WSU Whatcom County Extension

Stewardship is Where You Are

Weather Watchers

The Big Picture

Let’s face it: the sun is the “engine” that sustains all living things on this planet. The sun is about 93 million miles away from us but on a sunny day we still feel its warmth. (93 million miles is like going all the way around the Earth more than 23,000 times). On a sunny day, the sun's rays give off approximately 1,000 watts of energy per square meter of the planet's surface. How far from a 60 watt lamp can you hold your hand before you stop feeling the lamps radiant energy? The sun is a star and it is “burning” through a process called nuclear fusion. The energy produced in one second by the sun is more than mankind has used since the beginning of time, and there are many more kinds of energy coming off of the sun that the human eye can’t see! Non-renewable energies such as oil or natural gas may begin running out in as little as ten years, but the sun is expected to keep churning out energy for about 3 billion more years. Without a doubt, in your lifetime you will see a change in the kinds of energy we use!

What is solar power? What kind of energy comes from the sun and how do we harness it? What are the trade-offs of using solar power? In this unit you will explore the science of light, solar radiation and energy.

Explorer - Skill Level: One Engager - Skill Level: Two Citizen Scientist - Skill Level: Three


Coming Soon

Title: Making a Photovoltaic Cell

Objective: Have youth build a photovoltaic cell out of copper strips

Science Skills: Build/Construct, Measure, Infer

Life Skills: Following directions

Materials: two copper strips 4 cm by 15 cm, 2 Tbsp. table salt or sodium chloride, two alligator clip leads, fine sandpaper, micro-ammeter, goggles
gloves, electric hot plate, shallow, clear plastic container

Preparation: Print out and read the information about Solar power in Explore More or have youth explore Solar power in the on-line Texas Energy Education modules (under “Renewable.”)
You can gather the supplies or borrow kits from the Extension Office that contain copper strips, sandpaper and micro-ammeter.

Activity: Making a PV Cell
Have youth try this activity from the Texas Energy Education curriculum. (See Explore More)
Asking the Right Questions: What happened? What was supposed to happen? Can you think of variables you could change that might affect the experiment to have different outcomes? What kinds of chemicals do you think are in photovoltaic cells?

Title: Weighing it Out

Objective: Research any potential hazards as well as the benefits of using solar power.

Science Skills: Research a Problem, Interpret/Analyze, Question

Life Skills: Responsible Use of Resources, Communication

Materials: Internet or printed fact sheets

Activity: Weighing It Out
Read and discuss the following information with a group of teens. There is more detailed information regarding the concerns surrounding the use of solar panels in the Explore More section.

For every action we take there is an effect on the natural community. Our decisions must be based on current knowledge and responsible choices. Because all things in our ecosystem are connected there is no “free lunch.”

Listed below are some of the criticisms of solar power. Which do you think are the most important and why?

The initial cost of solar energy technologies remains a costly alternative to the use of readily available fossil fuel technologies. As the price of solar equipment decreases, or the price of fossil fuels goes up, we are likely to see an increase in the use of solar cells to generate electricity.

Solar panels take up a lot of space. This may be a disadvantage in areas where space is short, or expensive (such as inner cities where the most electricity is used).

Photovoltaic cells are made using chemical processes with highly reactive compounds that are often very toxic. Silver is currently used extensively in the photovoltaic process. Silver salts are toxic. In addition to this, silver, among other components, is very expensive.

Ask the Right Questions:
Are there examples from the past of companies not demonstrating responsible environmental management with the “end of life” products? How much of this responsibility should be on the consumer who chooses to utilize these products? How much is disposal of toxic products the responsibility of the industry creating them? Compared to other alternative energies, how effective do you think solar will be for meeting our future energy needs?



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WSU Whatcom County Extension, 1000 North Forest Street, Suite 201, Bellingham, WA 98225, (360) 778-5800, Contact Us