How is Solar Energy used in society?

Solar Energy no longer simply refers to ‘being environmentally friendly’. In fact, it has become part of a global debate about saving the earth. In the past forty-years, carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels have more than doubled and Australia is one of the world’s biggest consumers. These human activities with non-renewable energy sources have played a major role in contributing to effects such as greenhouse gas, climate change, air pollution, acid rain and disrupted landscapes and eco-systems. The warning cry about Global Warming has increased the use of renewable energies including Solar Energy and has resulted in a number of products that are energy efficient, utilize solar power and reduce the harmful effect of non-renewable energy resources.

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There have been many innovations in the utilization of solar energy. One of the biggest innovations has been the ‘Photovoltaic Modules’ otherwise known as solar panels, which are usually placed on roof tops. These panels contain a series of cells that convert sunlight directly into electricity. Doing so in a manner that is clean, renewable, manageable and non-polluting. These panels can reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by 3.6 tonnes a year. One of the more exciting developments in solar energy has been ‘Solar Cars’. In 2005, the first ever solar-car rally took place in Australia. Scientific talent from all over the world flocked to Australia for a ‘no-fuel allowed’ rally. Competitors raced more than 3,000 kilometres in solar-powered cars and the winners reached an average speed of 100km/h.

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How can schools go Solar?

Education is one of the most important means of a sustainable future. Implementing sustainable living into a curriculum to help students become reflective and deep thinkers, ethical and responsible citizens and connected learners will assist our future and help combat global warming. Hands-on activities and practices within the school, that directly involve students in the research and decision-making, to utilize more renewable energy and enhance environmental sustainability is the best education. Some integrated activities can include:

  • Have students research the positives and negatives of installing solar panels in the school. They can utilize mathematical, scientific and English skills to work out costs involved, write a budget, develop plans for solar implementation into the school and to write a proposal to the school Environmental council for the use of Solar Energy.
  • Students can create their own environmental council that develops initiatives related to recycling, reducing the use of electricity in schools and reviewing/implementing energy efficient products and using appliances more effectively.
  • Students can do an energy audit of the school - this can be a whole school approach with different levels partaking in a manner appropriate to age and ability.
  • Students can research the effect of trees (how do they alter the greenhouse effect and reduce global warming?) and sun in the solar energy and develop new landscaping/architectural diagrams and maps that reflect their research.
  • Get students conducting experiments with solar energy such as ‘Harnessing the energy from the sun to power a parabolic oven’ and building small greenhouses to see the effect of the sun.
  • Have students study energy by looking at its effect in a variety of sources. Have students keep a record of this information.

Teacher Resources for Solar Education:

Solar Schools: National Solar Schools Educational Website. (2008). Activities. Retrieved March 14th 2008 from:

The University of NSW: Department of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications. (1998). The Solar School. Retrieved March 14th from:

Science Upd8.(2008). Retrieved March 14th from:

The University of NSW, The Environment Trust and The Department of Built Environment. (2008). Teaching Sustainability. Retrieved March 11th from:

The Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. (2008). Energy Efficiency. Retrieved on March 14th from:>

Watts On School: Bringing Solar Energy to the Communities We Serve. (2004).
Solar Energy Activities. Retrieved on March 11th from:>