Educational FUN Solar Projects

Some fun and educational solar projects for kids or for the kid in all of us.  These are projects for students that involve renewable energy, solar physics, model wind generators, PV powered boats and cars, and even a solar balloon.



Places to see



If you have done a project and have some pictures and a write-up -- PLEASE send them in.  Your project may be just what the thousands of people a week who visit this page are looking for! 


If you have or see any good material for this area, please let me know.


Report Broken Links ...



SunChaser Education Program,
New Mexico Solar Energy Association

The "SunChaser" trailer:

And, an even more portable "kit":


This is a neat program that uses a trailer full of displays of renewable energy applications. 

The trailer makes visits on request.  This program is probably limited to NM, but you could start one in your state.

They have developed a whole series of kits to demonstrate energy efficiency and solar energy.  I'm sure they would be interested in helping others set up similar programs.
Florida Solar Energy Center -- Education


The FSEC has a whole raft of educational programs for kids.

Lots of good material.
Solar Dinosaur Play Structure

Details and plans...



This is a dinosaur theme play structure we built for the grandkids.

It includes slide, climbing wall, swing, and solar powered dino horn and rotating beacon light.

Details and plans...

Renewable Energy Lesson Plans,
Texas State energy Conservation Office


22 well thought out lesson plans for renewable energy studies.

Grades 4 through High School.


Kid Wind



Great site for students to learn about wind power.    Many lessons and hands on experiments.

All the details on how to do Solargraphy...

The Time in a Can website...
Solargraphy PictureThis is a fascinating project from Kevin that combines learning some elements of pinhole photography along with developing a good understanding of the path of the sun through the seasons.

Inexpensive and really interesting.
Solar Energy Coloring Book,
Texas Solar Energy Society,

The coloring book (pdf)


Quite a neat solar energy coloring book!!

From the Texas Solar Energy Society

Jack McKee's Solar Projects for Kids


Jack has been doing solar workshops for kids and teachers for quite a while, and has documented some of his solar projects for kid here -- my favorite is The Solar Kid Warmer.

Jack also has a lot of material on workworking for kids -- the 2nd best hobby in the world.

DYE Solar Cells For Real -- The Assembly Guide for Making Your Own Solar Cells...



making dye solar cellsThis is an advanced project for making Dye Solar Cells for educational purposes.

Its a fairly involved process, but quite interesting and educational.

House Design Energy Experiments For Students



An interesting set of experiments for students to understand energy use in homes.  You start by making a model house from a cardboard box, and then measure the effects of windows, insulation, air leaks, thermal mass, ...
The only instrumentation required is a thermometer. 
The "Furnace" is a glass of hot water.
It looks like a really fun way to learn about home design and experimental techniques.
If only the people who are now laying out  housing areas and building homes had been exposed to this!
Lighter, Brighter, and Cooler: An Analysis of the Effect of Roofing Albedo on Ambient Temperature


Quite an impressive student science project/experiment on the effect of roof reflectivity on temperatures on and in the structure.
Biogas Experiments


Some Science Fair biogas projects from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

The university has a large, hands-on section on biogas digesters and applications.

(Thanks to Dave for suggesting this)

Junior Solar Sprint Program

Hosting guide book:

List of JSS Hosts:

Information on setting up a solar model car program for students.  Car kits, car construction hints, and information on setting up these programs.
Junior Solar Sprint Program in the NE


A successful Junior Solar Sprint program in the NE.
An Advanced Solar Airplane Project

solar airplane modelAn advanced solar airplane project from Newman Smith Highschool.


Renewable Energy Canada

This is a great site for introducing kids to renewable energy -- lots of hands-on projects and painless learning.   Solar oven and vertical axis windmill that can be built as student projects.  Lesson plans, posters, ...
Renewable Energy Canada

Plans (1MB pdf)

Template (74K pdf)


A very slick little water turbine to generate electricity.


4-H National Youth Science Day


The 4-H National Youth Science Day website organizes yearly(?) science days with a well planned experiment kit for each event.

This years is on the effect of increased CO2 levels in water. 

There is an inexpensive experimental kit offered for up to 15 participants.

Juice from Juice,
Jill Johnsen and Stephanie Chasteen,
Exploratorium Teacher Institute ...


"With iodine, blackberry juice, and a few simple materials, you can create a working solar cell that mimics the process of photosynthesis."

An interesting lab experiment from the Exploratorium Teachers Institute.

Wind Stuff Now -- One Hour Windmill



A quick and simple windmill that can be built in a short time.

