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Solar energy

This content is provided by the 49ers Museum Education Program.

Introduction to solar energy

Levi’s Stadium®, home of the San Francisco 49ers, uses solar energy to help produce electricity. Levi’s® Stadium is powered with assistance from 1,186 solar panels that are in a solar terrace on top of the stadium with three solar energy pedestrian bridges. By taking advantage of solar energy, we can have a pollution-free, environmentally friendly source of electricity.
Picture of sunny day and Levi stadium. Dotted arrows from the sun point to the top of the stadium walls where solar panels are installed, and solid arrows point from the solar panels to the scoreboards which use the electricity from the solar panels.
Solar energy can be converted to electricity using solar panels, and that electricity can be used to power the lights and scoreboard in Levi’s® Stadium!
The sun is the primary source of the earth’s energy. The light and energy that comes directly from the sun is called solar energy. You might also hear solar energy referred to as radiation. We will be using those terms interchangeably in this article.
The sun’s energy reaches the earth in the form of rays of sunlight. Sunlight is a form of electromagnetic radiation, which is also sometimes called light or heat. That might sound really confusing, but it turns out that all of those terms refer to forms of energy.

Heat transfer: Atoms absorb radiation

In order for us to be able to use solar energy in useful ways, atoms must absorb radiation. One example of this process is when radiation from the sun is absorbed by a seat in a football stadium. The atoms that make up the stadium seat absorb the energy, which causes the atoms in the seat to start vibrating faster. From the viewpoint of the person trying to sit in the seat, this makes the seat feel hot.
When the sun sets, the atoms in the stadium seat transfer the energy back into their surroundings, and the seat eventually cools as a result. Both of these processes are examples of heat or energy transfer. Heat transfer is the exchange of energy in the form of heat between physical systems, such as between the sun and the stadium seat.
It turns out that we can use solar energy to do other things besides making things hotter. In the next section, we will discuss how photovoltaics can be used to convert solar energy into electricity.

Solar panels and photovoltaics

In order to convert solar energy to electricity, we use photovoltaic solar panels. These are solar collection panels around Levi’s® Stadium that have a non-reflective covering with semiconductors beneath which absorb sunlight.
picture of solar panels
Photovoltaic solar panels can be used to convert solar energy into electricity
A semiconductor is a substance that can conduct electricity under some conditions but not others. One example of a semiconductor is silicon.
When the atoms of the semiconductor absorb solar energy, negatively charged electrons can be separated from the rest of the atom. The electrons produce an electrical current that can be collected and used for many applications.
Using photovoltaics, solar energy can be converted to electricity and that electricity can be used to power the lights and scoreboard at Levi’s® Stadium!
This content is provided by the 49ers Museum Education Program.

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