Solar Thermal Power

What you'll learn:

How to harness the sun's thermal energy.

Key takeaways:

We can harness more than just the energy of light from the sun.

When we think of solar power we often think of converting the photons from the Sun into electricity. We are reminded of rooftop panels, but we rarely think of harnessing another form of the Sun's energy. The thermal energy from the Sun.

In this solar powered project, we will take a look at the less known side of solar power - solar thermal energy. How can we change solar thermal heat to motion? As the sun heats up aluminum cans, the cans heat up the air inside. Hot air is less dense than cold air, and thus the hotter air will rise, sucking colder air into the cans to also be heated. As the hot air moves, it creates an updraft, that ultimately will spin a pinwheel! Check out the instructions to make your own solar thermal collector. You can also use the heat from the sun to cook - check out our solar oven Maker activity to get started towards solar smores!

Project Ingredients:
Pinwheels
Tin cans
Glue gun and glue

LEARNING ABOUT SOLAR THERMAL ENERGY

(Aka cool facts about writing in binary to look at while you are engaged in the STEM activity)

A big piece of the pie.
Heating accounts for 25% of the bill for commercial buildings, and it accounts for a whopping 50% in residential buildings. That is a huge piece of the energy pie that goes towards heating - something that the Sun can do for us if we choose to harness it.

Storing heat.
When we want to save energy from solar panels we can use the current to charge large batteries. This allows us to utilize the Sun's power even if the Sun isn't present at that moment. How can we save heat from the Sun? There is no battery to store heat, per say, but we can store heat from summer Suns to use during the winter in large, specially constructed pits deep in the Earth.

Making clean water.
In areas that lack clean drinking water, we can use simple methods to harness the Sun's energy to distill fresh water from salt water. By placing salt water in a bowl, placing a glass cover over the top, and putting it out in the Sun we can evaporate fresh water onto the lid, and collect it.