Visit the forum instructions to learn how to post to the forum, enable email notifications, subscribe to a category to receive emails when there are new discussions (like a mailing list), bookmark discussions and to see other tips to get the most out of our forum!
help needed building a solar steam electrical generator
  • Friends,

    I want to build a solar power generator to provide clean electricity for free at this year's Burning Man. Afterwards, my idea is to take the device on a waste veggie oil powered Transition Bus roadtrip around the States, showcasing this and perhaps OSE technologies in an attempt to move decentralization forward nation-wide.

    The generator will be a relatively simple steam generator powered by SolarFlowers, which are easy-to-make parabolic solar collectors constructed using scrap materials (see for details). The system incorporates proven technologies.

    The situation is, I am out of the country until August 3. I need to find US-based people, preferably in the Western states, who can help me build the SolarFlower power generator.

    I can provide schematics (see below), instructions (see attached PDF), money for materials, and a perhaps even a small stipend (though this is all coming out of my pocket, so goodwill time donations would be ideal). Completed machines are needed by August 15, or the appropriate amount of time that allows me to drive the trailer to Burning Man. Could you or anyone you know possibly help me out?

    Skills needed for steam generator: general metalworking, fitting, brazing 

    Tools/facilities needed: a home metalshop with hand tools (don’t need a lathe or milling machine), hacksaw, blowtorch, angle grinder, drill, gas brazing set

    Number of people needed: 1-3 in the same geographic area

    Time needed: 3 weeks – 1 month

    One person could do the job in a month, or a few people working together in a few weeks (for example, one person doing the steam part, one person doing the boiler, and one doing the electric).

    Even if you can’t help with building, you can help by asking around, spreading the word about SolarFlower, critiquing the schematic (pasted below), or contributing financially to the project (I’m going to start a Kickstarter campaign in the coming week).

    I'd greatly appreciate any ideas, advice, connections, spreading the word, etc. Reply to this thread or send me an email at thequestionofwhy (at)

    Help bring clean energy and an awesome DIY solar project to the world!

    Tim Richards
    2010-2011 Thomas J. Watson Fellow
    (blog about my year of international travel studying the ecovillage, Permaculture, and Transition Town movements)

    Schematic (sorry it's amateurish, we didn't have time to CAD it yet. Volunteers for this would be appreciated):

    SolarFlower generator.jpg 80K
    solarflower01.pdf 21K
  • 4 Comments sorted by
  • SolarFlower:


    Video of it automatically tracking the sun without electronics:

    Rundown of how it works:
  • The wording of your title is very interesting. "steam electric generator" It got me thinking - to get power from the sun's concentrated rays, we're heating a boiler to create steam, using the steam to drive a steam engine, then using the steam engine to drive an alternator. I can't help but wonder if there is a more direct way to convert steam into electricity. What about a special steam engine with built-in wiring or something? We don't even need to necessarily rotate anything and create a torque. There could be linear movement or innovative magnetic/electric effects.

    Obviously, both steam engines and alternators are very mature technologies. Also, they're modular - you can connect the alternator to any shaft that provides power and the steam engine to any shaft that needs to be driven. But what if there is a super simple, and inherently more efficient direct method. I don't necessarily think its a problem that has had a lot of people trying to solve. At industrial scales, turbines are the most efficient. At small scales, gas engines are used.
  • Second link didn't work for is a working link: 

    Cool project ;-)
  • @Jason - Now you're thinking!  There is no reason why a steam driven piston couldn't be coupled to a magnetic shuttle that in turn would be drawn back and forth through linear windings.  No need to rotate anything this way.

    The Dawg

Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!

Login with Facebook Sign In with Google Sign In with OpenID Sign In with Twitter

In this Discussion