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Photo by Raze Solar via Unsplash


Expressions and Equations


6th, 7th, 8th




60 minutes

Regional Focus



Google Docs, Google Slides


This lesson plan is licensed under Creative Commons.

Creative Commons License

Calculating Solar Energy for a Building (Renewable Energy Algebra #2)

Created By Teachers:
Last Updated:
Dec 5, 2022

In this lesson, students complete real-world calculations related to residential solar energy use, including the number of solar panels needed to power the average house and how many solar panels could fit on their own home or a local building.
Step 1 - Inquire: Students complete calculations to determine if the average American home could be powered using solar panels.
Step 2 - Investigate: Students explore the Google Project Sunroof site and use data on their home address to solve problems.
Step 3 - Inspire: Students discuss the benefits and drawbacks to using solar energy and explore equity issues related to the affordability of solar panels.


  • Students are able to use algebra skills in real-world applications.

  • The lesson is engaging for students because it is personalized to each student's actual home or local building.

Additional Prerequisites

  • This lesson is 2 of 5 in our 6-8th Grade Renewable Energy Algebra unit.

  • If teachers did not complete lesson 1, omit questions 1, 3, and 5 on the Student Document and use this video to introduce solar energy and its connections to climate change.

  • Slides 14-16 are vocabulary words from the first lesson that teachers may wish to review with students again or introduce if teachers skipped lesson 1.

  • Students need access to computers and calculators for this lesson.


  • Students can work individually or in groups.

  • If students do not feel comfortable using their actual address, they can select a random nearby address to use.

  • Teachers can walk students through certain calculations as a class. Teachers can also pull small groups to work through any areas with the most needs.

This lesson lets students evaluate the impact of solar energy in addressing the energy crisis and energy inequities, especially in low-income communities. It would build their analytic skills in calculating the amount of energy a solar panel can produce per hour, which is important information for houseowners to choose the size of solar panels to build. All materials embedded in the lesson are illustrative and were fact-checked thoroughly. On that account, this lesson has passed our science credibility process and is recommended for teaching.

This resource addresses the listed standards. To fully meet standards, search for more related resources.

  • Common Core Math Standards (CCSS.MATH)
    • Expressions & Equations (6-8)
      • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.6.EE.A.2 Write, read, and evaluate expressions in which letters stand for numbers.
      • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.6.EE.B.6 Use variables to represent numbers and write expressions when solving a real-world or mathematical problem; understand that a variable can represent an unknown number, or, depending on the purpose at hand, any number in a specified set.
      • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.7.EE.B.3 Solve multi-step real-life and mathematical problems posed with positive and negative rational numbers in any form (whole numbers, fractions, and decimals), using tools strategically. Apply properties of operations to calculate with numbers in any form; convert between forms as appropriate; and assess the reasonableness of answers using mental computation and estimation strategies. For example: If a woman making $25 an hour gets a 10% raise, she will make an additional 1/10 of her salary an hour, or $2.50, for a new salary of $27.50. If you want to place a towel bar 9 3/4 inches long in the center of a door that is 27 1/2 inches wide, you will need to place the bar about 9 inches from each edge; this estimate can be used as a check on the exact computation.
      • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.7.EE.B.4 Use variables to represent quantities in a real-world or mathematical problem, and construct simple equations and inequalities to solve problems by reasoning about the quantities.

  • Teacher leads a brief discussion about the previous lesson to activate prior learnings. Consider using the following questions:

    • What did we learn about in the last lesson?

    • Why are solar panels important?

    • How do solar panels help us fight climate change?

    • Do you think solar panels can power an entire house? What about our entire school? What about our entire community?

  • Students use the Student Document to reflect on their prediction from the previous lesson and to calculate the panels needed to power the average house in America. If doing this lesson as a standalone lesson instead of within the unit, omit questions 1 and 3.

  • Teacher nominates students to share their work for each part of question 2. Teacher addresses any mistakes or misconceptions.

  • Students complete the Student Document with calculations related to residential solar energy use. If doing this lesson as a standalone lesson instead of within the unit, omit question 5.

  • Students use Google Project Sunroof to look up data about their house or a local building (e.g., community center) and use this information to answer questions on the Student Document. Teacher should determine whether the entire class will look up data about their houses or local buildings. Students with lower access to housing might feel embarrassed having to choose a local building when other students can choose to select their own home.

  • The optional challenge question requires students to use the measure feature in Google Maps. This feature will be used and explained further in lesson 5 but teachers can encourage students to try to figure it out on their own.

  • Teacher leads students in a discussion about what they discovered today using the following questions:

    • What was surprising to you?

    • What are some benefits of using solar energy? What calculations from today’s lesson help support your ideas?

    • What are some drawbacks to using solar energy? What calculations have you done to help support your ideas?

    • There are issues of fairness and equity with solar energy like affordability. How could this be addressed to make solar energy more accessible for everyone?

    • Talking about climate change and issues of equity can cause us to feel a lot of emotions. Do you feel more frustrated or inspired right now? How can we foster more inspiration?

    • Can taking action help us feel more inspired? Are there any action steps you and your class can take to address equity and solar energy?

  • Optional Extension Activity: Allow students time to research possible solutions to the issues of equity in solar energy use like costliness. The following websites can be used as a starting point in their exploration:

Renewable Energy Algebra Unit Lesson Plans


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