I would think some wind physics labs could be developed from this?


Pico Turbine Windmill Kits

If you want to get started in wind generation in a really small way, here's the site.  Lots of other interesting wind related materials on the site.  Well done plans for this desk top turbine are a free download.

Passive Solar Bird Bath

Plans for a passive solar bird bath...

solar bird bath heaterThis is a nice design for a simple solar heated bird bath.

It heats the water up enough in PA winters to provide an unfrozen drinking water source for birds through the winter.

Seems like a good school project.

A Wind Energy-Powered Charger

Kelly s. Isaac

Finding Mother Earth News articles...



Mother Earth News Article, Issue 138 June/July 1993

This small, vertical axis windmill is not going to power your house, but it would make a great school project to get some hands on experience with wind generators.

Solar Hot Air Balloons

Small (and not so small) scale solar hot air balloons -- very interesting.


Greenhouse from pop bottles


This is a greenhouse built by kids with using 2 liter pop bottles.
The finished GH could be used for any number of solar heating and growing experiments.  A great demonstration of how simple solar can be.

HP106 Make A Solar Fountain!

Hal Aronson and Tor Allen

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 106

Good article of doing a PV powered solar fountain as a school project.

Solar Cars for Pleasure or Competition

Tina M. Sorenson

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 53

Elementary students learn about solar power by building and racing solar electric model cars.

Running The Minnesota Solar Boat Regatta

Ralph Jacobson and Tom Roark

How to get articles from Home Power ...

Home Power Magazine article, issue 59

A neat program middle/high school students build and race solar PV powered boats.  Quite a bit of detail on how the program is run.

Solar Activities for Students

North Carolina Solar Center

Solar For Students (pdf)


Several solar projects for students from the North Carolina Solar Center
List of kids oriented websites

Renewable Resource Data Center


List of kids oriented websites from the Renewable Resource Data Center
3 Phase Wind Turbine Kit


Wind Turbine Kit


This is an inexpensive wind turbine kit that looks like it would be fun to build as a student project.

Look at the plans

Two Small Wind Generator Projects

A unique WindBelt wind powered generator...

A wind generator from a floppy disk drive...
wind belt generatorMladen's site has a couple of small wind projects that look like good projects.
One is a "conventional" wind turbine that uses a floppy disk drive motor as the generator.  The 2nd is an interesting design I've not seen before that uses thefloppy drive wind generator motion of a wind driven belt to move a magnet over a fixed coil.  This seems like a particularly good way to illustrate how magnetism and electricity are tied together.
A sterling Engine from Pop Cans



A demonstration sterling engine made from pop cans.
Pager Motors dot com  Robots


Inexpensive kits for several solar cell powered robot kits. 

All with very complete online  tutorials showing how to build them.

Solar Kits from Silicon Solar


A variety of solar kits for students.

A Small, Portable PV System for Camping, Emergencies, ...
And Learning about Solar Electricity!


Details on the portable PV system...

Portable PV for campingThis is a project lifted from PV section, but its also (I think) a good learning project for Solar Electricity, and when you are done, you have a useful product.  Clearly the lead acid battery posses some safety issues, and adult supervision would be a must.

Kevin built a small, portable PV system to provide some power for lights, radio, cell phone charging,... on camping trips.  The system is small, simple, inexpensive, and easy to build -- a great learning system.

An Easy to Build Earth-Sun Simulator for Optimizing Reflectors and Shawdowo Studies...

Earth sun simulator for reflector designThis is an earth-sun simulator you can build to test reflector designs or to understand sun and shade patterns on anything you can build a model of.

It allows you to see the sun and shadows for any location on the earth and any season and for any time of day. By rotating the turntable you can quickly play the sun over your model for a full day and see the sun and shade patterns. You can take readings on the model with a light meter and get a quantitative idea how much (for example) a reflector is increasing radiation.

Solar Site Survey ...

This is the Solar Site Survey that I recommend people do before building any project that relies on solar radiation. 
I think it also makes a great learning project that:
1) Shows the use of the Sun Chart to determine the daily path of the sun through the sky through the full year.  With this one small chart, you can pinpoint the position of the sun at any instant throughout the full year, and gain an understanding of the seasonal changes in the sun's path.   Just learning how to use the Sun Chart alone would make a great lesson.
2) Uses two simple handmade gages to measure the direction and elevation of obstacles that might shade a solar collector.  The "skyline" of obstacles is plotted on the sun chart to determine what times of the year and day your collector will be in sun.

