How does Solar Power make electricity?


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And more great episodes come out every Monday. Find out How to Be a Better Human wherever you get your podcasts. And now it’s time for Who’s Smarted. Uh, how much longer are we going to be up here? Almost done.

You good there, trusty? Oh yeah, I’m just glad I have my safety harness on. You don’t spend too much time up on roofs, do you? Me? No. I prefer being inside a house than on top of it. Oh, hi smarty pants.

In case you were wondering, my friend Lois here is installing shiny black panels on top of a roof. You may have seen panels like these on houses in the town or city that you live in. Do you know what these panels are called?

Are they electric panels, lunar panels, or solar panels? Yep, you guessed it, solar panels. On a beautiful day like this, it’s nice to help someone capture the power of the sun. Say, did someone say the The power of the sun?

Oh, it’s you. Again. Whoa, is that a bird? Is that a plane? Nope, it’s… Solar Man! How are you flying on your own? And you have a cape! Wait, are you the Man of Steel? No, no, more like the Man of Extra Strength Porcelain.

Nobody should confuse me with a certain other flying cape superhero. Gotcha. Hang on, Lois! I’ll save you! Ugh, Solar Man, stop! I’ve told you many times I’m perfectly safe up here. Uh, does Solar Man visit you often?

Often is an understatement. Try constantly. He keeps thinking I’m in danger. Did someone say, danger? Here I am to save the day! Ugh, I don’t need saving! I’m doing my job, installing panels for solar power!

Ah yes, with the power of the sun, you can do amazing things! That’s true! Like fly! Uh, not quite. And shoot lasers from your eyeballs! Uh, no. Smarty Pants, do you know what the power of the sun can be used for?

Or how solar power works in the first place? And how might we one day get solar power with the help of robots in space? Well, get ready for a super whiff of science and history on… How smart, Ed? Who’s smarted?

Who’s smart? Is it you? Is it me? Is it science or history? Listen up! Everyone, we make smarty lots of fun on who’s smarted! True or false, Smarty Pants? Spending time under the sun can be good for you.

The answer is true. Yes, you do need to protect yourself with sunblock, but there are many benefits to getting a good amount of sunlight. The sun helps your body produce vitamin D, which boosts your blood cells, bones, and immune system.

And as you might know from our Brain Chemicals episode, the sun makes your brain release a hormone called serotonin, which puts you in a good mood and gives you more energy. The sun certainly provides energy.

You could say it gives you superpowers! Just look at me! With the strength of the sun, I can easily bend this hammer! Whoops! Thanks, I needed that. Well, unless you’re from another planet, like solar!

man here the sun is not going to give you super strength but it can give your home a major boost of power that’s why I’m installing these panels they’ll capture energy from the Sun which can be used for lights TVs smartphones computers appliances video games basically anything that requires electricity of course there are some issues with solar panels smarty pants just how much power do you think comes from two hours of sunlight hitting the earth’s surface a enough to power the world be enough to power a city see enough to power a house or D less than that considering an entire roof might be covered in panels for just one house you could think the Sun doesn’t provide A, in two hours, the sun provides enough energy to power the entire world, and not just for a day or two, but for the whole year.

Whoa. The sun is the world’s largest source of clean energy, and it won’t run out for billions of years. So why aren’t more people using it? I blame my archenemy, Lex Loafer. He wants all the power of the sun to himself so he can control the planet.

But I’m on to his diabolical plan. Uh, I don’t think that’s it. What else can it be? Actually, it’s the solar panels themselves. [“Dramatic Music”] Smarty Pants, do you know what Lois means when she says the solar panels are the problem?

Is it A, solar panels don’t work well on cloudy days? B, they’re very expensive. Or C, they don’t capture enough energy. The answer, sadly, is all three. Smarty Pants, follow -up question. Can you guess how much of the sun’s energy these panels can turn into electricity?

Is it 10%, 20%, or 50 %? Which is it, Lois? The solar cells which make up these panels can capture and use only about 20% of all that energy provided by the sun. That’s like cutting a pizza into five slices, taking one slice, and throwing the rest away.

Yikes. It hurts my heart just thinking about all that wasted pizza. Heh. Heh. Heh. I know, I know. But the technology is improving. In fact, scientists have developed panels that can capture twice as much energy.

Ooh! And we’ve still come a long way from the first solar cells, which captured a measly 1 .5%. Yay! Smarty Pants, any guesses how old solar power technology is? Has it been around for 30 years? 70 years, 100 years, or more.

Believe it or not, it’s been around for about 150 years, although modern solar panels only go back about 70 years. That might still seem like a long time, but it really isn’t when you think that we’ve been burning things for heat and energy for thousands of years.

And over time, that’s caused polluted air and climate change. I can use my solar powers to clean the air for you. No, no, stop it, Solar Man. Your super -solar breath is gonna make us freeze. Not to mention, it stinks a little.

Sorry, I had tuna fish pizza for lunch. Oh, my heart hurts again. Here, um, have a breath mint. Thanks. Solar Man’s windy breath does help demonstrate a problem with solar panels. The weather. Considering how much energy the sun provides, even at 20%, these panels can collect a lot.

