Teaching Physics with the Physics Suite

Edward F. Redish

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Converting to Solar Power

According to a recent report, the average amount of electrical energy used by a US household is about 10,000 kWh (kiloWatt-hours) per year. Is it reasonable to assume this could be provided by solar energy? The average solar energy received in the US averages about 5 kWh/m2/day. A solar cell may have an efficiency of about 10%; that is, it converts about 10% of the energy falling on it to electrical energy. Estimate the amount of area that would have to be devoted to solar cells in order to handle all of the electricity needs for households in the US. (Note: The usage estimate only includes households and does not include business, manufacturing, or transportation.)

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