What is Solar Energy for kids?
Solar energy can be complicated, and this could make it difficult to explain to younger kids but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Solar energy can be explained at a very basic level. So, what is solar energy for kids? Well, there are a few main points they will need to know:
- Where does solar energy come from?
- How is solar energy converted?
- How is solar energy used?
- How does solar energy affect kids?
Where does Solar Energy come from?
In answering the question ‘What is solar energy for kids?‘, it’s important for them to understand where it comes from. At its most basic, solar energy comes from the sun, which emits massive amounts of radiation out into space at temperatures of 9,941 degrees! Remind the kids that water boils at 212 degrees so if they think that’s hot then imagine the amount of heat from the sun! Thankfully, the earth’s atmosphere absorbs and deflects most of the dangerous heat. The rest of the energy is filtered through the atmosphere, reaching the earth as sunlight, which is much milder in temperature and is then converted into heat and electricity.
How is Solar Energy converted?
The most interesting part in discussing solar energy to kids is the conversion process, which is accomplished in two main ways:
- Photovoltaic Cells
- Solar thermal/electric power plants.
Photovoltaic cells are the classic solar panels that everyone pictures when they think of solar power. The cells are made primarily of silicon, which is used to make many electronic parts and is also used in glass, and concrete. The reason silicon is used in solar panels and electronics is because of a fascinating property of silicon crystals which causes a field of electricity to form when it is struck by sunlight or some other similar energy source.
The second method for converting sunlight into solar energy uses solar thermal/electric power plants, which uses mirrors to concentrate the sunlight onto a single point like a magnifying glass. This focused sunlight is used to heat liquid salt, which is then used to boil water and produce steam, which is used to turn turbines that produce electricity. A comparison to the way steam locomotives work would not go amiss among a group of younger boys.
How is Solar Energy used?
Solar power is gaining wider use and has already been incorporated into many parts of a kid’s life. More and more homes are getting some or all of their power from sunlight and in the future there may even be cars and planes that run entirely on solar energy.
More everyday examples of solar power being used include the solar calculators found in backpacks and desks everywhere, as well as camping equipment such as lanterns and flashlights. There’s even these solar energy games that everyone can enjoy, both children and adults alike.
In a much simpler example, pulling back from the advanced technology of solar panels and solar power plants, sunlight can be channeled with simple tin-foil contraptions. The reflective tinfoil focuses the sunlight on the food, using the energy from the light to raise the heat of the food up to 150 degrees!
A great practical example involves kids building one of these ovens themselves out of a cardboard box and tin-foil food wrap wherein the kids can witness the effects of solar energy on their lunch! Now that’s a fun way to explain solar power to kids.
Ultimately, the most significant part of answering the question ‘What is solar energy for kids?‘, though likely the least interesting to the kids, is how it affects their future.
Currently, and this is a hot issue of which the kids are likely aware, the majority of electrical energy is generated through fossil fuels, which generate greenhouse gases. In contrast, solar energy is an incredibly clean source of power because it does not produce any of the air pollutants associated with fossil fuels.
Encourage the kids to consider the ramifications of solar energy use vs traditional energy production methods, and to consider engaging directly in the use of alternative energy sources. The more solar power is used, the better the future environment in which the kids will learn, work, raise families and just generally enjoy life.
So finally, what is solar energy for kids? It’s their future.
I hope this article has prepared you somehow whenever that day comes when your child asks you about solar energy. For a more comprehensive look at solar power, read about How does solar power work?