Want to teach your kids about renewable energy in a way that’s relevant and interesting? If you’re installing a new solar power system for your home, it’s a perfect opportunity to talk about how it works, why it’s important for the environment, and if you’re really motivated, you can throw in some math lessons, too. Solar power is complicated enough that older children (and adults!) can learn plenty of new information, but it can also be explained in a way that even younger kids can understand.
Solar Energy International has put together well-written FAQs for both younger and older kids. They’ve included everything from ‘what’s so great about the sun?’ to a simple explanation of how solar panels work. The Department of Energy also has a site about renewable energy made for kids, complete with games. Mom and Dad, unless you’re already experts, you’ll probably learn something yourself in the process of looking up how to explain this stuff to your kids.
Fun with Inverters
Your inverter (the box that converts the electricity generated by solar panels into the type of electricity that can be used in your home) is a handy teaching tool. A kindergardener can look at the data on the inverter and report how many kilowatt-hours of solar power you’ve generated for the day, learning some basics about electricity and units of measurement along the way. An older child can keep track of the power your solar panels are generating over time, and can practice graphing that data and analyzing how your family is using power in your home.
Science Fair Inspiration
If your eighth-grader is wondering what to make for a science fair project, consider all the ways that your solar power system can be studied. Your child can observe how the output from the solar panels varies depending on the time of day and the weather conditions. Another possibility: testing how turning off lights and appliances in your home affects the amount of energy you’re using. What does it take to make your power meter run backwards? How does your solar system work overall, and what are the parts of the system?
More solar energy projects
If your solar panels have sparked your kid’s imagination, try exploring other solar-related activities. You can build a simple solar oven together; the materials are cheap and easy to find. If you don’t want to build a box for the oven, it’s possible just to use a pizza box. Several companies also sell educational solar kits that have parts for making solar-powered toys or even simple solar panels.
A note on safety
When a One Block Off the Grid member got his new solar power system, he was surprised that the inverter was taking up space in his basement where his kids play. You’ll want to make sure to locate the inverter in an area where it won’t be in the way for kids to run into if they’re flying around a corner. When your solar system’s being installed, make sure your kids aren’t playing nearby, since there’s electricity involved (along with bolts and panels that could accidentally fall off the roof during installation– an unlikely possibility, but a good reason your kids shouldn’t be standing under the roof while the crew is working on your roof).
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