The project has been devised by David Craig, Regional Co-ordinator Edinburgh and West Lothian of the Young Engineers and Science Clubs of Scotland.
A wide selection of schools is taking part – 13 in all – from the mainland and the islands, so a comprehensive set of results across a variety of situations and conditions is expected.
Follow the sun?
Most solar panels are fixed and do not follow the sun on a daily basis. However given the fact that Orkney is so far north, the daily movement of the sun is more significant than elsewhere.
Although not renowned for hot sunny weather, Orkney does have long hours of daylight during summer so it would make sense to try and make the most of it.
If you fix a solar panel up to face south, for a substantial part of the day the sun is behind it,” says David.
Certainly in the case of Orkney it would seem worthwhile investigating steering a solar panel to track the sun as it moves.”
There are, he says, panels set up for seasonal tracking, but daily tracking could result in better performance still.
The performance of the panels
Through sponsorship from SoloEnergy, Orkney Builders and Stephen Paterson, David has provided the participating schools with kits and instructions to allow them to construct their own solar panels – one static, and one which follows the sun.
Measuring the performance of their panels will require the pupils to take care with instrument reading, recording and numeric skills, but there is no need for expensive equipment nor difficult mathematics.
I’ve been an engineer for 30 years and I love simplicity,” says David.
On a project like this for young children you reduce and strip everything back to its essence. They can see how things work and they can get a valid answer.
There are of course other methods of harvesting solar energy, such as photosynthesis and by extension farming, which is already very much in evidence in Orkney.”
Showing the results
The data collected will be revealed at Orkney International Science Festival’s Family Day on Saturday 9 September.
The results will be displayed in poster form. They will detail the differences between the schools in terms of location, and they should also give an indication of which sites are particularly suited for solar panels.
For David it’s a return visit to Orkney. At last year’s Science Festival he had school pupils testing the pH values of water at various locations around Orkney.
The data this time may point a way towards making better and more efficient use of solar technology in Orkney.
But how the results might be put to use will be a job those involved in the solar energy business, says David.
My job is in getting children interest in engineering, seeing the practical uses and realising the huge potential for jobs and careers within the field.”