Solar fun

Jack and Dianne Mason of Meadowview, VA came by E&H on Friday to give a solar demonstration to an environmental studies course.  Jack is a former geology professor turned solar evangelist.  His focus is on Africa (Kenya in particular) and those shiny boxes you see in the picture are actually solar ovens.  Basically, they are cardboard boxes with reflective collectors and black interiors that capture sunlight and absorb as much as possible.  The result is pretty impressive.  After less than an hour, both ovens were well above 200 degrees.  They are designed to be used like a slow cooker; you just put your food in there in the morning, point it south, and you have a hot meal when you come home.  Brilliant!

The Masons also brought some other nifty solar gadgets.  There was a solar powered fan, a bank of solar powered LED lights hooked up to a car battery for storage, and a homemade solar thermal system.  Keeping things simple again, Jack just made a plywood box and stuck a used glass patio door on top of it.  Inside it’s much like the oven, except it has copper tubing to circulate the water.  It feeds the cold water from the bottom of the tank, meaning no pumps are needed because as the water heats up it rises to the top of the panels and back into the tank.  He also had a solar powered pump on display.

I loved the simplicity of it all.  Renewable energy has a reputation for being expensive and complicated, but this demonstration was proof that all you need is some spare materials and a little know-how to get the ball rolling.  Solar PV systems aren’t yet feasible or cost-effective for everyone, but this demonstration showed that there are plenty of renewable energy solutions for all types of applications.


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