MY NASA DATA Lesson:

Solar Power

Solar panel on the International Space Station  File Name: Forest Fires

Image courtesy NASA

Purpose:
You work for the Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Your major area of concern is locating areas best for collecting solar power. You will need to evaluate a location in the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere. Your job is to decide which is the best location for this endeavor.
Grade Level: 3 – 5
Estimated Time for Completing Activity: One 45-minute class period.
Learning Outcomes:
  • Students will observe Monthly Surface Radiation data from 2007
  • Students will evaluate changes in surface radiation
  • Students will draw conclusions about how surface radiation levels will affect selection of solar power plant location
  • Students will infer best location for solar power plant
  • Students will manipulate data sets from MyNASAData website
Prerequisite
  • Knowledge of longitude and latitude
  • Knowledge of basic directional words
  • Knowledge of continent names and basic location
National Standards:
  • Science Content: C Life Science
  • Science Content: E Science and Technology
  • Science Content: F Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
  • Science Content: G History and Nature of Science
Virginia Standards of Learning:
  • Sci3.11a: The student will investigate and understand different sources of energy. Key concepts include the sun.s ability to produce light and heat energy.
Vocabulary:
Lesson Links:
Background:

Solar power is the collection of solar radiation for conversion into renewable energy. There are many ways solar energy can be collected and used. The three main methods include photovoltaic (PV), solar thermal, and solar concentrators.

Solar Concentrators are long, rectangular mirrors that are curved like the letter U. The mirrors tilt toward the sun and reflect back the sun’s energy to a collector. The reflected sunlight heats a fluid running through tubes that are alongside of the curved mirrors. The hot fluid then boils water in a conventional steam turbine to produce usable electricity.

Solar thermal is generally when panels are used to collect the shortwave radiation coming from the Sun and convert it into usable energy. This energy from the sun is used to boil water, the boiling water is then used to provide power. Solar power generators are not as widely used as scientists have hoped, however within the next few decades, they are hoping that this resource will be a more prevalent way to obtain energy.

Solar Concentrators are solar cells called Photovoltaic cells, PV’s by scientists. The PV’s convert sunlight directly into electricity by utilizing silicon. This is commonly used in calculators and watches that are solar powered. When exposed to sunlight, silicon produces an electric charge. Solar cells using silicon have even been used to power satellites in space.

When looking for your locations to place a solar powered device remember to think about the weather patterns, regional climate, and the Sun’s path across the sky. Another question you should ask your self is, Do I want to use this all year, or only in the summer? You might find that there is not enough solar radiation in certain months of the year.

Procedure:

1.If you are not automatically promoted with dataset choices, click on the ‘Choose Dataset’ button in the top left corner of the screen.
2. Click on Atmosphere, Atmospheric Radiation, Surface, and then select Monthly Surface Clear-sky SW Downward Flux (SRB)
3. From the menu on the left side of the screen, select ‘Time Series’ Found under the ‘Line Plots’ section of the page.
4. Be sure to click on the radio button next to ‘Update Plot’ to see the changes that you have made.
5. On the map, click on a land location North of the Equator:
6. You will notice when you click a location, latitude and longitude values automatically fill in the boxes.
7. Change the time range to Jan 2006 to Dec 2006
8. From the menu at the top of the screen click on ‘Compare’
9. on the map under the plots to the right of the page, be sure to select a location on land North of the equator. NOTE you might need to reselect ‘Time Series’ Under the line Plots menu to the left of the screen depending on your internet settings.
10. Once you have chosen a second location, click on ‘Update Plots’ at the top of the screen to see your new selection
11. Respond to the prompts under ‘Questions’

Questions:

Which location would be best to invest in a solar power generating plant? Why? (Be sure to reference your data!)

Extensions:

1. Open MyNASAData (lesson link section).
2. Click on +Data Access
3. Click on +Live Access Server (Advanced Edition)
4. Click on the blue tab to the left of the screen that says compare 5. Under the blue tab, click on Dataset 1
6. To the right, under Select dataset: click on Atmosphere
7. Under Select dataset: click on Atmospheric Radiation
8. Under Select dataset: click on Surface
9. Under Dataset variable(s): select Monthly Surface All-sky SW Downward Flux (SRB)
10. Click on the red Next
11. Under Select dataset: click on Atmosphere
12. Under Select dataset: click on Atmospheric Radiation
13. Under Select dataset: click on Surface
14. Under Dataset variable(s): select Monthly Surface All-sky SW Downward Flux (SRB)
15. Click on the red Next
16. Check that the following options are selected:
View: Time series (t)
Output: Overlay plot
Region: Full Region

On the map, click on a land location North of the Equator:
Next to the map, select Var2, then click on a new land location South of the Equator

You will notice when you click a location, latitude and longitude values automatically fill in the boxes.
Select time range: Jan 2006 to Dec 2006

17. Click the red Next. A window will appear with your line plot data.

Using this data, compare values with the previous overlay plot. How might you change your previous decision?

Lesson plan contributed by Becky Schnekser, MY NASA DATA Team

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