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Here comes the sun

  • GCSE
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Case study
Topic: Generating electricity

Last month was the hottest April in the UK since records began. Could all this extra sunlight hitting the Earth help towards our energy needs? Students evaluate three different ways of harnessing the Sun's energy.

14-16 How Science Works:
4 Pupils should be taught:
a about the use of contemporary scientific and technological developments and their benefits, drawbacks and risks
b to consider how and why decisions about science and technology are made, including those that raise ethical issues, and about the social, economic and environmental effects of such decisions

Published: 11th May 2007
Reviews & Comments: 6

Learning objectives

Pupils should be able to evaluate whether using the Sun's energy to generate electricity is viable in the UK and to evaluate the economic, environmental and social impact of the different methods given.

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AQA Core - Unit Biology 1b: Evolution and Environment
11.8 How do humans affect the environment?
Unit Physics 1a: Energy and Electricity
13.4 How should we generate the electricity we need?
Edexel 360 core - Topic 10: You're in Charge
Item: P2a Collecting Energy from the Sun

Running the activity

The Beatles song 'Here comes the Sun' could be played as class enter.

Starter activity (10 minutes)
Show the students the first page which introduces the activity. You could also have a solar cell connected to a voltmeter, with a light shining on it and view the video about the solar furnace power plant from the BBC news website.

Main activity (35 minutes)
The second page explains 3 different ways of converting solar energy into electricity: using solar panels, which use light to produce electricity directly; burning biomass, which is plant matter, and using a solar furnace to produce steam. Teachers may want to point out that there are 2 main types of solar panels which use completely different technologies to make use of the energy from the sun: solar water heating collectors, which absorb the energy from the sun and transfer it to heat water; and photovoltaic or solar electric panels, which transform the solar radiation directly into electricity. This activity only refers to photovoltaic or solar electric panels.

The students have 100 million to fund these projects. They must decide where the money goes. They can split the money e.g. decide 10 million on one, 50 million on another and 40 million on the third. Each group must then write a report to justify their decision from the evidence provided. The next two pages are evidence cards which give information about the three types of electricity generation. There is a mixture of social, economical and environmental arguments.

Students should work in groups to look through the cards. For them to process the information they should be encouraged to categorise the cards e.g. evidence for each method of generation, further categorised into for and against. Higher ability students could group them into social, economical and environmental arguments. At this point a class discussion could be used to go through some of the advantages and disadvantages of each method. A problem with both solar furnaces and solar panels is that energy needs to be stored for use at night. Teachers may want to point out that during the day, excess energy can be used to charge batteries. It is then stored as chemical energy until the battery is discharged.

Plenary (10 minutes)
Each group feedback their allocation of money. This could be recorded so students can see the most popular choice. At this point a good discussion point would be: Is this method of using the Sun's energy really viable in the UK?

Possible extension
Practical activities to investigate the efficiency of photovoltaic cells and solar heating

News links

BBC news story about the solar furnace power plant in Spain. Includes a video clip and graphics explaining how it works.
Information explaining how photovoltaic cells work. Suitable only for higher level students.
Solar Towers
Another idea to harness the Sun's energy to provide electricity is the use of solar towers. This website explains what this new technology is. Follow the link half-way down the page to see a good video about it.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


Jan 26th, 2009

5 Star

this site has actually helped me to produce some good lessons. thanks very much

Reviewer: viji varghese

Gateway P2

Jan 15th, 2008

5 Star

Fabulous- this has really helped me liven up my lesson! - thank you.

Reviewer: Anona Bamford

very good resource

Sep 5th, 2007

4 Star

used this as the basis for my GTP observation with a Year 9 mixed ability group.

Had to breakdown and restructure the resources a bit first but it was wonderful to see the range of levels at which students could access this topic. Not sure how quite it could be done but I feel it could benefit from amore focused conclusion.

Reviewer: Glen Betts


Jun 6th, 2007

4 Star

I was not able to download the slides to use in the classroom, otherwise the material was very good and contained a lot of activities for the pupils to carry out. If the worksheets were to be used on their own then it would have been difficult to do as there wasn't sufficient information on how to carry out the activities.

Reviewer: Caroline Ene

Here Comes the Sun

May 24th, 2007

4 Star

Great activity but I think it is a bit misleading to impley that a hotter April would be a sunnier April. Hotter does not neccessarily mean it will be sunnier. Perhaps lower cloud cover could be linked to the possibility of more use of PV cells?
"All that extra sunlight hitting the Earth" suggests more light energy coming from the Sun to some of my students.

Reviewer: Mary Compton

Here Comes The Sun?

May 17th, 2007

4 Star

Looks like a great activity but one or two scientific errors. The sheets refer to solar panels as generating electricity! Solar panels heat water - solar (or photovoltaic) CELLS produce electricity from sunlight. It also talks about storing electricity in batteries - we can charge batteries but energy is stored as chemical energy - Please make sure the kids get these messages if you run the activity.

Thanks Chris for pointing out these potential sources of confusion. The teachers' notes have been edited to add further clarification. (Ed)

Reviewer: Chris Hayton