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'Solar, So Good!' Project 4: Solar Panel Installation

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How to effectively plan and design a solar panel installation to maximize energy efficiency and promote sustainable energy practices?


Planning and designing a solar panel installation to promote sustainable and renewable energy solutions.



The solar energy project aims to engage students in a problem-based learning approach to plan and design a solar panel installation. Students will explore the benefits of solar energy, assess the viability of different locations, calculate energy production and cost savings, analyze the environmental impact, and consider factors like tilt angles and carbon footprint. Through hands-on activities, research, and tools like Google Sunroof and PVWatts, students will develop critical thinking skills, enhance their understanding of renewable energy, and contribute to a more sustainable and resilient future.




Roles for teacher

Roles for students

Day 1

Students will analyze the problem statement, calculate the Smith family's monthly utility bill, and use Google Sunroof to find the best location for solar panel installation. This sets the stage for their journey toward designing an efficient and sustainable solar energy solution.

Mentor, Resource Provider, Knowledge Guide

Researchers, Analyzers, Designers

Day 2 

Students will use PVwatts to calculate the optimum tilt angle for their solar panels, ensuring maximum energy generation. They will then transition to Tinkercad to simulate their solar panel circuit, gaining hands-on experience designing and connecting components like solar cells, batteries, bulbs, and motors.


Day 3

Students will engage in financial analysis by calculating the potential savings achieved through solar panels. They will consider the initial cost, incentives, total energy production, and energy consumption over a specified period.


Additionally, students will delve into the environmental impact of their solar panel system by calculating their carbon footprint. They will compare the emissions associated with solar energy generation to those from conventional electricity sources.


Day 4

Students will engage in a reflective session to consolidate their learning and explore critical thinking questions related to the project. They can reflect on their experiences, insights, and challenges throughout the project.


Note: This project will mainly be carried out by the students (individually or in groups). The teacher plays the role of facilitator. All the required information will be provided in the students’ worksheets.




Copies need


Student worksheet

1 per student

Please download the answer key here

Detailed lesson plan


Teaching Moves

Introduction to Summative Assessment


                                                              Day 1


Introduction (10 minutes)

  • Start the session by introducing the project and its objectives.
  • Explain the importance of solar energy and its potential benefits.
  • Present the problem of finding a suitable house for the Smith family and their interest in solar panel installation.

Problem Analysis and Monthly Utility Bill Calculation (25 minutes)

  • Guide students in analyzing the problem statement and understanding the factors in selecting a suitable location for solar panel installation.
  • Discuss the concept of a monthly utility bill and its calculation.
  • Instruct students to calculate the monthly utility bill based on the given information on their worksheet.

**Note: Students can work individually or in pairs.


Introduction to Google Sunroof (15 minutes)

  • Explain the purpose and functionality of Google Sunroof as a tool for assessing solar potential in specific locations.
  • Demonstrate how to access and navigate the Google Sunroof website.
  • Highlight the key features and information available through Google Sunroof, such as solar suitability, savings estimation, and environmental impact.

Using Google Sunroof to Find Suitable Locations (40 minutes)

  • Students to explore the specific locations (shortlisted by the Smith family) in the Boston/Cambridge area.
  • Guide students in interpreting the data provided by Google Sunroof and identifying the most viable location for solar panel installation for the Smith family.

For the educators,

Sunlight Availability: Students should choose a location with sufficient sunlight throughout the year. Areas with fewer obstructions, such as tall buildings or trees that may cast shadows on the solar panels, are preferred.


Roof Suitability: Students need to evaluate the suitability of the roof for solar panels. The roof should have enough space, appropriate orientation, and tilt to maximize sunlight exposure.


Profitability: Students should assess the financial viability of the location. Factors such as the cost of installing solar panels, potential energy savings, available incentives or rebates, and the payback period should be considered to determine the profitability of the investment.


Conclusion (10 minutes)

Facilitate a class discussion on the advantages and challenges of solar panel installation in different locations.

Conclude the session by summarizing the key takeaways and setting expectations for the next session.


