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Solar Cells For The Home

Todd Said:

Alternate ways to harness the energy from sun light?

We Answered:

You can probably easily build a solar heater yourself. A solar heater is simply a panel with water channels, or tubes, which pass by solar concentrators (parabolic mirrors or lenses) which capture and concentrate the sun's energy to heat the water. Remember killing ants with a magnifying glass? This is the same concept.

Solar heaters can generate electricity very efficiently if the water can be turned into steam. You could use a steam turbine, if you have one (probably not). Or, you could build yourself a little fan connected to a cheap little DC motor and run the fan by the steam and water vapor coming out the end of the tube. This should easily generate enough electricity to power a small light bulb or some LED's.

To do this experiment you will need at least a few dozen plastic magnifying glasses and probably about 6 feet of 1/8" diameter copper tubing. Copper tubing usually costs a couple bucks per foot, and you can pick up cheap party favor magnifying glasses at most dollar or thrift stores.

The simplest way I can think of building this thing would be to take two flat boards and create an long L shaped shelf. Straighten out the copper tube and staple it to one of the boards. Here's a cross-sectional view of what I mean...

|`|
| |o <---- Copper Tube
|.|____
|_____|

Then screw the stems of the magnifying glasses to the right side of the bottom board, making sure that the distance between the copper tube and the lens matches the lens's focal length for maximum heating power.

|`|
| |o.....() <---- magnifying lens
|.|____||
|_____||

Then attach a water tank to one side of the tube, point the contraption at the sun, and see how hot it gets.

Anyway, it sounds like a fun project. Have fun, and good luck. :)

Suzanne Said:

Can the average person make solar cells economically?

We Answered:

Depends on how you are defining "make."

If you mean by assembling a series of individual manufactured cells, yes, you can do that, in fact some are already made, just plug them into your cigarette lighter of your car. http://www.northerntool.com Go to their alternative energy section.

If by producing the actual cell itself is what you mean. from a clear substrate begining- No. There are a number of hazardous materials used in their manufacture. Chemicals like Cadmium, Nickel, and others. Not to mention the specialized nature of the equipment to construct them.

Lindsay Publishing has published a book on how to make your own solar cell that really works, book of that name in fact, but the amount of current and ultimately power of that cell are so limited that they are not cost effective in any way other than as a demonstration tool. http://www.lindsaybks.com

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