The whole thing could be done as a couple one hour exercises.  Coming to understand how the path of the sun changes through the seasons is a useful for everything from designing solar homes to planning outdoor activities.  It is something that amazingly few adults understand.    This could easily feed into further sessions on passive solar home design, or solar electricity, passive cooling ...
Understanding the Suns Path and Making a Sun Dial

Sundial and Sun Path Lesson


Lesson plan for making a sun dial and understanding the path across the sky (knowledge lacking in most adults).
Omniscience Futureneering



With the possible exception of the small Sterling engines, this site has nothing to do with solar, but it has some really interesting DIY projects.

"O.F. was a high-school-based science/engineering/inventing club. It was founded on the premise that the best way to learn about anything was to design it, make it or modify it and then to use it."

Some of these projects definitely require supervision.

My new Thermal Imaging Camera

Some tests and impressions of my new thermal imaging camera...

I included this in the Solar Projects for Kids section because there are just so many ways one of these cameras could be used in simple experiments to understand the thermal aspects of the world around us. 
They are not cheap, but are dropping in price -- maybe FLIR or Fluke has a program for school purchases?
FLIR thermal cameraThermal imaging cameras offer an unmatched capability to view the temperatures over a whole surface.  They are a great tool for things like improving solar collector designs.

They have been almost prohibitively expense, but over the last few years have come down a lot as some entry level lines have been introduced with lower prices that have been steadily dropping.  The lowest priced ones are now a bit over $1000 -- still a lot, but much better than $10,000.

I recently took the plunge and got a FLIR IR camera.  My impressions of the FLIR so far are here... 

Comparing the Performance of Two DIY Solar Water Heating Collectors -- CPVC vs Copper


All the details on CPVC collector performance test...

I've included this in the "Educational" section because its an interesting new design where not everything has been figured out, and there are some relatively straight forward design variations that could be done and that might yield a better design (not to mention a better understanding of solar thermal physics).  
The build is straight forward and not expensive.  Some adult supervision is needed, but its something that kids could do a lot of the work on.
Would love to hear from anyone who takes this on.


cpvc solar collector testI did a side by side test of  Scott's new design cpvc solar collectorof the CPVC/aluminum collector comparing it to the  copper/aluminum collector. 
The performance of the CPVC collector was good, and I think that this CPVC design offers another option for DIY solar collectors.

The CPVC collector is easy to build and would make a good first solar project. 

All the details on CPVC collector performance test...
Effect of Tree Shade on Solar Collector Efficiency
A Simple Way to Test All Kinds of Collector Design & Placement Variations

All the details on solar tree shade test...

Note: this little test comes out of the Experimental Section, but it would make a great Science Fair or school project.  A genuinely useful paper could be done comparing the effect of different kinds of shading on collector performance.  As far as I know, this has not been done, and would be quite helpful to people locating solar collectors.  I'd be happy to publish such a paper on BIS.  Gary

This is a simple way to test the effect of tree shade on collector efficiency.  It uses two identical collectors each with a bottle of water inside to collect heat.  You place one collector in full sun, and the other in the shade of the trees you are concerned about.   The difference in water temperature rise at the end of the collection period tells you how much the shade is hurting.

This same method could be used to compare glazing materials, compare different collector orientations, ...   and all sorts of other variables.  Its simple, practical, and accurate.

Places to see
Looking for more of these -- know of any?
Califormia Academy of Sciences -- SanFrancisco



Some pictures from our visit ...

A really terrific place to take kids (or retired engineer grandfathers) to have fun learning about science.

An amazing rainforest bubble, aquariums, green roof, ... lots and lots -- all very well done.

Lots of good material on the challenges of climate change.

Some pictures from our visit ...

Exploratorium -- San Francisco



Another great San Fran Cisco learning and fun place.

"The Exploratorium is an experimental, hands-on museum designed to spark curiosity"

Green House at the National Building Museum



This looks like an interesting set of green building exhibits with some hands-on.
If you find yourself in DC, check it out.
U AZ Students Help Local Businesses to Save Energy, Water, Money, and Reduce Carbon Emissions

Details here...

The University of Arizona Students In Free Enterprise and Sam's Club teamed up to help two local Tucson businesses to save some money on their energy bills and to reduce water use and carbon emissions.

The details here...



An interesting NZ program that combines solar electric projects at schools with renewable energy material and projects for school kids.

The site includes a Resources section for teachers who want to start similar programs.






Gary May 15, 2008