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How do Solar Panels Work for Kids?

Solar energy is a fantastic resource. To solve our energy needs in the future, we have to make full use of this amazing free power supply.  The people who will be responsible for taking on this exciting and vital responsibility will be our children. That’s why it’s essential to give our kids an understanding of solar energy from an early age.

I couldn’t find many resources out there giving a simple explanation of solar panels and how they absorb energy from the sun, so I wrote one. Here’s a simple answer to the question, how do solar panels work, for kids.

Our Sun Has A Name

how solar cells work for kids

Did you know that our sun has a name? I know that everybody just calls it the sun, but it has a name too. Our sun is called Sol.

And there’s a word that we use when we talk about things that are to do with the sun. We call them solar. So when I talk about energy from the sun, I call it solar power. And those funny shiny sheets that you see on the top of people’s houses are called solar panels.  You’re going to find out why in a minute.

Our Sun, Sol, is a Big Bomb

how do solar panels work for kids

Another exciting thing about our sun, which we now know is called Sol, is that it’s a giant bomb. The best thing about this is that you don’t have to worry; the sun is not the kind of bomb that can hurt us. It’s actually very useful to us.

The sun is a kind of explosion that never ends. Well, in fact, it will end one day, but that is so far, far, far in the future that none of us ever need to worry about it.

Actually, the sun is the only reason that any of us are alive. It’s so incredibly hot that even though it’s a really long way away, it sends out an energy that we all feel. And that energy is what makes all life on earth possible, including us!

We All Feel The Sun’s Power

solar panels for kids
image: Brian Goff

So what is this power from the sun?

The Sun throws out lots of power and gives us heat, light, and other kinds of energy too. The next time you go outside on a sunny day, just feel the warmth on your arms and look at how bright everything is.

Just think that this heat and Light have come to us all the way from the sun, which is an incredible 93 million miles away.

This bit is very important. You should never look straight at the sun, even if you’re wearing sunglasses. Don’t do it. It’s very dangerous and can damage your eyes.

Why Is Energy Important?

how does solar energy work for kids

You probably know that we use electricity to power everything we use, from mobile phones to the refrigerator in your home to airplanes. Without energy, we have no light, no electricity, no nothing.

We get our energy from a lot of places. Some come from burning coal, oil, and gas that we get out of the ground. But when we’ve burnt all of the coal, oil, and gas, there won’t be any left. We say that this kind of energy is non-renewable.

Did you know that in just one second the sun sends more energy to earth than every human being on the planet uses in a whole year! What this entire article is about is the way that we catch some of this solar power so that we can use it.

One of the best things about solar power is that it will keep going for as long as we need it, forever. Solar energy is renewable.

Can We Catch The Sun’s Energy?

Sure we can! The solar panels that we see on people’s houses are a way of catching energy from the sun and turning it into electricity. And as we all know, Electricity is a power that we can use.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

This is the scientific part, but it’s quite easy to understand how everything works. Let’s go through how solar panels do the amazing job of turning the sun’s energy into electricity. I’ll take it step-by-step, so it all makes sense.

What energy do solar panels use from the sun?

solar energy for kids

Now, you remember that the sun gives out heat, light, and other kinds of energy. Solar panels only use the light part of the energy from the sun.

The sun’s energy comes to us in teeny tiny little particles that are called photons. These photons are what make things happen when they hit our solar panels.

What are solar panels made of?

The solar panel is made up of thousands and thousands of tiny little solar cells. These are all held together in a big metal frame and connected by a bunch of other stuff, but they are the most important part of the solar panel. These solar cells are made out of two thin layers of silicon in a kind of tiny sandwich.

solar power for kid

These two tiny pieces of silicon each have a different electrical charge. What that means is that, together, the two sheets of silicon make an electrical field that is just waiting for things to happen.

What happens when the sun’s energy hits a solar cell?

When sunlight, in the form of photons, hits a solar cell, things start to get exciting. The result is that incredibly tiny particles called electrons are knocked loose and start to move around like crazy. And all of this crazy bouncing around makes electricity. We have power!

The solar panel then collects all of this electricity from the many thousands of solar cells and brings it all together so that we can use it. But how does this happen, and where does all of the electricity go?

Making the Right Kind Of Electricity

There are different kinds of electricity. The type that gets produced by solar panels is called direct current or DC electricity.  Unfortunately, this isn’t the kind of electricity that we use in our homes.

solar panel for kids

The  electricity that comes out of the power sockets in our houses and powers our TVs, air-cons, and everything else, is called alternating current, or AC for short

This isn’t a problem, though, because all solar panel systems send the electricity that they collect through to something called an inverter. The inverter’s job is to change the direct current electricity into the alternating current electricity so that we can use it.

Where Does The Electricity Go? / What Happens When There Is No Sun?

It’s great that we can capture all of this energy from the sun, but what happens when we can’t see the sun anymore at night?

Solar panels can’t collect any power from the sun at night. But luckily, there are two ways that we can store all of the solar energy that we have collected. This way, we can use all the power that we collected from the sun in the daytime at night.

The simplest way to store all the electricity our solar panels make in the daytime is in batteries, like the battery on a mobile phone. Of course, the batteries that store our solar energy are much bigger than the one in your phone, but the idea is the same.

how do solar cells work for kids
Hybrid solar panel system (off-grid & on-grid)

So in the same way that you can charge your mobile phone’s battery and then you can use the phone for a long time, the energy from our solar panels charges batteries which we can use even when the sun isn’t shining.

The second way of storing all of that solar power is even smarter. Some solar panels are connected to the electric grid system. This electric grid is the network of all the powerlines and cables that connect everyone’s houses, schools, shops, and everything around you with the same electrical supply.

Connecting a solar panel system to the electric grid means that the electricity you collect can be sent out into the whole electricity network and used by other people. And if you need it, you can use their extra solar energy too.

This way, When people’s solar panels make more electricity than they need, none of it gets wasted, and other people get to use it.

Where Can I Find Out More?

So that is an explanation of how do solar panels work for kids. It gives you a basic understanding of how solar panels turn energy from the sun into power that we can use. It’s an interesting and exciting subject, and you might want to find out more about some of the things mentioned here. Here are some good places to learn more:

More information about the sun
More about renewable and non-renewable energy sources
How solar panels work

Please leave a comment if you have any comments or questions about this article.

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