LCB Video Review Series: Scientific Explainer

Explainer Video Review: How Solar Panels Work

We're big fans of digg, and reckon their video content is usually spot-on – go check out some of the offerings on their YouTube channel. This video about solar panels though, it's missing the mark on a few counts:




Engineer Matt Burnand clearly knows what he's talking about. The question is, what level is he explaining this process at? At LCB, we always encourage our clients to pitch an explainer so that a 12-year-old can understand it. It's a bit of a trick, because the audience is unlikely to be 12-year-olds (depending on the video), but the point is to remind the experts that the lay-person isn't starting with their base level of knowledge, which helps them break things down better.

The tricky thing for an interviewer can be that they don't want to appear stupid themselves! When you ask someone to explain something, and you don't understand their answer, the temptation can be to assume it's your own lack of knowledge that's the issue. Swallow your pride and keep asking questions until everything is clear. This will have a side benefit of giving you more material to work with in the edit suite later, too.



In our opinion, this video is looking at the wrong part of the science to start off with. The first question we had for a video entitled 'How Solar Panels Work' was, "What are the solar panels made from?"; in relation to this, the video only refers to 'P-type silicon' and 'N-type silicon', and to be honest, that doesn't mean a great deal to those of us less than familiar with the physics.

Then moving into talking about DC and AC current is either unnecessary, or needs further explanation to make sense. By the end of the video, don't know about you, but we still feel pretty confused about how the science works.



Use of animation is an excellent way to aid understanding, but again, we don't feel the animation here is really doing the trick. For example, when the engineer is saying "What the solar panel does is push that electron through the voltage", the on-screen graphics are reflecting the words directly rather than helping to clarify their meaning.

There's a lot you can do with animation to help the brain make those connections that are tricky to understand through language alone. Here's a similar subject matter we worked on for the NSW Government Office of Environment & Heritage, on the use of battery storage for businesses. It was the creation of this video that led us to the 'How Solar Panels Work' case study in the first place, so it's an interesting comparison. Note how the graphics assist your comprehension of what's going on:





And on a different subject entirely, here's a short animation we made about how Shingles works. Pay attention to how the voiceover works in concert with the visuals to describe what's going on:





If you've got a complicated scientific process you want to break down for an audience, this is actually one of our favourite things to do! Here's a final example that we put together explaining the incredible environmental developments of Licella's Cat-HTR technology:





The level of explanation will vary depending on the intended audience, but we've found the best approach in almost all cases is to take the time to understand all the ins and outs in great detail as the video producer, then to draft a script (even if it's just to be used as a guide) for your expert to use as a reference point for their on-camera explanation. Your deep understanding of the subject will be crucial in the edit suite – then you can test your final edit on someone in the office who is less familiar with the subject to make sure it makes sense to them too.


Since you're here, feel free to check out some more of our blog posts and free resources to assist you in your video creation journey.