A Kids-Friendly Explanation Of How Solar Works

Our solar system is made up of 8 planets (that we know of so far) and the big “all-star”… The Sun! Most people don’t realize how much we depend on the sun! The sun has been producing energy for billions of years. Without the sun, the earth would literally freeze over and plants would not be able to grow or produce oxygen, which means there would be no life! Today, we are going to take a look at how we have learned to harness the sun’s energy and use it to power our everyday lives with solar panels. Are you ready? Let’s get started!

1) What is Solar Energy?

Solar energy is the energy given off by the sun’s rays. Plants use sunlight to produce their own food by a process called photosynthesis. Using the sun’s rays plants transform water and carbon dioxide (what we exhale) into fuel to grow, and breathe out oxygen in the process. Also, humans for centuries have made use of the sun’s energy: for cooking, heating buildings, drying food, heating water, and generating electrical energy. Have you ever stepped into a car that had the windows rolled up and the car was warm? It’s amazing all of the creative ways we’ve found to utilize all that the sun has to offer!

And because the sun doesn’t run out, it is a renewable energy source, and is refilled naturally. Other forms of energy (i.e. oil, natural gas and coal, known as “fossil fuels”) take a long time to form and are not replenished once used (non-renewable).

2) What is a Solar Cell

A solar cell is what converts sunlight into electricity. Remember when we talked about photosynthesis? Well, the solar cells in a plant are called chloroplasts, collecting sunlight and transforming it into usable energy. When we use the sun to generate energy the solar cells are called photovoltaic or PV cells. Photovoltaic (meaning “light electricity”) cells convert the sun’s energy into electrical power. The cells are made up of materials that can carry electrical current and help capture light. The sun’s rays are made up of tiny particles of light energy. When the sunlight hits a photovoltaic cell, it is either reflected, passes right through, or is absorbed (just like when a plants chloroplast cells absorb light). Only absorbed light provides energy that can be used for electricity.

3) So, How do Solar Panels Work?

Now that we’ve learned how sunlight is converted into electricity, how do we actually make use of it? A solar panel is made up of groups of solar cells (Remember: solar cells make sunlight into electricity). If you take a walk around your neighborhood, you will probably see solar panels on the roofs of homes and businesses nearby. The panels must be carefully positioned to get the maximum amount of sun exposure in order to convert the most energy possible. In the US (and anywhere else in the northern portion of the Earth), you’ll find most solar panels facing south. When the sun is at its highest point in the sky, the sun shines from the south side. Once the sun hits the panels, the energy is made into electricity. A solar inverter helps turn the electricity into power that can be used. The more panels you have on a roof, the more solar electricity you produce! The average home or business can have 50-75% of the power they use come from solar energy!

Solar energy is a part of our everyday lives. Now with the help of solar panels and companies that help home owners and businesses go solar, we can take the energy that has been given to us and use the sun to its full potential- one panel and one building at a time!

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