Investigating Renewable Energy Data from Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Panels

In this activity, students look at how much solar energy is generated by photovoltaic panels on rooftops or exposed ground locations at installations around the United States. They explore three different websites that monitor and report solar energy production from panels at many different locations. Next, they examine data from a single location, as well as compare data from two different locations. Lastly, they consider how much of a school's or home's energy needs could be supplied by solar power.

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Carla McAuliffe
Rita Freuder
TERC

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Teaching Tips

Teaching Tips

Before working with solar power output data, students should read the case study to make sure that they understand the photovoltaic (PV) energy productivity of a solar panel and the SI units of power and energy.

See teaching strategies included in activity. For example, the developers suggest that the examination of the data and graphs online can be done in groups. Three or four students can be assigned to a location and a time interval and asked to interpret their resulting graphs. Next, groups can be brought back together for a classroom comparison and discussion, especially if a smaller time interval can explain anomalies in data from a larger time interval at the same location.

Educators may want to develop some framing questions that will motivate the students to look at the data sets carefully and understand the differences in solar power outputs by location and date and time.

Intensive and rich. This lesson is best for an experienced, tech-savvy educator.

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