Solar Energy Science & Architectures – PHY 305 - course for Fall 2013.
Novartis building in Switzerland with integrated solar electric modules (Wikipedia).
As the world looks for sustainable energy sources, the solar energy industry has grown enormously, and it is possible that solar energy will become one of the major 21st Century industries and employers. This course will cover the science and uses of solar energy, providing a solid foundation for anyone interested in working with solar energy technologies or in understanding solar energy’s potential for powering the Earth’s civilizations.
PHY 305 is for students with a little background in calculus. Mathematics, economics, and business majors are welcome! PHY 305 meets the general requirement for a lab science course by the Liberal Arts Core. Many engineering and science majors accept it as an upper-division elective.
The class will investigate important questions in sustainability, energy economics, basic science, engineering, and architecture:
How much solar energy is available on earth? What are solar energy's properties, and how do the properties vary around the earth, from season to season, and during each day?
Solar energy is a green technology, but could it be sufficient to satisfy our energy needs? How does solar energy compare to the energy from mined resources such as coal and oil?
What are the devices that we can use to harvest solar energy to make electricity, to heat homes, and to make fuels? How do they work? Can we make them work better? Can we design buildings and other structures to better exploit solar energy?
What are the costs of the differing architectures for harvesting solar energy, and how do they compare with the costs of other forms of energy? How can we predict these costs into the future?
While these questions involve applied science, they offer windows onto fundamental principles that will also be introduced in this course.
Students will learn about “blackbody spectra” that describe how the sun, the planets, and the universe emit light, and that are used to understand the planetary greenhouse effect and the efficiency of solar collectors.
You’ll learn about the photoelectric effect that’s involved when a solar cell converts sunlight into electricity; Albert Einstein got his Nobel Prize for explaining it.
We’ll also discuss the surprisingly accurate “experience curve,” a concept from economics that shows how the cost of manufacturing new devices decreases over time in a systematic way and that can be used to predict the future cost of a technology.
At the end of this course students will have achieved a solid understanding of the basic science behind solar energy that can inform economic, political, and scientific decision-making in this important industry.
When and Where:
Credit hours: 3 Course id: xxxxx
Meets: Tuesday/Thursday 5:00-6:20 PM in room 104N Physics.
Co-requisite: This class is open to students who are taking (or have previously taken) any calculus class. There are no other prerequisite physics (or other) classes; some high school chemistry or physics will be helpful.
Course requirements: There will be readings, homework, and examinations on the quantitative aspects of the course. Students will research a related subject and present their findings in class.
Instructor: Eric Schiff is a physics professor who has been doing solar cell research for about 20 years. You can reach him at his syr.edu e-mail account (username: easchiff), or take a look at his webpage http://www.phy.syr.edu/~schiff/ .
Syracuse University, rev. March 15, 2013.