How to Build a Solar Panel for a Kid's Project

By Robyn Murray

Building a solar panel with your kids teaches them about the basics of science and the importance of energy conservation. As the world adjusts to climate change, alternative energy sources like solar panels are increasingly relevant. Materials for a homemade solar panel can be purchased at most hardware stores. So get to work, and teach your kids how fun and practical science can be.

Heat a copper sheet over an electric stove top for 30 minutes on high. The copper sheet will begin to turn black.

Remove the copper sheet from the heat and allow it to cool for 20 minutes. The sheet will return to its reddish color.

Delicately remove any black spots remaining on the surface of the copper sheet with sandpaper. Do not scrape too hard as this could damage the heat-created copper oxide layer.

Place the heated copper sheet and one non-heated copper sheet into a plastic cup. The two sheets should face each other.

Pour two tablespoons of hot water and two tablespoons of salt into the plastic cup. Mix gently.

Attach one spring-loaded clip to each of the copper sheets.

Attach a microampere meter to both of the clips.

Set the plastic cup in the sun.

Wait 30 minutes and check the microampere meter. The mini solar cell should have produced a readable amount of electricity.

Tip

Microampere meters (or ammeters) can be purchased at most hardware stores, but may be expensive. Microampere meters typically cost between $50 and $80 as of February 2010. Connect a low-watt light bulb or set of batteries to your solar panel project for a low-cost alternative to monitor its electrical output.

Copper solar panels will not produce a great amount of electricity. Commercial solar panels use silicon, which produce a vast amount of power. Copper sheets will work suitably for the purposes of this science project, but use more layers of copper sheets to produce more power.

Warning

This experiment requires use of a hot stove top. So be sure to supervise your children as they conduct this science project, and protect them from accidents and burns.

About the Author

Robyn Murray is a journalist based in Omaha, Neb. She has reported for national and international media including National Public Radio, Public Radio International and Business Day in Johannesburg. Murray holds a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.