We in the United States are the biggest energy users in the world. Presently one of our main concerns is the use of fossil fuels that appear to have a negative effect on our environment and occasionally the economy. Because the Sun will be around about another 4.5 billion years, it may be to our benefit to learn how to use this form of energy effectively and efficiently.
History of Solar Energy Development
The concern about alternative means of energy began during the Industrial Revolution not during the "energy crisis" of the 1970's. During the Industrial Revolution, people thought there was an inexhaustible supply of fossil fuels. However, there were a few engineers that did not agree with this way of thought and began exploring renewable energy options. Most decided to focus on solar power even though they knew many technical barriers had to hurdled.
Because there appeared to be no crisis with the fossil fuels, all the work they had done with solar thermal conversion was ignored. Presently the cost of a solar cell is very high compared to its efficiency so again more emphasis is being placed on other forms of renewable energy.
The amount of solar energy is not equal on all parts of the world as we noticed while doing earlier investigation with night/day and seasons. For this reason the areas that can maximize solar energy are used to test new solar technologies such as collecting solar energy by the use of mirrors. These mirrors track the sun and focus their rays on a single broiler system. This system is used only at midday when there is a peak of electrical usage. If it should be a cloudy day, a back-up thermal system filled with oil is used.
Students and the Solar Cell
If your school is a CPEP school(Connecticut Pre-Engineering Program,) each year they hold a competition where students make solar cars and solar boats. They then race their car or boat against other Connecticut schools. This would be an opportunity for the student(s) to show how the energy of the cell is measured with the varying amount and angle of the Sun.
They could also explain briefly how a solar cell produces energy. If one goes to "How Stuff Works," they can go to http://science.howstuffworks.com/solar-cell2.htm and learn how a solar cell operates.
Many schools have the K' NEX Solar Power Kit. The kit supplies two solar cells, motor, gears &connectors and an instruction booklet for many solar energy projects.
If you should need information about these kits, the address is:
K'NEX Industries, Inc.
Hatfield, PA 19440-0700