Published on August 27, 2021

Learning about solar power, together with Slovak scouts

author: Mária Balková

Start a fire, set up a tent and find a plug for the refrigerator. In the forest. Scouts will teach you all this and they are serious about it. So we went to the annual Scout Summer Camp, to talk to the scouts: it seems we have some common interests, including an off-grid solar system. 

Slovak scouting has a long history. At first glance, it may seem that these are just enthusiasts of sharpened knives, uniforms and tents. However, this is far from true: being in the middle of nature is just one of the many characteristics of scouting; in fact, the meaning of scouting is much more sublime. “Scouts learn to take responsibility for their own life, in front of themselves, in front of others and in front of the Creator. They lead a simple, straightforward and undemanding life. They learn to leave the place where they are in a better condition than they found it, ” explains engineer Alexander Halahyja, who has been a scout for 26 years.

With the help of adult leaders, working in teams, taking part in gradually more demanding activities, Slovak kids learn to keep their scout promise.

During the Summer Camp, we discussed with young scouts a few “myths and facts about energy”. Energy engineer Patrik Uhrík asked the kids: “Did you know that energy does not appear out of the blue or disappear? It just changes form.” This question served as a starting point for a longer conversation about renewable and non-renewable energy sources. And we concluded that the sun reigns above all: solar energy warms our Earth, provides nutrition for plant growth, causes wind movement and sustains the water cycle.

The question is, how to use this energy to our benefit?

Solar panels can be used for this, Uhrík told his young companions, because we can use them to generate electricity or heat hot water. If we want to have a shower in warm water at home, solar heat collectors can help us, by heating our water during the day when the sun is shining.

If we want to watch TV at home or wash a dirty T-shirt, we can use solar photovoltaic panels to produce electricity. With the help of photovoltaics, we can have electricity even in places where we would not otherwise have it, for example in cottages on high hills.

What is the biggest difference for us between solar thermal and photovoltaic panels? When we produce hot water, we can store this heat for later when we need it. If we produce electricity, we can only use it when the sun is shining, not when it is already dark.

And where can we place these panels? So that the panels do not interfere with our daily life, we can put them on our roofs, and we will adjust their direction so that the sun shines on them as much as possible, so to the south.

By using solar panel in the production of electricity and heat, we do not emit stinky smoke and we can enjoy their benefits for at least 20 years.

After the talk, came the practical demonstration of how we can use renewables today. We improvised a solar power plant in the scout camp. Exactly. Although only small, it was enough for the refrigerator, mobile phone charger and lighting.

Apart from the pleasant time spent together with the scouts, the success of our mission was evidenced by the listeners’ interest in the issue: “What source of renewable energy is the best for Slovakia?,” the children asked. “A combination of all available, of course,” we replied. “Well, respecting the limits of the environment.”

A day spent in nature in the presence of children who take care of their surroundings at a young age gave us hope that the Earth still has many friends among humans.

Mária Balková is a student at the Slovak Technical University, Civil Engineering Faculty. Photo courtesy of the author.