Electricity usage monitors make it easy to measure the electricity consumed by any device that runs on 120 volts. Photo by Alexis Powers
Sometimes the hardest part of a science fair project is knowing where to start. That's why it is best to begin by simply asking, "What am I interested in learning more about?"
If you are curious about energy, electricity, and the environment, we've got some great ideas for you. Using less electricity can help reduce your carbon footprint and cut your home's energy bill to boot. The first step is to understand when and how you use it.
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
- An energy monitor or electricity usage meter
- A creative mind
Energy monitors or electricity usage meters are a handy tool for any energy saver. These gadgets are available online and in most hardware stores. They cost as little as $20 and plug directly into a standard three-prong electrical outlet.
WHAT YOU CAN LEARN
Energy monitors can provide so much interesting data, but you can count on even the most basic models to show electricity consumption in units including kilowatt hours, volts, amps, watts, and hertz. Most also can tell you how much it costs to use household items. Here's where your creativity comes into play. And who doesn't love to learn by playing?
Start by connecting your energy monitor to an appliance or home electronic device that sparks your curiosity. Don't worry—there won't actually be sparks! And if that little light above your head is in power-saving mode, consider taking our Home Energy Quiz to get your circuits flowing.
Does your chosen device draw electricity even when it is not in use? Take a stab at a project focused on better understanding the phantom loads or energy vampires around your home. You can design an experiment to learn where the biggest kill-o-watt (get it?) suckers are lurking. You could also slash through the math of figuring out how much money your phantom load costs each year, or whether or not it is worth investing in one or more advanced power strips to cut down on your home's wasted standby power.
How much electricity does it take to charge your cell phone overnight? Consider calling out your other personal electronic devices, such as tablets, wearable fitness bands, or even electronic wristwatches, to find out how they compare. You could track your daily use of products that plug into an outlet, from the hairdryer to the television, to dial into ways that you can live more efficiently by reducing electricity use.
There are a lot of online resources that estimate electricity usage. But are they accurate? Use your energy monitor to grab some data for several electron consumers in your home, and then compare those values to reputable estimates from sources like our Appliance and Home Electronic Energy Use Calculator or Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Home Energy Saver and Score. Try to understand how big the range is for various items, and what might explain the differences in estimates.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Maybe your inner scientist wants to explore how using electricity at different times of the day can affect the cost of performing daily chores, like showering or washing dishes, due to time-based energy rates. Maybe that lightbulb above your head shines brightest when you figure out what lighting options are best for the lamps in your house. The possibilities are endless!
HOW TO SET UP YOUR EXPERIMENT
These helpful science fair tips from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory can guide you as you determine the best way to approach your testable question. Be sure to work with your science teacher to refine your ideas, develop a testable hypothesis, and determine the optimal approach for getting the answer to your question.