Electrons from the Sun, often accelerated by magnetospheric processes, produce low-density plasmas in the upper atmospheres of planets and their satellites. The secondary electrons can produce further ionization, dissociation and excitation, leading to enhancement of chemical reactions and light emission. Similar processes are driven by photoelectrons produced by sunlight in upper atmospheres during daytime. Sunlight and solar electrons drive the same processes in the atmospheres of comets. Thus for both understanding of planetary atmospheres and in predicting emissions for comparison with remote observations it is necessary to simulate the processes that produce upper atmosphere plasmas. In this review, we describe relevant models and their applications and address the importance of electron-impact excitation cross sections, towards gaining a quantitative understanding of the phenomena in question.