by Erin Vaughan, Freelance Writer, Modernize:

In 2016, the solar energy field is expected to add 30,000 jobs to its ranks -- a 14.7% increase from the previous year -- marking it not just as a shift in how we think about energy consumption, but also as a real job creator, too. With the highest employee-to-kilowatt ratio of any energy market and a predicted share that’s expected to eclipse previous numbers, there’s a very high chance that some of your current students may one day take on jobs in this green-collar field.

Readying today’s students for this work is a matter of insight. The solar field is an emerging technology. So, it’s likely that today’s information won’t be viable even next year, not to mention 15 or 20 years down the line. But there are plenty of soft skills that can readily translate, and math lessons are among them. In fact, many positions in the solar industry -- installers, project managers, and engineers -- need well-developed mathematical abilities that will keep them competitive in the growing era of solar power. Let’s take a look at how homeowners and solar energy professionals alike use math to install and afford solar installations.

**Understanding Energy Consumption**

If you wanted to switch your home over to solar power, you’d have to perform some basic calculations to understand how much energy you use, how much energy you’d need to generate, how many solar panels you’d need to put in place on your home, as well as how much that will save you on your bills. Solar salespeople need to understand this information and the hidden mathematical variables that can affect productivity and price.

To start, the salesperson will usually help their customer understand their average daily energy use, which is denoted in kilowatt hours. But what exactly is a kilowatt-hour and how is that different from a kilowatt? To answer that, imagine you have a 50-watt bulb burning for an hour -- that’s 50 watt-hours. Ask your students to calculate: If there are 1,000 watt-hours in a kilowatt, how many 50-watt bulbs would they need to burn for an hour each to reach 50 kilowatt-hours? Answering questions like these will help your class understand how energy use is measured.

**Averaging Energy Use Per Day**

Of course, not every appliance is turned on all the time, and some that are, like refrigerators, may cycle through more energy-intensive and less energy-intensive periods to keep energy costs low. That’s why most people are advised to calculate average energy consumption by using their utility bills. Utilities will indicate on each bill how much energy, in kilowatt hours, a home used for the billing period.

The average home consumes around 900 kilowatt-hours per month, or every 30 days. Ask your students to find the average per-day energy use for a home that uses 900 kilowatt-hours. To help them understand how averages can be flawed, ask students to consider the case of Louisiana, which actually used 1,291 kilowatt-hours per month on average in 2014 (or you can use this list of energy information to find the average in your state). Ask them what they think can influence how much energy a home uses. The weather? The size of a home? The kinds of appliances, devices, or even lights the household has?

**Calculating Average Costs**

Hoping to incorporate some lessons about finances into your math plans? Solar provides a great opportunity to do just that. It teaches kids about budgeting, too. Most people who purchase solar power are interested in the amount of energy it will generate, but they’re also hoping that their purchase will eventually help them save money.

Now that you’ve had your students find the per-day energy consumption numbers for a household in your state, use your state’s average price-per-kilowatt on the same table to find a rough idea of what a household spends per day on energy. Ask your students what other issues could affect energy costs -- for instance, does electricity cost the same price in every state? Why is it different?

**Figuring Out Solar Productivity**

Solar installations don’t reliably produce the same energy in every iteration -- the local environment and the rooftop angle can all play a part in how effective they are. To give installers and those purchasing solar equipment an idea of how much energy their panels would produce, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a branch of the U.S. Department of Energy, calculated the average solar productivity of each part of the U.S. Those findings are available here -- let your class try to find their area’s productivity as a way to practice reading charts.

Multiply that amount by 30 and then multiply that amount by the average per-kilowatt-hour price to determine both how much energy an average-sized installation can create and how much money your average household can save.

**Geometry and Solar Power**

Understanding solar power isn’t just about performing household calculations. The size and number of panels, their pitch, and the direction that they face can all affect their productivity -- and these sensitive calculations can be difficult even for a professional. But you can get young students thinking about how geometry affects them in their everyday lives by asking them to consider how a rooftop’s angle might make it more or less effective.

The steeper a roof is pitched, the less intense the sunlight is -- roof angles measuring 5 degrees, for instance, are much more productive than those measuring 30 degrees. However, sunlight direction plays a part, too. As the sun moves overhead, its angle, relative to the installation, changes as well -- that’s why homes facing east and south produce more solar power than those facing west or north. Ask your students to consider what other sort of environmental factors could play a part in solar productivity to get them thinking about solar in their environment.

As you can see, household solar power is largely a series of complicated calculations. Helping students understand these numbers will not only prepare them for the next wave of job growth, but it will also help them become savvy buyers in tomorrow’s distributed energy market.

*Erin Vaughan is a blogger, gardener, and aspiring homeowner. She currently resides in Austin, TX, where she writes full time for **Modernize.com**, which empowers homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence.*