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A New Angle on PV Efficiency

William Surles, Jack Baum, Stephen Johnson, Abby Watrous, Eszter Horanyi, Schaefer Zarske, Malinda, University of Colorado; Boulder

In this hands-on activity, students examine how the orientation of a photovoltaic (PV) panel -- relative to the position of the sun -- affects the energy-efficiency of the panel.

Activity takes about one 45-min class period. Additional materials such as mini PV panels ($10-30)and a multimeter ($10) are required.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 2 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 2 Science and Engineering Practices

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Activity does not specify what zenith angle at which to place the lamp if using a lamp instead of the sun. If using a lamp, students could go outside and measure the zenith angle of the sun at that moment. This can also foster a conversation about how the sun's angle varies over the course of a day and over the course of a year. Here's one article that explains more about calculating the best slope angle and azimuth (position) angle for solar panels: http://cleantechnica.com/2015/11/12/what-is-the-best-angle-for-solar-panels/.
  • Using the knowledge and skills gained here, students can design a theoretical solar array for the school building, taking into account the geographic location, roof configuration, and weather. This activity may be combined with Renewable Energy Living Lab: The Bright Idea.
  • Safety issues and troubleshooting tips are included in the activity.

About the Science

  • Activity addresses how the orientation of a photovoltaic (PV) panel, relative to the sun, affects the efficiency of the panel.
  • In this activity, students get hands-on practice experimenting with the efficiency of photovoltaic solar panels, by measuring the current produced by a solar panel while varying its angle and position. Students take measurements, plot their data, and then use this information to consider the best design for a solar array.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • During the course of this activity, students reinforce the following scientific and quantitative skills:
    - using a protractor to measure angles,
    - recording and plotting data,
    - applying the concepts of electrical circuits, voltage, current and power.
  • The instructional design is very straightforward and assessment ideas are included. Ideas for extension activities are also provided.
  • Activity is structured with a student investigation guide and worksheet; groups of 3 students have their own PV panel and multimeter setup to manipulate as they work through the investigation. Educator version with answers is provided.
  • Introduction text is great for new teachers because it shows exactly how to lead the discussion and frame the topic.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This activity is very straightforward and is clearly documented and described. Student guides, worksheets, troubleshooting tips, and an answer key are included in both Word and PDF forms.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

NOAA solar calculator http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/grad/solcalc/azel.html.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

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