Fun with Less Kilowatts: Part 4 – Solar Energy

By Brooke Drake, October 27, 2015, Energy Efficiency, Events & Fun

Welcome to our new series – Fun with Less Kilowatts. Each week, we’ll provide a different fun and educational activity for kids to teach them about energy. Each exercise is easy, entertaining, fun, and educational. We hope this series helps gets kids interested in energy so they can learn the importance of energy and how to become energy efficient.

Fun with Less Kilowatts: Part 4 - Solar Energy

Behold – a fully operational pizza box solar oven!

Hello, dear reader! In weeks past, we’ve talked about wind energy, static electricity, and chemical energy. This week, we’re focusing on solar energy with the pizza box solar oven activity. We want to show kids how the sun’s rays can be used to cook food through the use of solar energy. Sure, the pizza box solar oven isn’t powerful enough to cook a full lasagna, but it can cook smaller food items like hot dogs.

I chose to prepare S’mores since they are my daughter’s favorite dessert. Let’s get started!

Solar Oven Materials

  • 1 Pizza box
  • Aluminum foil
  • Clear plastic wrap
  • Tape
  • Black construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Chopstick or something to prop open the pizza box

Cooking Materials

  • Graham crackers
  • Marshmallows
  • A chocolate bar of your preference

Setting

The solar oven needs to be placed outside in direct sunlight for this activity to work properly.

Directions

1) Set the box in its normal box shape. Trace the outline of the black construction paper on the top flap of the pizza box. Cut along the three sides of the rectangle, but be sure to cut only the sides farthest away from the “hinge” of the pizza box lid and leave the fourth side attached.

2) Wrap the bottom side of the flap in aluminum foil. Tape down the foil so it’s firm. Make sure to tape the foil on the top of the flap so there is as little tape as possible on the bottom or else the tape will block the foil from reflecting the sun’s heat.

3) Tape the piece of black paper to the bottom of the pizza box. Try to line it up with the hole you cut out of the lid. I taped the paper on the back side so there isn’t any on the black paper. I also added aluminum foil to the bottom of the pizza box as well, not sure if it helps any, but it covered up the grease spots from the pizza the previous night.

Fun with Less Kilowatts: Part 4 - Solar Energy

Foil + Plastic Wrap + Pizza Box = Oven! Who knew?

4) Now for the plastic wrap. Rip enough plastic wrap to be taped tightly to the bottom of the lid. It should extend about an inch farther than the hole in the lid.

Fun with Less Kilowatts: Part 4 - Solar Energy

It’s important that the foil and wrap cover the box with a tight seal.

5) Then do the same thing for the top of the lid. The two pieces of plastic wrap will actually trap air inside acting like insulation, which will help keep the heat inside your solar oven.

6) Place your food item in the box, cover the lid, and place the oven in direct sunlight. I taped our oven closed so the plastic insulation works better.

7) Lastly, you’ll need something to prop open the lid, which can be something simple like a ruler or a long stick. I used a skewer I broke in half. When positioning the aluminum foil flap, make sure it’s exposed to as much sun as possible by moving it up and down. Then watch as your food starts to cook. Check on it every few minutes to see how it cooks. To give you an idea, it took about 30 minutes for our s’more to cook.

The Science Behind the Experiment

Fun with Less Kilowatts: Part 4 - Solar Energy

That’s right – you can cook snacks in your backyard with the power of the sun!

In this activity, kids learn we can get energy from the sun. It was the solar energy from the sun’s heat that cooked our s’more. On a larger scale, the sun provides so much solar energy each day it could provide people across the world with enough energy to warm their water and their homes.

While solar power energy is a great renewable resource, the problem is there are some major variables associated with using it for your main source of heating power. First off, the intensity and amount of sunlight exposure varies from location to location, so it depends on where you are located in relation to the sun that determines how much sunlight you are able to harness for power. Also the weather and climate variability affect the amount sunlight availability from day to day. One day, it may be sunny but then it could be followed by a week of cloudy days and rainstorms.

Do you have any experiments that introduce the power of solar energy to kids? Tell us about them in the comments!

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