cells.
Solar thermal energy refers to harnessing the sun’s light to produce heat. Heat results when photons, packets of light energy, strike the atoms composing a substance (water, your body, asphalt), exciting them. Solar thermal technologies include passive solar systems for heating (or cooling!) buildings; flat plate solar collectors, often used for providing households with hot water; and solar concentrator power systems. These systems, also known as solar thermal power plants, use the sun’s heat to create steam, which then turns a turbine and produces electricity. (Fossil fuel burning power plants also produce electricity by first creating steam in order to turn a turbine.)
Using electricity to heat a house, as anyone who uses electric heat and pays monthly bills to the utility knows, is very inefficient and costly. Theoretically, one could heat one’s home with photovoltaics (electricity is electricity, whether it comes from PV panels or from a coal burning power plant). Practically, though, this would be costly, as producing electricity from a PV system is more expensive than purchasing it from the utility. One can, however, heat one’s house very effectively and cheaply by harnessing the sun’s energy in other ways.
  • Photovoltaic Cell — Thin squares, discs, or films of semiconductor material that generate voltage and current when exposed to sunlight.
  • Module — Photovoltaic cells wired together and laminated between a clear superstrate (glazing) and encapsulating substrate.
  • Array — One or more modules with mounting hardware and wired together at a specific voltage.
  • Charge Controller — Power conditioning equipment to regulate battery voltage.
  • Battery Storage — A medium that stores direct current (DC) electrical energy.
  • Inverter — An electrical device that changes direct current to alternating current (AC) to operate loads that require alternating current.
  • DC Loads — Appliances, motors and equipment powered by direct current.
  • AC Loads — Appliances, motors and equipment powered by alternating current.
A solar panel (module) is made up a number of solar cells. Solar cells are generally made from thin wafers of silicon, the second most abundant substance on earth, the same substance that makes up sand. To make the wafers, the silicon is heated to extreme temperatures, and chemicals, usually boron and phosphorous, are added. The addition of these chemicals makes the silicon atoms unstable (their electrons less tightly held). When photons of sunlight hit a solar panel, some are absorbed into the solar cells, where their energy knocks loose some of the modified silicon’s electrons. These loose electrons are forced by electric fields in the PV panel to flow along wires that have been placed within the cells. This flow of electrons through the wires is electricity, and will provide power for whatever load we attach (a calculator, a light bulb, a satellite, etc.)
Because solar cells are modular, a system’s size can be increased (or decreased) over time, according to need.
Details on the workings of solar cells:http://www.howstuffworks.com/solar-cell1.htm
The simplest and least expensive PV systems are designed for day use only. These systems consist of modules wired directly to a DC appliance, with no storage device. When the sun shines on the modules, the electricity generated is used directly by the appliance.  Higher insolation (sunshine) levels result in increased power output and greater load capacity. And when the sun stops shining, your appliance stops working.

These simple systems are an appropriate, cost-effective option for loads operated only during the daytime. Examples of day use systems include:
* Remote water pumping with a storage tank.
* Operation of fans, blowers, or circulators to distribute thermal energy during the day for solar water heating systems or ventilation systems.
* Stand-alone, solar-powered appliances such as calculators and toys.

It is also possible, in a utility grid interconnected system (see below), to do without batteries, as such a system is essentially using the grid as its storage device.

Introducing batteries to a PV system allows electricity to be stored when the sun is shining. This electricity can then be used to provide power after the sun goes down.
Utility-connected systems, also called “grid-connected” or “grid-tied” systems, are for homes or commercial buildings that are connected to an electric utility. They are designed to provide a modest part to all of the building’s total electricity needs. Advances in solar power electronics make it relatively easy to connect a solar electric system to the utility. Energy generated by such a system is first used within the home, and surplus power is “pushed” onto the utility’s wires. In many states of the U.S., local utilities have “net-metering,” which allows a homeowner’s meter to spin backwards when his or her electricity is pushed back onto the grid. When this happens, the utility buys electricity from the homeowner, instead of the other way around! (And the utility pays the homeowner for the retail value of the electricity. Without net-metering, the utility would be forced by law to buy electricity from the homeowner, (an independent producer), at wholesale.)

A draw-back of connecting your PV system to the grid (and using the grid as “storage”) is that when your area suffers a power outage, your PV system automatically shuts off. (This is done intentionally, in order to protect people working on the lines from live electricity.) To avoid this problem, many people introduce batteries to their grid-tied system, which provide power in the event of a utility power outage.

This depends on how much electricity you use in your home, and where your house is located. The average American household uses 600 Kilowatt-hours of electricity per month.  However, an energy efficient home may use only half that. In a sunny climate, a 2 kilowatt PV system can produce 300 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month. (To generate 2 kilowatts of power you need about 240 square feet of solar panels.) Therefore, the first step in planning a solar system is reducing electricity consumption. It is always more cost-effective to invest in energy efficiency than to install a larger PV system. Planning, mindfulness and some initial investment can result in a dramatic reduction in electricity use, without sacrificing the comforts to which we’ve become accustomed. As SEI alum Cari Spring says in her book When the Light Goes On: “You don’t have to sit in a dark, cold room to save energy!”
It is critical that heating and cooling systems, (which account for 40% of the energy budget of the average American household), be highly efficient. Electric heaters and air conditioners are tremendous energy hogs; fortunately, more efficient options abound. In addition, it is important that once your house feels comfortable to you, it stays that way–good insulation is crucial. (Preventing air leakage by caulking and sealing is the most cost-effective way of reducing heating and cooling costs.)

A household can save electricity a number of ways, including: purchasing energy efficient appliances and fixtures (e.g. compact fluorescent lights); using solar thermal energy (e.g. drying clothes in the sun, using a solar hot water system); investing in propane or natural gas-powered major appliances (such as refrigerators, stoves, and clothes dryers); and cutting back on appliance use (e.g. turning off lights, abandoning the electric can opener).

A list of top-rated, energy efficient appliances, cars, and trucks http://www.aceee.org
Home energy saving checklist, too: http://www.aceee.org/consumerguide/checklist.htm
Energy-saving appliances, check out http://www.energystar.gov

Solar cookers use no electricity or gas, require no fire wood, and produce no air pollution. The simplest type of solar cooker is a box cooker: an insulated box painted black on the inside and covered with glass or plastic. Sunlight enters the box and heats the food inside. Reflectors can be added to increase the solar insolation captured. An inexpensive cooker can be made out of cardboard, crumpled-up newspaper for insulation, and aluminum foil for reflectors, and can reach temperatures over 250° F. Higher-quality cookers can reach temperatures of up to 425° F.

In many countries of the world, burning wood and animal dung for cooking is wreaking havoc on the environment: contributing to deforestation, desertification, air pollution, and global warming. In addition, cooking over smoky fires contributes to respiratory illnesses, and in many parts of the world, women and children spend over half their waking hours gathering firewood (which, in many places, is becoming more and more scarce). Besides ameliorating these problems, solar cookers can also be used to purify drinking water, sanitize medical instruments, and heat water for laundry. Their potential for bettering lives is tremendous.
And, in this country, cooking outside in a solar cooker can dramatically reduce your home cooling bills in the summer!
The best solar cooking web site we’ve seen is www.solarcooking.org

Anything you can cook in a conventional oven–the limit is your imagination. Dishes often require less water when cooked in a solar oven, as well as less salt and sugar (due to the gentle cooking process). Just remember to use a dark colored pot, and use potholders! Solar ovens get hot!
Yes. Many utility companies have recently installed large photovoltaic arrays to provide consumers with solar generated electricity or as backup systems for “critical” equipment. Solar thermal power plants produce electricity more cheaply than photovoltaic plants, at least in regions where there is little to no cloud cover. (Solar thermal systems need direct sunlight; photovoltaic systems will still function in cloudy conditions, though their output is diminished.) The first commercial solar thermal plant was erected in California’s Mojave Desert in 1984. Despite the success of this project, and the great potential of solar thermal plants in general, only a handful have been built worldwide in the past decade, though there are a number in the planning stages.

PDF Article comparing photovoltaic and solar thermal power plants:  http://www.volker-quaschning

Though we make up just 6% of the world’s population, we, the citizens of the United States, consume 25-30% of the energy produced in the world today. We consume twice as much energy as the average British citizen, two and-a-half times as much as the average Japanese citizen, and 106 times that of the average Bangladeshi. Consequently, we Americans produce, per capita, the most greenhouse gases on the planet. As of 1996, each of us here in the US produced, on average, almost twice the greenhouse gases of the average German, and 80 times that of the average Indian.

But don’t despair! Think of all the room we have to improve! According to  www.energystar.gov, if, over the next ten years, everyone in the U.S. chose  energy-efficient appliances, “we would cut the nation’s utility bills by up to $100 billion and make major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.”

Answers for Younger Students

The sun is amazing. Without it, none of us would be here, and there would be no life on earth. It is bigger than anything we can really imagine–a million planet earths would fit inside it! It takes millions of years for the energy from the center of the sun to reach the sun’s surface, and then just eight minutes for it to travel the 93 million miles to earth! The sun gives off more energy in one second than people have used since the beginning of time.

But wait, there’s more! Plants make food out of sunlight, and then animals eat plants, and then we eat animals (or maybe we just eat plants, if we?re vegetarians). Either way, without sunlight, plants couldn’t make food, and there would be nothing for us to eat. Not only could plants not make food without the sun, they also couldn’t make oxygen, and no animals could breathe, including us! The sun produces nearly all the heat on the planet, too–without it, the earth would be freezing cold–minus hundreds of degrees Fahrenheit, almost as cold as space. The sun also makes the wind blow and the ocean currents flow. Its heat makes clouds, rain, snow, and all the weather on our planet, too.

Solar energy just means energy (light or heat) that comes from the sun. There are as many different ways to use solar energy as you have ideas in your head. What gets you hot lying on the beach on a summer day? Solar energy. What gets your car hot when it’s parked in the sun with the windows closed? Solar energy. What makes your solar calculator go? Solar energy. What makes the giant solar panels on satellites work? Solar energy. What makes plants grow? Rain and… solar energy. What makes the clouds that make the rain? You got it! Solar energy. What sets a blade of glass under a magnifying glass on fire? Yup, solar energy. And on and on.

Check out ThinkQuest’s cool history of energy on planet earth. And if you want to know more about the sun or energy in general, their entire website is pretty cool.

No! Solar energy has existed for five billion years, since the sun was born. And humans have been using solar energy for thousands of years. 700 years before the year one, people used simple magnifying glasses to concentrate the light of the sun into beams so hot they caught wood on fire. The Greeks were the first to use solar architecture, over 2,000 years ago. They built their houses so the sun’s rays entered during the winter, but weren’t able to enter during the summer. Entire cities were built this way! (They were way ahead of us.) The Romans got the idea to put glass in windows, which allowed the sun’s light to pass through but trapped its heat. They even built glass greenhouses so they could have fruit and vegetables all winter.

Skipping ahead a few thousand years, in the 1700s someone in Europe figured out you could make water boil by collecting the sun’s heat behind a few panes of glass. A solar hot water heater! From the early 1920s to just before WWII, everyone in Florida heated their water with solar hot water heaters.

Using solar panels to turn the sun’s light directly into electricity is new, though. That technology was only invented only 50 years ago. (Most of this information on the history of solar energy use comes from http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/earth/stories/s225110.htm.)

A few questions back I said that there were endless ways to use solar energy. That’s true, but, to make things easier to think about, all those ways can be divided into two basic categories. First, we can use the sun’s energy to heat things–our houses, the water in our houses, the food in a solar cooker, and so on. This is called solar thermal energy. (Thermal means heat, so solar thermal energy just means heat energy from the sun.) The second basic way we can use solar energy is to turn light from the sun directly into electricity, using solar panels. This is usually called photovoltaics, and we?ll talk more about it in the next question.
Solar electric panels are made up of something called silicon, the same     thing that makes up sand. There is more silicon on the planet than almost anything else. Even though you can find silicon almost everywhere, making a solar panel is difficult and expensive. The silicon has to be heated to super high temperatures in a big factory, and then formed into very thin wafers.

When sunlight hits a solar panel, it makes electrons in the silicon move  around. (Electrons are teeny tiny specks–they?re way too small for us to see, even under a microscope.) The electrons flow through wires that were built into the solar panel. And presto! We have electricity! We can do whatever we want with this electricity, run a calculator, a CD player, or, if we have big enough solar panels, a satellite! Solar panels are also called photovoltaic panels. “Photo” means light and “voltaic” means electricity.

When the sun stops shining on your solar panel, its electrons stop moving and electricity stops flowing. So what do you do if you want to be able to read or watch television at night? (But you don’t watch television, do you?!) What stores the electricity in a flashlight? Right! A battery! And that’s exactly what people do with solar panels… they attach batteries. The batteries are big, heavy, rectangular boxes, sort of like car batteries. Electricity from a solar panel flows into attached batteries while the sun shines, and then the stored electricity in the batteries can be used at night, or when the sun is behind the clouds.
Have you seen those big orange signs along the highway with flashing messages about an exit being closed or a traffic jam ahead? Ever look on top of those signs? Yup, there are big solar panels up there. Those solar panels are attached to batteries, so the signs stay lit at night. Little solar panels are used on solar calculators (the panel is usually in a little strip across the top). You might have seen solar panels on people’s roofs or on poles in front of their houses. And how about in space? You know those flat, black “wings” that stick off satellites and space stations? Yeah, solar panels! Can you think of other places you?ve seen a solar panel, or that would be a smart place for one?

For cool stuff on satellites and space stations, check out: http://collections.ic.gc.ca/satellites/english/main.html

That depends on how much electricity you use in your house, and how much sun shines where you live. You need a lot of panels to power a whole house, though. The first thing you’d have to do, before you “went solar,” would be to cut down on your electricity use. Otherwise you’d need so many panels that you’d go broke buying them and you’d have no room to play outside, because everything would be covered in solar panels. The average size of a solar system that completely powers a house is 2,000 watts. That’s not a lot of power–just enough to run 20 or 30 light bulbs. (Except that if you were going to run your house off solar panels, you wouldn’t use the same old light bulbs you’ve been using, that mostly make heat and just a little bit of light. You’d use super-efficient, long lasting florescent light bulbs.) To make 2,000 watts of power you need solar panels that are about 24 feet long by 10 feet high. That’s about as long as one and-a-half cars and a little higher than most of your ceilings. That’s still a lot of panels. But once you get them up, they last for well over 20 years. And since they have no moving parts, they almost never break.
Have you ever thought about what happens when you flip on the light switch and the light turns on? Electricity is flowing to the light bulb, but where does it come from? In the U.S., most of our electricity is made in giant power plants that burn coal or natural gas, or are powered by large dams or nuclear energy. That electricity sometimes travels a long way from the power plant to your home, often hundreds of miles. If you live in the country, you?ve probably seen giant towers with lots of wires running between them. (If you go close to them, you can sometimes hear them humming–that sound is being made by electrons running through the wires!) From the wires on those giant towers, electricity travels to smaller power lines on poles, which often run along roads or streets. If you live in a city, electricity probably arrives at your house in wires that run underneath the sidewalk.
If you’re not using a light, or if you’re not using the computer, or if you’re not watching the TV, turn them off!! Riding your bike or walking or taking the bus or the train instead of getting in a car and driving somewhere saves a lot of energy, too. So does taking shorter showers (that makes me very sad, because I love long showers).

