Monday, 22 April 2013

Earth Day and Power Usage and Generation

It's Earth Day and a good time to reflect on the electricity that all of our technology uses. It's a useful discussion to have with kids of all ages.

Our fossil fuel habit is hurting the planet and is not sustainable. But we do like our gadgets and they need electricity to run. I'm not going to suggest that we stop using them. (Phew!)

Being careful with our use of electricity is one aspect to think about. How can we be more careful with our use of electricity? Turning things off when they are not being used is a good start. But it's good to really understand how much electricity devices are using and where you can make the biggest differences. You can buy electricity meters that will show you how much electricity a device uses. This is a good exercise to do with kids so they get to really understand how much electricity our gadgets use. Then we can think about buying energy efficient appliances in future and using lowered powered devices. I'll return to this topic in future with some ideas on how you can make your kids more energy aware.

The other major aspect is to think using green technologies to generate the electricity we use. Solar power looks very promising. We have photovoltaic solar panels on our roof and when the sun is out we generate enough power for our needs (and some more.) Overall we generate about half the electricity that we use. If you live somewhere really sunny you might be able to do better. We also use a lot of rechargeable batters rather than disposable batteries.
This video from Panasonic explains solar energy in kid-friendly terms with a child presenter. (It turns into an advert for Panasonic towards the end, but the beginning is packed with information.)

Fun fact: Solar panels that generate electricity use the photovoltaic effect to turn the sun's power into electricity. The person who discovered this was Edmond Becquerel and he did it in 1839 when he was only 19 years old! Edmund had been experimenting in his father's laboratory. Just see what happens when young people have access to technology.

Becquerel was only 19 when he found out how to get electricity from the sun!

There are still plenty of problems to solve to improve how we harness the power of the sun. Solar power is quite expensive and there are environmental costs in the manufacture and transport of solar panels. Scientists are working on ways to improve solar panels like concentrators that are more efficient. The problems won't all be solved by the time today's kids are grown up so there's an opportunity there to apply a love of technology to making a valuable contribution to the future of our planet.

Here's a good video that goes a bit deeper on where we are with solar technology and keeps it understandable:

And there are lots of solar power kits for kids to build to further their interest.

Let's make sure that future generations have plenty of sustainable electricity to power their technology. Enjoy Earth Day. 

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