Use the sun’s power for this solar energy activity. Solar panels use semiconductor material that converts light energy to electricity. An electric motor helps you to see the electricity being produced!
Safety note: Be sure to explain safety precautions to children. Solar energy activity involves electricity and heat. Eye and skin protection should be used. When using an electric light, such as 100-watt incandescent bulb or halogen, be careful as you experiment they can produce enough heat to burn your skin or the solar panel.
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Instructions for solar energy activity
- Insert the motor into the plastic holder. You may need to use a screwdriver to adjust the “belt” around the center of the motor.
- Attach the fan blade to the motor.
- The solar panel should be set up for 1.5 volts at 300 milliamps. On the back of the panel, use the jumper wires with loops to attach, from left to right, terminal 1 & 3, 2 & 4, 3 &5, and 4 & 6.
- Use the wire loops from the motor to attach at terminals 1 and 2.
- Assemble the angle stand and base with the solar panel. Expose the solar panel to sunlight. Does the motor spin the fan?
- Try to spin the fan with a 100-watt incandescent bulb or a halogen light. Does the motor spin the fan? How many inches from the panel does the light need to be?
Make a chart for measurements you will make for your light sources. Does the distance from the light affect the operation of the motor? Does the angle of the panel to the light affect the motor? Use a protractor and ruler to take measurements. Try 0o, 30o, 45o, and 60o.
What happens if you cover part of the panel? What percent of the panel should be uncovered for the motor to run?
Explain how the position and angle relevant to the sun can increase the energy produced by a solar panel.
Explain how tracking systems are used in some solar panels to face the sun at the most beneficial angle during the day (cost effectiveness is an issue with tracking systems).
Explain how a small obstacle (tree, cloud cover) can significantly impact the energy harvested by a solar panel, and how site location is extremely important in designing solar panel farms.
What are some methods for storing the electricity made by a solar panel during the day?
Supplies for solar energy activity
- Solar energy kit
- Solar panel with 3 1.5 volt 100mA photovoltaic cells
- Hobby motor
- Fan blade
- Jumper wires
- 1/8″ Phillips screwdriver
- White cardstock or large index card
- Desk lamp or shop light
- 100-watt incandescent bulb or halogen desk lamp
- (optional) double-sided tape
- paper or notebook for recording results, pen
What is the science?
Content: electricity, electric circuits, electromagnetic radiation, light, photovoltaic cell, semiconductors
Circuits in semiconductors are a dominant part of modern life. And those start off with making crystals of silicon or other semiconductors. Solar panels are devices built upon the original development of silicon wafers, along with computer chips, the IGBT (insulated gate bipolar transistor), and LEDs.
Solar energy converted to electricity in solar panels can be used to power many household and industrial appliances. Issues include storage of electricity (so it can be used on cloudy days or at night), finding the best angle to catch the sun, and making the panels and their installation more affordable. Solar panels provide clean and quiet power and have no moving parts.
- General Lab Safety resources from Flinn Scientific. Be sure to check out the Student Safety Contract.
- Solar resources from National Energy Education Development Project
- Solar educational products from Elenco
- How solar cells work from How Stuff Works
- What size solar system do I need? From Go Green Solar
Let’s talk story
My colleague POG introduced me to the great educational products from Elenco. Electricity topics aren’t always taught in school and I loved finding people that were making just the right supplies for kids. Over the years I had tried less expensive solar panels, only to have to keep replacing them after wear and tear with the children. Once I switched to this solar kit, we stopped having problems! This kit also includes an LED light bulb and music speaker. Children are very interested in the future of the planet and this activity lets them get hands-on experience with a solar panel.
I’ll be looking for comments below, or contact me at lisa [at] thecasabouquet[dot]com.