From batch solar water heaters to passive cooling, solar-power DIY projects exist in abundance. The concept of harnessing the sun’s power dates back to the 7th century B.C., when glass and mirrors were used to start fires. Although many individuals believe solar power is a largely complex notion, the use of solar energy is actually extremely accessible to do-it- yourselfers with a few basic skills. Here are five ways anyone can get started with solar to help keep you powered up when the grid goes down.

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Relying on solar energy begins by embracing conservation. Efficiency is the first step to self-reliance. Cutting energy demand with a few simple measures, such as turning off electron- ics, taking shorter showers and increasing in- sulation can cut your power needs significantly, allowing you to install a smaller system. Dan Chiras, author of The Homeowner’s Guide to Renewable Energy, estimates conservation can reduce your project investment by half.

Knowing the language will help guide you onto and through the solar path. Often, energy is more useful once converted from its original form. In solar thermal applications, both passive and active systems exist. Passive systems do not involve mechanical devices, like greenhous- es and south-facing windows. Active systems use mechanical devices and the energy is often stored for future use. These include systems using photovoltaic panels.

Many other terms such as direct (open systems), indirect (closed systems), storage and tankless water heaters and the various components of power, such as charge controllers and inverters, are also important to understand. has a glossary of energy-related terms, as well as information on the savings and rebates available to those who want to move towards alternative energy sources.

Solar power can be harnessed by a myriad of systems to meet your energy needs. Solar electric provides power. Stand-alone solar light systems can be purchased as a kit. Solar ovens can be as simple as cardboard and aluminum foil, or more complex boxes that reflect the sun’s rays for cooking your food. Other systems include water heaters, hot air collectors and space heating. All you need to do is decide what you want to do, research it and do it.

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This is essential. Where do you want to put the photovoltaic panels? Will they be installed on
the roof or on the ground? Is your roof strong enough? Does your roof need to be replaced before you install a system that will last 20 to 25 years? Do you have local codes that regulate these types of system? Asking these questions before you get started will help you design a system perfect for you. Resources such as Build It Solar ( offer an online survey.

The next step is to gather the right materials. As alternative energy becomes more mainstream, more DIY materials are available at your local home center. Materials and guidance are also available through specialty retailers. In addi- tion, many organizations such as the American Solar Energy Society (, Solar Energy International ( and Solar Living Institute ( offer training, news and resources to help.

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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