Solar Energy Connection

by Don Vincent



Grade : 8th -12th

: Earth Science, Environmental Science, Physical Science, Physics and Social Studies

: Don Vincent, Madison West High School, Madison, WI

Estimated Time for this activity : Several class periods

Essential Understanding
:   Both India and the United States are running out of fossil fuels. Learn more regarding solar energy in India at . Both countries are producers of CO2 a greenhouse gas (Figure 1). Both countries need to look ahead to the future before it is too late.This activity illustrates how an alternative energy (solar) can be produced and used in a classroom.


Figure 1            


Overview : The solar potential in the United States and India varies from state to state. India receives on average about 300 clear sunny days in a year. This is equal to over 5,000 trillion KWh/year, which is far more than the total energy consumption of the country. Both countries could benefit from solar energy as an alternative to fossil fuels. Solar cells convert sunlight directly into usable electric energy.  

Current development in India began in the mid 1970’s. The solar photovoltaics program funded by the Government of India is one of the largest in the World. The United States and other countries have advanced the processing of making silicon, which is vital to solar energy. In India the major player is Central Electronics Ltd. They have found a growing market for solar energy products. Other companies are finding encouragement from the Indian government.   Electricity and social development go hand in hand. Rural areas of India are so remote that in some cases the utilities have decided not to lay down conventional electricity lines. The reasoning is twofold: the small populace to be served and the high cost of laying electrical lines. Solar energy is clearly a decentralized energy source and an efficient means for producing energy for India ’s rural base.

Learn more at   The New Energy Conservation Bill (2001) includes promoting innovative financing of energy efficiency projects, including solar energy. The United States could learn from India ’s approach to solar energy. By promoting solar energy in schools, future generations will be able to fully understand and capitalize on its potential. Asking students to compare and contrast solar energy gain in the United States and India will heighten this potential even more.   In this activity, students will learn how to measure voltage charged by a solar energy panel.  

Background information for teachers :

Students will need to know how to read a multi meter, and make a graph of solar energy gain. Students will learn how a solar energy panel works. Students will understand how the time of day and the time of the year effects solar energy. Students will communicate with students in India to compare and contrast solar energy production. This activity will take several class periods.  

Objectives : While conducting solar experiments, students will be able to:  

1. Analyze data from their solar experiment
2. Calculate the solar gain from month to month and location to location
3. Operate a solar cell devise used to generate electricity
4. Identify how a solar cell works
5. Compare and contrast solar energy gain with students in India
6. Analyze the difference between alternative energy in India with the United States The students will study solar energy in India and Wisconsin. Harnessing energy from the sun holds great promise for meeting future energy needs because the sun is a renewable and clean energy resource. Fossil fuels will eventually run out in India and the United States , and the future of nuclear power is uncertain.

 Students will be able to explain :

How a solar cell produces electricity. Describe the basic electrical characteristics of a solar cell. Identify how solar cells are used. Demonstrate applications to social, economic and political issues in India and the United States.

Rationale : By experimenting with solar cells, students discover an alternative means of generating electricity that does not use fossil or nuclear fuels. Solar energy is a renewable energy resource, while most electricity production in Wisconsin and India uses nonrenewable resources such as coal, natural gas, oil, and uranium.

Activities : Students can research solar energy in India and Wisconsin and compare their solar potential. In addition, students can study the effects of fossil fuels and their damage to our world environment.  

Learn more at


Monitoring Solar Input at Each School Site

Students in India and the United States will:

  • Graph out daily, weekly, monthly and yearly solar energy input in kWatts
  • Conduct fieldwork investigations using portable laptop computers, to record and analyze the solar data
  • Utilize graphing software to illustrate the amount of solar energy gain
  • Record and display solar energy data at their school
  • Operate a light sensor probe to measure percentage of sunlight
  • Compare and contrast solar energy data that they have collected with other sites
  • Analyze their results to determine which site has greater solar potential
  • Use the internet to communicate the data collected


Steps to Measure Solar Energy

1. Divide the class into pairs and distribute a solar cell to each pair. Remind students to be careful with the cells since they are fragile. Have students attach wires and a stiff backing to the cells if necessary.  

2. Show students that PV cells can generate electricity. Ask each pair of students to attach the two wires of the solar cell to the end of the small DC motor or a small flashlight bulb. Then have them put their cell under a bright, directional light source or in sunlight. Students may attach a small card or disk with a swirl-shaped pattern to the shaft of the motor so they can see the motor spin more easily.  

