Low-tech Projects

One goal of the Sustainable Energy Project at Wilson College is to demonstrate readily available energy solutions that can be easily built at home or readily purchased. These devices may provide power solutions in remote locations or harvest energy through simple means.

Solar Cooker

Have you ever left a car parked in the sun on a hot summer day?

When you first get inside, it may feel like it could be hot enough to bake a potato! This is the same concept behind a solar cooker. The sun's energy passes through a glass (or plexiglass) panel into an insulated box and some of the energy is trapped inside as heat. By focusing the sun's rays into the box with reflective panels, the energy can be intensified to the point that cooking temperatures are reached.The solar cooker at the Fulton Center for Sustainable Living is made from plywood, foam insulation, plexiglass, and sheet metal flashing. An inner wooden box is lined with the reflective sheet metal, then placed inside an outer wooden box with insulation stuffed in between. A sheet of plexiglass is used to admit and trap the sun’s rays, and a large reflective panel at the back helps to focus sunlight inside. Finally, the whole unit is painted black to absorb heat and withstand the weather. Castor wheels added to the bottom are handy for moving the cooker from place to place. Items to be cooked (cookies, rice, breads, etc.) are placed inside the inner box with the plexiglass on top, then the cooker is pointed into the sun. Temperatures inside quickly heat up and the food begins to cook.

By periodically turning the oven to face the sun, cooking can be completed in a few hours. This fun project saves energy and shows how useful the sun’s rays can be! Simple solar cookers can also be made from cardboard boxes lined with aluminum foil, or from potato chip cans (the perfect size for cooking a hot-dog).

For more information on solar cookers, visit the Solar Cookers website.Solar Water Heating


Solar Water Heating

Have you ever felt the hot water that comes out of a hose if it is left in the sun on a summer day?

The sun can heat water effectively, cleanly, and cheaply. Solar water heaters work on the same principle as solar cookers. A water storage tank is painted black, then placed inside a transparent box. This is then set in a sunny spot, and allowed to heat up over the course of a day. By evening, hot water is available for dish washing, bathing, or other uses.

The water heaters at the Fulton Center for Sustainable Living are made from tanks recovered from a local plumber’s shop. Each tank is situated inside its own wood-framed box, surrounded by transparent plastic. A garden hose with cold water runs into the bottom of each tank, and a hot water hose runs out of the top. Interns who live on the farm for the summer use the hot water for bathing at the end of the work day.

Solar water heaters are quick, cheap, and easy to build, and they can save an incredible amount of energy! Every time someone washes with solar-heated water, it uses water that did not have to be heated with electricity, gas, or oil. A solar water heater sits in the sun and collects heat whenever the sun shines. The only maintenance needed is to drain the tanks in fall before freezing temperatures set in.