                                                                Day 2 


Introduction (20 min)

  • Begin the session by briefly recapping the previous session.
  • Ask students to fill out the worksheet.
  • Introduce PVWatts to calculate the optimum tilt angle based on location parameters.
  • Demonstrate how to use PVWatts, including inputting the location details (latitude, weather data, etc.) and interpreting the results.
  • Answer any initial questions and ensure students understand the purpose and process of determining the optimum tilt angle.

PVWatts Calculation Activity (40 minutes)

  • Instruct students to use PVWatts to calculate the optimum tilt angle for the chosen location in Boston.
  • Encourage students to collaborate, share their findings, and discuss any challenges or questions they encounter during the process.
  • Circulate among the students, providing guidance and support as needed.
  • Monitor the progress and address any common misconceptions or difficulties students may have in interpreting the PVWatts results.
  • Emphasize the significance of the optimum tilt angle in maximizing solar energy generation and highlight the implications for solar panel installations.

Additional notes for educators:

  • Students are to use the solar installation capacity obtained from the sunroof project.
  • Students only adjust the tilt angle parameter.
  • Advanced learners may attempt to adjust other parameters.

Tinkercad Simulation Activity (40 minutes)

  • Transition to the Tinkercad simulation activity.
  • Instruct students to access Tinkercad and create a rough simulation of a solar panel circuit.
  • Guide students to select the available components (solar cells, batteries, bulbs, and motors) and connect them to mimic the flow of energy in a solar panel system.
  • Encourage students to experiment with different configurations and observe the circuit's behavior, noting the effects of proper wiring and energy flow.

Wrap-up and Reflection (10 minutes)

  • Gather the students for a brief wrap-up session.
  • Summarize the key learnings from the day, focusing on the significance of the optimum tilt angle and the basics of circuit design for solar energy systems.
  • Encourage students to reflect on their experiences with PVWatts and Tinkercad, and ask them to share any insights or discoveries they made during the activities.

                                                                Day 3


Introduction and Recap (10 minutes)

  • Begin the session by recapping the previous day's activities, using Google Sunroof to assess location viability and PVWatts to determine the optimum tilt angle.
  • Remind students of the importance of financial analysis and carbon footprint calculation in evaluating the benefits of solar panel installation.

Financial Analysis Activity (40 minutes)

  • Instruct students to calculate (on their worksheet) the total cost savings of the solar panel installation over 20 years, considering the initial cost, available incentives, energy production, and energy consumption.
  • Facilitate discussions within groups, ensuring students consider factors such as the payback period, return on investment, and long-term cost savings.
  • Ask the students to compare their results with the sunroof project.

Additional notes for educators:

Many factors have been left out to simplify the calculation procedure for the students, resulting in much higher profits. Some of these factors are

  • Depreciation: Over time, the efficiency and performance of solar panels may decline. Google Sunroof may not consider the impact of panel degradation or the decrease in power output over the panels' lifespan. This can affect the actual savings realized over time.
  • Maintenance and repairs: The costs associated with regular maintenance and occasional repairs of solar panels are not typically factored into the savings calculations. These costs include cleaning, inspections, and any necessary replacements or repairs due to weather damage or component failures.
  • Insurance: The calculations on Google Sunroof may not account for the cost of insuring the solar panel system. Insuring the panels against potential damages or liabilities can add expense that affects the overall financial picture.
  • Financing costs: If the solar panel system is financed through a loan or lease, the interest charges, administrative fees, or lease payments may not be fully considered in the savings calculations. These costs can reduce the overall savings realized from the solar panel installation.
  • System lifespan and replacement: While Google Sunroof may provide estimated savings over a specific timeframe, it may not fully account for the eventual replacement or upgrade of the solar panel system. As the system reaches the end of its lifespan, there will be costs associated with replacing the panels or upgrading to newer technologies.