If the sun is shining. If the wind brings in the clouds, these panels aren’t going to collect much. But there are ways around it. For example, you can store extra energy you make on sunny days to help with the cloudy ones.

Or you can remain connected to the power grid and get a mix of power from these panels and power plants. Some power plants are going solar too. There are ones in the desert right now that collect much more energy from the sun and can fuel hundreds of thousands of homes.

And that’s a good thing since installing panels like these and storing energy at home can get expensive. But the price of solar panels is dropping, right? Yes, and that’s why solar power is more popular than ever.

And if this continues, I’m going to be super busy. Same. Because I’m always busy being super. Right. So tell me, how does this all work? Simple. I fly above the clouds. I close my eyes and listen for the sound of someone in distress.

Like Lois. I don’t need any help. I’m fine. Yeah, and I wasn’t talking to Solar Man. I wanted to know how do solar panels capture energy? Oh, I’ll just be above the clouds, listening. To answer your question, trusty, solar panels are like a sandwich.

Oh, sorry. You just reminded me. It’s lunchtime. Uh -huh. Except I’m not talking about a sandwich you can eat. Not unlike a sandwich, there are layers to a solar panel. The top layer is usually glass, which protects the technology.

Under that is a layer of solar cells made with chemical elements called silicon and phosphorus. This layer has a negative charge. Smarty Pants, you might remember us talking about charges in other episodes.

They’re essential for electricity. Do you remember what particles create negative charges? Is it A, protons, B, neutrons, or C, electrons? If you said C, electrons, great job. And the flow of electrons is electricity.

And when sunlight hits the negative silicon layer, it knocks some electrons free. Completing our sandwich underneath a negatively charged layer is another silicon layer. Only this one is mixed with boron, giving that layer a positive charge.

And the loose, negative electrons would move towards a positive charge? Exactly. So now we have moving electrons, which are collected by metal plates in the solar panel and transferred to wires, creating electricity for use anywhere.

And there’s one place where solar electricity is incredibly helpful. Smartypence, can you guess? Solarman knows a lot about it. I do? Yup. And I’ll tell y ‘all what it is right after this quick break and a word from our sponsors.

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I also put the link in the show notes. Happy summer, happy Father’s Day, and happy… be eating! Now back to who smarted. Smarty pants, now that you know how old solar power technology is, and how it works, can you guess what objects use solar power the most when modern silicon panels were first introduced in the 1950s?

Is it A. Trains, B. Satellites, or C. Roller Coasters? The answer is B. Satellites. Most space satellites run on solar power, and the very first satellite powered by solar cells, the Vanguard One, launched in 1958, and it still works today.

I’m sure Solar Man knows a thing or two about space. Is that right, Solar Man? Solar Man? Uh, I think Solar Man left. He could tell Lois was getting a little annoyed with him. But you are Solar Man. Nope, I’m clerk can’t.

Clerk can’t? Everyone knows who you are, clerk. But I’m wearing sunglasses. Yeah, and you’re still wearing your superhero costume and cape. And you’re flying in the air. Fine, you got me. It is I, Solar Man.

That’s good, we need you. You do? Does Lois need saving? No. But Solar Man, you are from space, and space is the future of solar power. Aha, I get it. You want me to go into space and use my solar power to fly super fast around Earth and change the flow of time.

Uh, no. But Smarty Pants, why is going to space a good idea when it comes to solar power? Is it A, there’s no weather to interfere with it? B, space panels can face the sun at all times. Or C, a gigantic amount of electricity could be sent to Earth.

The answer, happily, is all three. Scientists in the USA, Europe, and China are looking at ways to build solar power plants in space. Satellites with giant solar panels would convert the sun’s energy into electricity and then beam that power to Earth.

The United Kingdom is hoping to have a solar power plant working by the year 2035 and has plans to build one with the help of robots in space. Robots in space? Could they be evil robots, perhaps? I don’t think.

Yes, yes, they could be evil robots, which is why we’ll need a superhero up there to make sure nothing goes wrong. Good idea, Lois. I’m on my way to space. The robots aren’t really evil. No, but now that he’s gone, I can finish up.

Oh, great. Then I can get down and have lunch. Hey, where’d those extra four slices of pizza go? Mm -mm -mm. This space pizza is delicious, but it could use a little more tuna fish. Ew. A super shout -out to Super Smarty fan Cooper in Eugene, Oregon.

We’re so happy to hear that you love listening to Who Smarted on your drive to karate twice a week. And we’re so glad you loved attending our space and sea camps. Here’s to lots more smarting together in the future, Cooper.

This episode, Solar Power, was written by Dave, Here Comes the Sun, Bodri, and voiced by Gabby Mayfield, Adam, Solarman, Davis, and Jerry Culber. Technical direction and sound design by Josh Hahn. Our associate producer is Max Kamaski.

The theme song is by Brian Suarez, with lyrics written and performed by Adam Text Davis. Who Smarted was created and produced by Adam Text Davis and Jerry Culber. This has been an Atomic Entertainment production.

Thank you. Who’s smarted?