Green Gizmos

Making solar popcorn

When the oil runs out, Bob Fiske will be ready. He talks us through some of the essential gizmos and gadgets for a life unplugged, items such as a self-powered fridge, a solar cooker, a cool tube, and Active solar lighting.

There are certain major areas of preparation I would focus on for a time when our fossil fuels are effectively spent or are at least out of the common person’s reach anymore. These aren’t supposed to be the ‘Global Solution’, but are small, numerous and repeatable by everyday folk, such that word of them and designs would be easily shared, if people saw them as successful and attainable.

First, though not necessarily more important, would be a range of ways to divest a household and a town from external energy imports, and I list some examples below.


I am working and have worked on a variety of gadgets for domestic alternatives to the energies we each import into the house for lighting, cooking, refrigeration, heating/cooling and ventilation.. to name a few. They aren’t particularly fancy, but are extensions or combinations of Alt Energy approaches that are always mentioned. I will list a few, with some description of how they might be better applied than the ‘Dim Solar Cabin’ cliche’ that pervades in the US.

0962906921-01-_scmzzzzzzz_v1056510421_-4576728Cooking With the Sun: How to Build and Use Solar Cookers – buyt it from Amazon and Off-Grid gets 4%

Solar Cooking – The simple ‘Reflector over a glass box’ can be integrated into the kitchen design, such that the Sunny wall of the
room has the ‘kettles’ warming any time there is Sun. (Mirrors might easily be tracked on a simple clockwork, wind-up weights) It would be
common to use them as ‘Crock Pots’ where a dinner soup or stew is set up in the morning, and takes care of itself, on the sunny days, hot
and ready for dinner.

WinterFridge 1- An ‘active’ heat exchanger added to an electric fridge
uses cold outdoor air in the approp weather to work the temp. down
before the compressor has to work. Would likely consist of old radiator outside, Foodsafe AntiFreeze fluid (or saltwater..?) and a pumpmotor activated by a simple comparator with Temp sensors outside and in the box. Yes, you ‘could’ just have a box outside in the winter, but we will be looking for the advantages of ‘Set it and forget it’ simple automation, as with the above Cooker, so that we are freed to do the mass of OTHER work no doubt awaiting us.

WinterFridge 2- (Assuming there is still ‘Winter’)… Your North Roof’s snow can be collected in an insulated pit along the north wall of the house, and before springtime, covered with sawdust and a Heavily Insulated Lid. That block of ice can last months, and be keeping some long-term food storage going, or avert the need for A/C (in case the summers are deadly.. or just incredibly miserable) This has been done in Maine, quite successfully, I hear.

Cool Tube – A low-tech ‘Geothermal’.. having a domicile’s air intake be drawn through a lonnng stretch of tubing under ground, below the
frost-line.. Feels WARM in the Winter (as opposed to an open window anyhow) and COOL in the summer. Care must be taken around drainage,
watercondensation and molds, but this is not insurmountable. I’ve lived in a house I helped build (1980) where one of these worked, and
kept the water pipes from freezing through long Maine winters. Working correctly, and sometimes aided with a small fan, a
CoolTube can have additional benefits,as a fresh air supply in situations where outside air is usually kept out, and air quality and oxygen levels can suffer. Also, allowing this input of outside air should reduce the pressure differential to the outside, and thus reduce infiltration from cracks and leaks, and lessen the Carbon Monoxide drawback from chimneys and furnace flus.

Active Solar Lighting – Tracking Mirror on the roof sends (.5 meter?)
beam of direct sunlight down a channel within the home. In my case, I’ll be retrofitting this concept into one or two
of the ‘Retired’ chimney shafts in my 1850 Portland House. Rooms adjacent to this shaft can tip another swiveling mirror into the ‘beam’ and have a portions of this patch of sunlight directed for Task Lighting (Countertop, Desk) or Area Light (Diffuser at center of ceiling,perhaps) Light would shift and fluctuate on part-cloudy days, be fairly dim in overcast weather.. but often would be there and strong and free (once installed)

Russian/Finnish Stoves – Very efficient burning, large thermal mass, which can double as a trombe-wall for storing Solar input as well.
In ours, a 2-hour burn, one load of wood, kept the house respectably warm, (with some passive solar help and great insulation).. for a full day, sometimes two or more, in milder conditions. Current owner says this house in the White Mountains in Maine is cheaper for him to heat than his previous homes in New Jersey (far south of us)..