Carbon Footprint Calculation Activity (30 minutes)

  • Introduce the concept of carbon footprint and its significance in evaluating the environmental impact of energy consumption.
  • Instruct students to calculate (using the equivalence calculator) the carbon footprint associated with using electricity produced through burning fossil fuels for the estimated energy consumption.
  • Guide students through the calculations, emphasizing the reduction in carbon emissions achieved through solar panel installation.

Discussion and Reflection (10 minutes)

  • Facilitate a reflective discussion on the potential economic and environmental impacts of solar panel installation, highlighting the importance of sustainability and renewable energy.
  • Address any questions or misconceptions raised by the students and provide additional clarification or guidance as needed.
  • Conclude the day by emphasizing the significance of their work in evaluating the practical benefits of solar energy and promoting environmental consciousness.

                                                              Day 4


Reflection and Discussion: Begin the day by allowing students to reflect on their overall experience and learning throughout the project. Encourage them to share their thoughts, insights, and challenges faced during the process. Facilitate a group discussion to foster critical thinking and encourage students to analyze the outcomes of their decisions.


Critical Thinking Questions: Provide students with a set of essential questions of thinking related to the project.


Additional activities:
Group Presentations: Divide students into small groups and assign each group a specific topic or aspect related to the project, such as financial analysis, environmental impact, or social implications. Instruct each group to prepare a short presentation summarizing their findings, insights, and recommendations. Allow time for each group to present their findings to the class and facilitate a discussion after each presentation.
Additional activities:
Solar Energy Campaign: Divide students into small groups and assign each group a target audience, such as homeowners, businesses, or schools. Instruct them to develop a creative solar energy campaign to raise awareness and promote the benefits of solar panel installation to their assigned audience. They can create posters, brochures, social media content, or short videos.

Assessment Rubrics - Summative Assessment





Problem Analysis

Students provide a fundamental analysis of the problem statement but may have significant omissions or need coherence in their argument. Their understanding of the problem and analysis may be limited or superficial.

Students analyze the problem statement and consider relevant factors while selecting the house but may have minor omissions or need more thoroughness in their argument. They demonstrate a good understanding of the problem and provide rational analysis.

Students thoroughly analyze the problem statement, consider all relevant factors, and present a well-supported argument for their choice of house. They demonstrate a deep understanding of the problem and provide comprehensive and insightful analysis.

Technical Skills

Students show some proficiency in using Google Sunroof, PVWatts, and Tinkercad but need to correct several errors or omissions in their calculations and simulations. Their technical skills are developing, and they show some understanding of the tools and calculations.

Students demonstrate proficiency in using Google Sunroof, PVWatts, and Tinkercad. They accurately perform the required calculations and simulations with minor errors or omissions. Their technical skills are solid and show competency in using the tools and performing calculations.

Students demonstrate high proficiency in using Google Sunroof, PVWatts, and Tinkercad. They accurately calculate the required solar panel capacity, determine the optimal tilt angle, and effectively simulate the solar panel circuit. Their technical skills are advanced, and they show mastery of the tools and calculations.

Financial Analysis

Students attempt a financial analysis but need help with calculating the required components. The comparison of the financial implications may need more clarity or detail.

Students conduct a sound financial analysis, accurately calculating most of the required components, but may have some minor errors or omissions. They compare the financial implications with and without solar panels, although it may need some clarity or detail.

Students conduct a comprehensive financial analysis, accurately calculating the total cost savings, incentives, energy production, consumption, and credits. They provide a clear and detailed comparison of the financial implications with and without solar panels.

Critical Thinking

Students demonstrate critical thinking skills, but their answers to the reflection questions need more depth or coherence. Their analysis of the implications may be limited or need more clarity. Their responses provide basic reasoning with little supporting evidence.

Students show good critical thinking skills by answering the reflection questions with insight, analyzing the implications of solar panel installation, and providing reasonable arguments. Their answers demonstrate solid critical thinking and offer some supporting evidence.

Students demonstrate excellent critical thinking skills by answering the reflection questions with deep insight, analyzing the broader implications of solar panel installation, and providing well-reasoned arguments. Their answers are thought-provoking, well-supported, and showcase a high level of critical thinking.


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