Solar Age

Team: 9

School: Capital High

Area of Science: Global Warming/Solar Energy/CS/Engineering

Interim: When fossil fuels go through the combustion process they release carbon dioxide into the air (known as greenhouse gas) that has greatly contributed to global climate change. It’s because this greenhouse gas has absorbed the heat from the sun causing the temperature of the surface of the Earth and its lower atmosphere to keep increasing (The Environmental Literacy Council).
Global warming is dangerous to the environment, because it causes more frequent wildfires, coastal flooding, loss of sea ice and increased sea level, as well as constantly increasing average annual temperatures. Based on the graph from NASA, we’ve observed that nineteen of the twenty warmest years all have occurred since 2001, with the exception of 1998 (NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory).
However, as we found out, climate change is not the only problem. According to many experts, the world has already reached the peak for oil extraction (The Environmental Literacy Council). And that is why, we decided to do more research about these problems and to learn how to address and solve them.
While working on this project, we’ve learned that the solution to these problems is renewable energy, which is clean and unlimited in a variety of forms. Some examples are hydropower, wind power, and solar power. Since there are about 325 sunny days here in Santa Fe, our focus has been on this last (but not least) solar energy (Santa Fe Convention Center). We’ve mostly wanted to learn how to determine the size of the PV systems for given households, how they are installed and used, what their approximate cost might be, but most of all how they work, and how to improve their efficiency.
For this reason, we’ve made a lot of research with the help of a few professional mentors, including our own Intro to Computer Science teacher, and a retired electrical engineer from Silicon Valley. We expanded our learning on things such as the average cost of the solar system in the U.S. (which, according to EnergySage that connects homeowners with solar installers is $2.91 per watt), and the approximate total cost of the system (which is calculated by multiplying the size of the PV system by this 2.91 rate). We’ve also learned that since standard residential polycrystalline solar panels produce 275 watts energy, then in order to determine the approximate number of panels needed, we have to divide the size of the PV system by 275 (SolarReviews). We’ve learned an abundance of different terminology and really the foundation of the use of solar energy.
Based on all these above details and facts about PV systems, we were able to write two computer programs, one using JavaScript, and the other one using Python programming language, which output annual electricity usage and cost, system size and its annual production, total and net price, and payoff time of the PV system based on only two inputs from the user: daily electricity usage and cost.
Our next focus was on how PV panels work. What we’ve learned is that they are made from silicon that absorbs sunlight, which then knocks electrons loose allowing them to flow freely (HowStuffWorks). Since they all flow in one direction, they are called direct current (DC). With this and more research our next step was working on a prototype of the solar tracker. We worked with our engineering mentor on writing a mathematical model and other Python programs.
We will continue working with our engineering mentor and learn from him how he programmed the prototype of the PV system, which he built for the purposes of this project, and which he used in order to collect lab data for our model. We would also like to explore how the efficiency of the open rack systems can be improved by manually tilting them at different angles during each season of the year.

EnergySage. “How Much Does a 4.5 kW Solar System Cost in 2020?” energysage, 2020, Accessed 16 September 2020.
The Environmental Literacy Council. “Fossil Fuels.” The Environmental Literacy Council, 2015, Accessed 10 September 2020.
HowStuffWorks. “How Solar Cells Work.” science.howstuffworks, 2020, Accessed 25 September 2020.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Global Temperature.” Global Climate Change, 2020, Accessed 5 October 2020.
Santa Fe Convention Center. “Santa Fe Weather.” Santa Fe, 2020, Accessed 3 November 2020.
SolarReviews. “How Much Energy Does A Solar Panel Produce?” SolarReviews, 2020, Accessed 15 September 2020.

Team Members:

  Joshua Tamarra
  Zachariah Burch
  Christopher Mendoza

Sponsoring Teacher: Barbara Teterycz

Mail the entire Team