STEM Spark Energy Education News - Solar Energy

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Energy Education News - September 2016 

This Issue: Solar Energy - Next Issue: Energy Action

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Each STEM Spark Energy Education Newsletter will focus on the latest K-Grey Energy Education resources, competitions, and innovations from the Department of Energy and will highlight a variety of energy technologies. Please share with your education and workforce development community. Sign up here to subscribe to the monthly newsletter!

Solar Energy Overview


The Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative is working to make solar energy cost competitive by the end of the decade. The office funds cooperative research, development, demonstration, and deployment projects to drive down the cost of solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour or $1 per watt (not including incentives). Five years into the Energy Department’s decade-long SunShot Initiative, the solar industry is already more than 70% of the way to achieving SunShot’s cost target.

What is Solar Radiation?

Solar Cells

Solar radiation, often called the solar resource, is a general term for the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the sun. Solar radiation can be captured and turned into useful forms of energy, such as heat and electricity, using a variety of technologies. However, the technical feasibility and economical operation of these technologies at a specific location depends on the available solar resource. Read about basic principles here.

What is Solar Photovoltaics (PV)?

Photovoltaic 101

Photovoltaic (PV) materials and devices convert sunlight into electrical energy. A single PV device is known as a cell. An individual PV cell is usually small, typically producing about 1 or 2 watts of power. To boost the power output of PV cells, they are connected together in chains to form larger units known as modules or panels. Modules can be used individually, or several can be connected to form arrays. One or more arrays is then connected to the electrical grid as part of a complete PV system. Because of this modular structure, PV systems can be built to meet almost any electric power need, small or large. Watch video.

What is Concentrating Solar Power (CSP)?


Concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a single point where it is collected and converted into heat. This thermal energy can then be used to produce electricity. Concentrating solar power systems are generally used for utility-scale projects. The mirrors in CSP plants focus sunlight onto a receiver that heats a high-temperature fluid, which is used to spin a turbine or power an engine that drives a generator. The final product is electricity. Read more and watch video.

Sun-Powered Schools: Universities Go Solar

Solar Universities

Dormitory mini fridges, dishwashers in dining halls, and campus computer labs are just a few of the things that can create large utility bills for colleges and universities across the country. The SunShot Initiative is working to make it easier for college campuses to use solar energy to help ease the financial burden of around-the-clock operation. Read more about Solar Market Pathways.

Solar Decathlon - October 2017 in Denver

Solar Decathalon

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon challenges collegiate teams to design and build full-size, solar-powered homes that push the limits of innovation in a series of 10 contests. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends design excellence and smart energy production with innovation, market appeal, and energy and water efficiency. The Solar Decathlon is October 5-17, 2017 in Denver, Colorado and free to the public. 

Make your Home Solar

Solar Home

Since 2008, hundreds of thousands of solar panels have popped up across the country as an increasing number of Americans choose to power their daily lives with the sun’s energy. You may be considering the option of adding a solar energy system to your home’s roof or finding another way to harness the sun’s energy. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solar solution, here are some resources that can help you figure out what’s best for you. Consider these questions before you go solar.

Solar Success Story - Back to Basics

Solar Success

As any athlete will tell you, going back to the basics when practicing a sport can provide a refreshed perspective on skills that will improve overall performance. One SunShot Initiative awardee found the same principle can be applied to the science behind the decades-old practice of attaching metal contacts to solar cells. Read more about BRIDGE.

Women@Energy - Solar Energy

Nora Wang

Nora Wang is an engineer in the Building Energy Systems group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. She has ten years of research experience in building energy efficiency and sustainability. She received her doctorate in architecture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She began her career in architecture, gaining experience on international projects and winning several design competitions. In 2007, Nora led the Illinois Solar Decathlon team to win two contests in Washington D.C. More Women@Energy.

On the Path to Sunshot

Sunshot Report

When the SunShot Initiative launched in 2011, it set the goal of making solar electricity cost-competitive with conventional sources of electricity by 2020. Since then, solar deployment has grown more than tenfold in the U.S. with more than one million solar installations currently operating across the country. The cost of solar energy has also dropped as much as 65%. As a result, the industry is approximately 70% of the way toward meeting the SunShot 2020 goals.

Social Media Solar Challenge

Solar Kids

Join the challenge! Have your class or entire school make a solar project and post pictures on your social media channels using #energy, email us at and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We look forward to connecting with you!

Department of Energy Student Contests and Competitions


National Science Bowl February-March 2017
BioenergizeME Infographic Challenge Sign up September 30, 2016!
Earth Day Poster Contest April 1, 2017 Deadline

Higher Education

Collegiate Wind Competition 
Solar Decathlon October 5-17, 2017 in Denver, CO
Race to Zero November 1, 2017 Deadline
EcoCar Challenge
Cleantech University Prize (Cleantech UP)

All Ages

Wave Energy Prize

School/School District

Wind for Schools
Better Building Challenge
Solar Communities Challenge 

Classroom Solar Energy Activities

Build A Solar Box Oven (K-12)
Solar Cell Simulation (K-4)
Exploring Photovoltaics (9-12) 

Energy 101 Videos
Energy Literacy Videos
Energy Literacy Framework
Energy Teach and Learn

Career Resources

Career Maps

Solar Careers
Wind Careers


Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships October 7, 2016 Deadline - Sign up NOW!
Minority Educational Institution Student Partnership Program
Student Volunteer Internship Program
Clean Cities University Workforce Development Program


Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education - ORISE
Department of Energy Computer Science Fellowship 
DOE Office of Science Graduate Research Program
Bioenergy Technologies Office Fellowships

Teacher Professional Development

Triple-E Teachers Seminar, National Energy Technology Laboratory
November 17-18, 2016 NETL – Pittsburg, Pennsylvania 

Department of Energy Calendar

September 30 - BioEnergizeME Registration Opens

October - Energy Awareness/Action Month

October 7 - National Manufacturing Day
October 8 - National Hydrogen Fuel Cell Day
October 19 - National BioEnergy Day (BioEnergy Week)
October 30 - Weatherization Day - 40th Anniversary

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