Our solar oven project was sponsored by PPL Electric Utilities as part of their Project Envolve Ambassador program. All opinions are my own.
As a busy family of 4, we use our fair share of electricity, but we’re always working to keep it down–for the sake of our utility bill and the health of the planet. Energy conservation is a big deal to my budding scientist (he’s 7), although he’s more interested in how we can use different kinds of energy rather than simply using less of it. (He’s not quite as aware of the bill as Mom is.) Every time we see solar panels, he’s quick to point them out, and he often makes me realize how much we take the sun for granted. It really is an incomprehensible source of solar power that just sits up there in the sky, shining down on us as if to say, “Haven’t you figured out how to use me yet?!”
Aren’t kids great at providing those little reminders of what we shouldn’t take for granted?
So solar power is something we definitely use around the house, from solar outdoor lights on our walkways to strings of solar twinkle lights on our deck. We have a solar phone charger that sits in our window and a calculator with a little solar strip on it that catches the sunlight to help me do my taxes. I even have a friend who is more into solar energy then me, she recommended that I use something like these Deep Cycle Solar Batteries to help make the most of the solar energy. But for now, I’m happy with the way we are doing things. But right now, we’re all about the solar oven. My dad build one, and my kiddo is a *wee* bit obsessed…
My dad’s design is really effective, and it will definitely boil water, but it’s a bit big for my guy to use on his own. the pot gets very hot, and he’s not tall enough to lift it out without help. So, we mustered up our boy scout fortitude last weekend and put together our own solar oven experiment! As it turns out, I was really surprised how quickly the proper setup will collect heat and actually cook food!
We started with a Solarflair Mini Solar Oven. It’s one you can purchase online, and it takes all of about 5 minutes to set it up straight out of the box. Essentially, it’s a zippered reflective bag with a solid structure that keeps it upright and sturdy to hold your pan. It comes with a silicone collapsible pot, but we wanted to keep as many things uniform as possible throughout our experiment, so we used black cast iron.
We set our solar oven out under the sun with the pan inside to warm up before added our egg, but it wasn’t for more than about 30 minutes. By the time we went to crack our egg inside the pan, I had to go inside to get a potholder to lift it. It was too hot to touch! This is when I really perked up, because I honestly didn’t expect it to do so much so quickly. Within 5 minutes of placing our egg inside, it fogged up completely!
It took about 90 minutes for our egg too cook, but I think it would have been much faster on a hotter day or if we would have started earlier. I have high hopes for this solar oven for camping! We have a whole book of solar cooking recipes, and it’s exciting to know that we can really cook in here. There’s even a recipe for a whole roasted chicken. Now there’s some real energy savings! Just think how much AC you wouldn’t have to use! 🙂
Build Your Own Solar Oven
Of course, we also wanted to build our own solar oven at home, so we based it on my dad’s design and used a box with flaps that would flare out and catch the sun like his did. I pretty much let my 7-year-old lead the way (because, you know, learning) and we covered the entire inside of the box with foil, then allowed it to sit in the sun with the pan inside for about 30 minutes.
Then, once again, we added our egg and put the oven in the sunniest spot in our backyard.
Lo and behold, this egg DID cook! But it took considerably longer than with the Solarflair oven. About 3 hours. Solar cooking is definitely slow, but we think we can do better. Our next experiment is already in the works! In fact, plans are being sketched as I type this…
Get those Solar Energy Wheels Turning…
We covered our box with clear plastic wrap to make it as air tight as possible, but looking back, we needed a much clingier wrap. Or, a piece of plexiglass or tempered glass would be great for an oven that’s not as disposable. But what we really wanted was an easy project that might work for a homeschool group, boy scout or girl scout troop–something inexpensive that would truly show the kids how we can harness the power of the sun–because once we get their minds thinking that way, they’re the ones who are going to come up with the energy conservation technology we’ll be using in the future! This project is a great place to start. My kiddo is already troubleshooting, and we’ll update as we experiment so you’ll have the latest on what’s working for us!
Thanks to Project Envolve and PPL Electric Utilities for challenging us to think outside the box when it comes to energy savings tips. PPL Electric Utilities offers tools, tips and energy efficiency programs to help customers save. Visit pplelectric.com/savings for more information.
To see what the rest of the #ProjectEnvolve Ambassadors are working on this month, visit them here: