While solar panels and large scale batteries are by far the most efficient way to power your home in a survival situation, they aren’t the whole story. In this article, we’ll explore seven other ways to harness the sun’s energy in day-to-day life.
1. Fire Starter
By magnifying or concentrating the sun’s light, you can create a huge amount of heat.
YouTuber Grant Thompson used the Fresnel lens from an old rear projection television to make a “Solar Scorcher” capable of temperatures of up to 2000 F at the focal point.
You can get similar effects to this by concentrating solar energy into a single point. YouTuber NightHawkInLight was attempting to build a mirror for a DIY telescope, and came up instead with this parabolic fire-starter.
While burning things with sunlight is a lot of fun, how about putting it to some practical use?
2. Cook Up a Storm
Cooking using sunlight sidesteps the need for using power stored in fuel or batteries, and if done well doesn’t require Sahara-level sun exposure to achieve. There are already portable solar cookers available.
These designs are possible to replicate yourself, as Instructables user yasintoda shows us. This large parabolic mirror setup uses a wooden frame and cheap aluminium reflector tape to create an oven capable of cooking a meal in an hour using only sunlight.
For something more portable, YouTuber Rich Allen created a Solar Vacuum Tube Oven. This design, which is commercially available as the GoSun Sport, is built using a vacuum tube from eBay and some simple parts available from the hardware store.
This video takes you through the build concept, along with a test cook to show you the concept in action.
If you managed to get your hands on an old Fresnel lens, you could turn it into a grill by focusing the light onto a pan. This is a great alternative to a BBQ, as there is less to clean up afterwards and no lit coals to keep an eye on
Why not take that concept one step further by creating a cooking grill with variable heat controls?
That is exactly what YouTuber John Solar 283™ created using scrap parts. What sets it aside from other builds is the parts used. The welded metal frame make for a sturdy and long lasting alternative to a patio grill.
His YouTube video takes you through the design and build, before showing it in action to cook up some shrimp.
3. Cup of Tea Anyone?
For a much quicker and simpler build, or a simple way to have a cuppa waiting for you when you need a break, consider the solar kettle.
There are many designs. While you could use any of the above cookers to boil water for you, Instructables user bprophetable came up with a Solar Kettle which could do away with the need for a lens or large reflector altogether.
By using a glass kettle or cup (make sure it is heat safe), and the heat absorbing properties of black glass marbles, he created a kettle which can function using two normal mirrors. This is a simple and easy to reuse idea, and a great excuse to buy lots of marbles! Or you could just buy a solar kettle, if you’re being lazy.
For a more survival oriented idea, YouTuber Mad Science Hacks showcases a simple water purification design using two plastic bottles and a piece of PVC pipe.
The water from the bottom bottle evaporates and condenses into the top bottle, which purifies it. It is worth noting however, that this does not totally guarantee totally safe drinking water. This one is strictly for survival situations!
4. Sun Spirits
If you are in the mood for something a little stronger, Instructables user cobergland uses reflected sunlight to power a still. As they point out in the Instructable, while this is technically the same process used to make “moonshine,”” they strongly advise against it. The still is instead used to create ethanol for fuel — something they had to acquire a permit to do.
The Solar Still design utilizes regular mirrors from the hardware store, along with some pipes and bungs from a brewer’s hobby shop.
Note: It may be illegal to make one of these in your locality, and given that you’re producing a flammable substance, distilling is not without risk. Make sure you know what you are doing in both cases before attempting this build!
5. Let There Be Light
The words “solar lighting” usually bring to mind LEDs batteries and solar panels. While there are plenty of reasons to use these setups, it isn’t an option in some places.
In recent years, a video has been circulated showing a simple DIY idea to get sunlight into dark spaces — using just a bottle, some water, and some bleach.
This was designed primarily with the slums of Manila in mind, though the design could be modified for use in outbuildings, sheds and porches.
The concept is essentially the same as commercially available “sun pipes.”
6–7. Heating and Water
The principles covered in this article can have much larger applications. If you live in a place which does receive sunlight but is routinely cold, the soda can air heater might work for you.
The system works by stacking a series of soda cans together, having first cut holes in the top and bottom. Spray paint them black to absorb the most light, and any air passing through will be warmed significantly. You can use a small solar powered fan to help with airflow, but it you mount them vertically, the hot air should naturally rise anyway, drawing cold air in from the bottom. You’ll find an extensive guide to building a DIY solar heating system using soda cans at freeonplate.com.
To take the concept of home heat generation even further, how about getting all of your hot water from the sun? Gary Reysa of builditsolar.com built a large scale solar water heating system for under $1,000.
The system pumps cold water up through collector panels, and returns hot water to the insulated tank for later use. This extensive how to guide takes you through the process of building something similar. In addition to this, it gives alternative designs, follow up tweaks to the system, and extensive data on effectiveness over time.
There are countless ways to utilize the sun’s energy in day to day life. Those wishing to move away from conventional power sources have never had more options. Maybe you dream of living completely off the grid, or perhaps you simply want to add some renewable DIY setups into your daily connected lives. By combining projects like the ones above with other forms of DIY renewable energy, you can get close even on a limited budget.
Do you use solar energy in an interesting or unusual way? Have you created a system we didn’t cover in this article? We are interested in hearing about all kinds of DIY solar systems, post your ideas and creations in the comment section below!