Once you start trying to save energy, you’ll find that there are some things in your home that you might not have to use at all. Instead of using a clothes dryer, for example, you can dry your clothes outside in the sun. Instead of playing a computer game, you can go do the dishes. (Just kidding! Sort of.)

Eating food from your own garden, or food that’s grown and put into packages near your home also saves energy. (The label on the package usually says where the food comes from.) Reusing and recycling things saves energy, but it saves even more if you don’t use them in the first place!

Once you start thinking about it, you’ll find there are lots of ways to use less energy. It’s even a fun thing to try and do.

In the United States, the stoves in our houses run on electricity or gas. In other parts of the world, many people still cook over campfires. One of the many cool things about solar ovens is that they don’t need electricity, gas, or wood to work–they cook food using only sunlight! Basically, you put food in a box and trap the sun’s heat by covering the box with glass or plastic. (Solar cooking is an example of using solar thermal energy.) And they’re easy to make! You can make one with two cardboard boxes, one inside the other, covered with glass or plastic. You can put crumpled-up newspaper between the two boxes to help trap the sun’s heat, paint the inside black, and put aluminum foil outside to help reflect more sun into the cooker. Even a simple solar cooker like this one can reach temperatures over 250? F.

Solar cookers are great because they save money and energy, and produce no pollution. People don’t have to cut down trees for firewood, and they make no nasty smoke to hurt people’s lungs, things that are big problems in countries that don’t have as much money as we do. Solar cookers can also be used to make water safe to drink, make doctor’s tools safe to use, and heat water for laundry.

The best solar cooking web site we’ve seen is www.solarcooking.org. They have great instructions for making your own cooker, and lots of other cool information.

Anything you can cook in a normal oven–the limit is your imagination. Just remember to use a dark colored pot, and use potholders! Solar ovens get hot!
Yes, there are a few. They are usually in hot, dry places, like deserts in California. Many different countries are planning to build more soon, and we’re really looking forward to it! (There are basically two different kinds of solar energy power plants. One kind makes electricity using lots and lots of solar electric panels. The other actually makes electricity using the sun’s heat–solar thermal energy. Basically, solar thermal power plants use lots of mirrors to focus the sun’s rays onto one central area. That heat is used to boil water, and then the steam produced from the boiling water is used to make electricity–just like in a coal or natural gas burning power plant.)
Of every 100 people on the planet, 6 live in the United States. If everything were fair and equal, we would use as much of the world’s energy as we have people–6 percent. Instead, we use between 25 and 30 % of the world’s energy! Each of us uses twice as much energy as the average person in England, two and-a-half times as much as the average person in Japan, and 106 times that of the average person in Bangladesh!. And using too much energy isn’t just bad because we’re going to run out of it someday. It’s also bad because it produces pollution. Per person, people in the United States produce way more “greenhouse gases” than any other people on the planet.
Even though humans have been using the sun’s energy for thousands of years, photovoltaic (solar electric) technology is still very new, and a lot of times adults don’t like to try new things. Even if they are the type of adults who like new things, sometimes it’s very hard to switch to a new system once you have another system working already. (We have all those giant coal burning plants built already–what would we do with them if we built solar plants instead?) Solar energy technology is also getting better every year, so a lot of people might not realize that it’s become as cool as it has.

Making electricity with solar energy is still more expensive than making it by burning coal, and adults definitely don’t like expensive. [Actually, though, if you count how burning coal hurts the environment, and if you count that the government helps pay for electricity made in coal plants, solar energy might not really be more expensive. Some people think that if you counted everything fairly, solar energy would actually cost less than electricity made from burning coal.]

The exciting news is: YOUR generation has a great chance to use solar energy!! If you keep learning and thinking more about energy and how you use it; and learning and thinking more about different kinds of solar energy; and maybe bugging your parents and your teachers and your congress people about it, maybe by the time you’re our age, everyone will be using solar energy!

“SEI provided a very comprehensive yet understandable course for solar that will no doubt aid in my future endeavors in this industry.

-Adam Flanagan