3. You may need to review with them how to measure current and voltage using multi- testers.  


Assessment Activities:

Have students summarize the results of their experiments and discuss their findings You may want to record the results of each pair’s findings on the chalkboard.   Can students explain how a solar cell works? Can students accurately describe the electrical characteristics of a solar cell? How well did students perform the experiments?  

Content Standard Science Standard E - Earth and Space Science

Students in Wisconsin will demonstrate an understanding of the structure and systems of earth and other bodies in the universe and of their interactions.

Content Standard Science Standard F - Life and Environmental Science

Students in Wisconsin will demonstrate an understanding of the characteristics and structures of living things, the processes of life, and how living things interact with one another and their environment.

Content Standard Science Standard C - Science Inquiry

Students in Wisconsin will investigate questions using scientific methods and tools, revise their personal understanding to accommodate knowledge, and communicate these understandings to others.

Performance Standards

Science, Earth and Space, Performance Standards E Grade 12

Energy in the Earths Surface

E. 12.1 Using the science themes, distinguish between internal energies (decay of radioactive isotopes, gravity) and external energies (sun) in the earth's systems and show how these sources of energy have an impact on those systems

  E.12.4 Analyze the benefits, costs, and limitations of past, present, and projected use of resources and technology and explain the consequences to the environment  

F.8.8 Show through investigations how organisms both depend on and contribute to the balance or imbalance of populations and/or ecosystems, which in turn contribute to the total system of life on the planet

F.12.8 Using the science themes, infer changes in ecosystems prompted by the introduction of new species, environmental conditions, chemicals, and air, water, or earth pollution

  C.8.3 Design and safely conduct investigations that provide reliable quantitative or qualitative data, as appropriate, to answer their questions.   Extension Activities/Discussions: For additional activities, students could do the following    
  • Evaluate the effects of solar energy on social, economic and political issues in India and the United States
  • Build a miniature solar home and explain your design considerations
  • Determine the effect of different types of insulation materials on heat retention
  • Design a homemade solar powered desalination device
  • Build a solar tracking device for a solar cooker.
  • Determine which passive solar collector absorbs the most heat

Another activity involves challenging students to build a motorized object, such as a fan, a blender or a model race car, using the motor powered by the solar cell. Students can organize a contest or exhibition to show their inventions. For example, if they build cars, they may want to race them in a competition. There is a national organization called Junior Solar Sprint (JSS) that helps teams of students from middle schools build and race model race cars powered by the sun.


The students are provided with kits that include a motor and a photovoltaic panel. The body of the car, wheels and transmission are made from any other materials. The race is run on a 20-meter runway equipped with guide wires to direct the movement of the cars. For more information contact: Education Office, NREL 1617 Cole Boulevard, MS 1741 Golden, Colorado 80401 or call 1-800-NEW-ENGY(1-800-639-3649).


Web site: http://wwwtion/SprintWeb/SprintWeb  

Have your students do a web quest on solar energy in India or India ’s impact on global warming: read the following paragraphs and then have them start their search at The web site also includes the complete list of scientific references. Developing countries like India and the United States are not obliged to make any cuts in greenhouse emissions under Kyoto . But as India raises living standards their emissions will increase. India 's emissions are estimated to have risen by more than 50% in the 1990s.   India recognizes that many of its one billion people will be vulnerable to the effects of climate changeand ratified the Kyoto Protocol in August 2002. But with India's economy and population, like China's, continuing to grow, it is clear that the thorny issue of developing country emissions commitments will have to be tackled soon in future rounds of negotiations   Energy conservation has emerged as one of the central issues in India in recent years. Per capita energy use in India is relatively low at 479 kg oil equivalent (kgoe) and fossil fuels are still the dominant source of energy. The country faces the enormous task to increase availability of commercial energy to a large part of its population; about 70 percent of rural households are not yet electrified. India ’s demand for commercial energy in 2020 is expected to increase by about 2.5 times from today’s level. Coal accounts for about 50% of primary commercial energy today and is expected to further increase its share. At the same time, energy intensity in India , is substantially higher than in countries at a similar development stage.  

Other useful resources include:

Curriculum Guide for the Climate Impacts Map

BBC News

Solar Photovoltaics in India


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