Solar Hot Air Boxes – Glazed, Insulated Box Hung on South Exterior Wall of Home, divided into front and rear chambers by black felt with inside air driven from one chamber into the other and back to the house, to collect the heat. Simple Heat sense switch controls ac or dc motor.

Wind Alternatives – A) Could rig windmill to directly ‘precompress’
refrigerant for fridges and freezers, if you know how to configure the rest of a reefer system.. save a lot on conversion losses to and from electrons. B) Use ‘raised weights’ for wind energy storage. I’ve roughed out an escapement whereby you could ‘extract’ the energy from a lifted mass independent of it being hoisted by the Wind. Stored Energy could drive various shop tools, grain milling, water pumps (tho’ redundant), fans, generators, ‘elevators’.. etc.

BioGas – Some great synergies with composting and waste mgmt, brush and scrap biomass recapture.. and after the startup, composting and methane ‘digesting’ can be exothermic, so there could be ways of tying that thermal mass to the home to share the heat somewhat. Read this article.. some promise for small communities..

So OK, That’s enough for starters. (except..) I am also tapping the Waste Stream to find a number of ways to apply Solar Electric in different formats than the ‘Grid Tied, multi KW rooftop’.. including recapturing old tools with rechargable cells (Old Makitas), to establish a collection of applications for portable packs that charge in a window or skylight. Radios, Flashlights, Battery Tools of course, which include up to small Chainsaws these days, kitchen appliances, other portable power, closet/basement lights, dc soldering tool.. etc.

There’s just a ridiculous amount of really useful stuff in the garages and basements that can be rebuilt into long-life tools that can give us some leverage in getting by. I’m building a discarded Treadle Sewing Machine (circa 1930s) into a table Scroll-saw, and a ‘sidewalk found’ exercise bike into a Lathe/Sander/Multitool center.

“How to make the parabolic AMSI solar cooker.” ARBA Minch Solar Initiative.
“Parabola Design Wood Model”, ARBA Minch Solar Initiative.
Butti, Ken & John Perlin. A Gold Thread: 2500 Years of Solar Architecture and Technology.
Cheshire Books, Palo Alto. 1980
Eric Weisstein’s World of Mathematics – 1999 CRC Press LLC, 1999-2003 Wolfram Research, Inc. https://mathworld.wolfram.com/Parabola.html
Genesis. Dynamic Design: A Collection Process, “The Concentrator” https://www.genesismission.org/educate/scimodule/CollProcess/CollProcess_pdf/ConcentratorST.pdf
Kim, Yun K. & Li-Yan Zhu. “A Parabolic Solar Cooker for Unattended Cooking.”
KUNDAPUR, ASHOK. Professor & Head, Department of Zoology, MGM College, Udupi- 576 102, INDIA
“REVIEW OF SOLAR COOKER DESIGNS.” https://ashokk_3.tripod.com/solar1.htm
Lerios, Toli & Natasha Lindo. Stanford Youth Environmental Science Program. “Physics of Solar Cooking.” https://www.stanford.edu/group/syesp/activities/projects/engineer/physics.html
N8PPQ, “Parabolic Reflecting Antennas” – https://www2.gvsu.edu/~w8gvu/geo/geo.html
The Solar Cook – https://www.solarcook.com/
The Solar Cooking Archive – Sponsored by Solar Cookers International
1919 21st St., Suite 101; Sacramento, CA 95814 Tel: 916-455-4499
Email: info@solarcookers.org website: https://solarcooking.org/
Optics of Parabolic Concentrators https://www.powerfromthesun.net/Chapter8/Chapter8new.htm

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