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6th Grade Science / Lesson 2 - Sunlight Turned into Electricity

Sunlight Turned into Electricity

What will we be learning today?

  • In this lesson, we are going to learn about how sunlight can be turned into electricity.

  • How Can Sunlight Be Turned into Electricity?

    Scientists have developed materials made mainly of silicon that can produce electrons when struck by light. When layered properly these materials can be made into solar cells. Solar cells generate an electric current from sunlight. The electricity can be used to charge batteries or run motors. Solar cells can power an electric vehicle. Solar cells can also be positioned on rooftops to provide electricity for buildings.

    A single solar cell

    An experimental electric car powered by many solar cells connected together

    In some locations engineers have built large power plants that use many mirrors to focus the Sun's rays onto a central collector. The focused rays heat water to boiling or melt salt at high temperatures in the collector. The heat energy is used to make steam, which in turn spins a turbine and generates electricity.

    One such power plant is located at Daggett, California. Called Solar Two, this facility began operating in 1996. It has nearly 2,000 mirrors and can provide 10,000 homes with electricity.
    These mirrors focus the Sun's rays onto the top of the 300-foot tower at the center of Solar Two.
    There molten salt is heated to temperatures greater than 1,000F.

    This is a close-up view of the mirrors used in Solar Two.
    The mirrors automatically follow the Sun as it moves across the sky.

    Scientists predict that billions of years from now, the Sun will burn out. Until then, however, it will produce a steady supply of energy. You might describe the Sun's energy as inexhaustible, meaning it will always be there for us to use.