Solar Cell Energy Nationwide

Grade Level: 7-12

Source: NASA. Adapted with permission

 

MY NASA DATA microsets are created using data from NASA Earth science satellite missions. A microset is a small amount of data extracted from a much larger data file. Data is available on the atmosphere, biosphere, cryosphere, ocean, and land surface. Data and related lessons can be used with existing curriculum to help students practice science inquiry and math or technology skills using real measurements of Earth system variables and processes.

In this activity, students use NASA data to determine areas of the country that are most likely to produce solar energy by analyzing differences in incoming solar radiation graphs. See http://mynasadata.larc.nasa.gov/preview_lesson.php?&passid=60 for the activity.

Materials

Background

The sun is the major source of energy for Earth’s oceans, atmosphere, land, and biosphere. Not all of the sun’s energy that enters Earth’s atmo­sphere makes it to the surface. The atmosphere reflects some of the incoming solar energy back to space immediately and absorbs still more energy before it can reach the surface. The remaining energy reaches Earth, and what is not reflected by snow or other bright surfaces warms the surface. The sunlight reaching Earth every hour is greater than the amount of energy used by the Earth’s entire population in a year.

Solar panels have varying amounts of effectiveness depending on factors such as latitude and cloud coverage. For example, locations with more cloud coverage produce less solar energy. Sheridan, Wyoming, has a fair number of solar cells on homes and businesses, but the effectiveness of these solar panels varies throughout the year. By comparing the monthly averages of surface downward radiation in various locations around the United States, you can analyze areas that benefit more or less from having solar panels. This lesson introduces difference plots and how to analyze such information.

The solar energy data used in this lesson is gathered from various polar orbiting and geostationary weather satellites. The Monthly Surface All-sky Shortwave Downward Flux data is compiled by the Surface Radiation Budget project. For this data, the satellite measures the rate of transfer of solar energy per unit area as it reaches the surface of the Earth. More solar energy reaching the surface means more electrical energy from the solar cell. The purpose of this activity is to determine areas of the country that are most likely to produce lots of solar energy by analyzing differences in incoming solar radiation graphs.

This lesson was written by Teri Rowland, Sheridan, Wyoming.

Instructional videos for teachers regarding this lesson are available at: http://www.nasa.gov/offices/education/programs/national/nes/materials/my-nasa-data-index-nes.html and http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/topnav/schedule/programdescriptions/Eclips_Monitoring_Earths_Energy_Budget_6-8.html