The New Survivalist
Disaster Preparedness and Self-Reliance

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Chapter 8:
Energy

Energy is the Key to Survival

In physics class we learned that energy is the capacity to do work. We saw earlier that food is the stored energy which makes life possible. Every human activity requires energy. We need it to charge our phones and to heat our homes. From growing our food to cooking it, energy is the key to survival. In this chapter we will explore this important topic and look at sources of energy that we might draw upon during an emergency.

Virtually all of the energy on Earth comes from the Sun. Plants absorb energy directly from sunlight and plant-eating animals get it by consuming plants. Then carnivores eat plant-eating animals and so goes the food chain right to the top where humans are found. The sun's energy stored in trees is released when we burn wood. The energy stored in plants and animals that died millions of years ago provides us today with the coal, oil and natural gas that we depend on to run our economies. Even the electricity we get from hydroelectric dams comes from the sun, which evaporated the waters which produced the rain and snow which fed the rivers and lakes.

When humans discovered fire we were able to move from the warmer regions of the earth to the colder areas. The discovery of fossil fuels—first coal, and then oil and natural gas—led to the industrial revolution. With inexpensive fertilizers produced from natural gas, and abundant cheap gasoline and diesel fuel to power farming equipment, we were able to produce food more efficiently and abundantly than ever before, and to transport it in refrigerated trucks over great distances. As a result of cheap energy, today we expect to find fresh fruits and vegetables in our grocery stores regardless of the season. We take this cornucopia of inexpensive food for granted, but global warming, obesity and overpopulation have now became concerns.

But Nature is not without her own system of checks and balances. Geologists are warning us today about "Peak Oil," as fossil fuel production worldwide has begun to decline due to dwindling resources. Unfortunately they just aren't making dinosaurs anymore, and even if they were, we can't wait the millions of years that would be necessary to churn them into new fossil fuels. Many scientists are predicting that in the very near future our dwindling fossil fuel resources will become critical, leading first to extraordinarily high energy prices, and eventually maybe even to a tragic depopulation of the Earth. Some scientists say that we have already approached this critical point, and the higher fuel prices that we have witnessed over the past few years are just the beginnings of the birth pangs, as compared to what we will experience in the not-too-distant future.

Throughout the past century, the abundance of cheap energy from fossil fuels has spoiled us, resulting in some unusual habits. We have become accustomed to wearing T-shirts and shorts in our homes during the coldest months of the year, and long sleeves and woolen suits in our air-conditioned offices during the hottest months. We have become so used to this unnatural state that we now even design many of our new office buildings with windows that can't even be opened!

It is absurd that, even while our scientists are warning us about the dangers of greenhouse gases, we Americans continue to buy the largest gas-guzzling vehicles that we can get our hands on. The reprehensible SUV has replaced the more sensible economy cars that appeared on the scene after the energy crisis of the 1970's. But here is the bad news: Geologists tell us that there is a huge difference between the approaching energy crisis and the one of the 1970's. The energy crisis of the 1970's was not caused by an actual shortage of oil, but rather by a politically motivated embargo on the part of major oil producing nations. The energy crisis that we are facing today is due to the actual depletion of the world's easily-accessible (i.e., inexpensive) fossil fuel reserves. Make no mistake about it, this situation is not going to improve. It will only get worse. To the survivalist this is just one more reason why preparedness is more important today than ever before!

"If kindness and comfort are, as I suspect, the results of an energy surplus, then, as the supply contracts, we could be expected to start fighting once again like cats in a sack." —George Monbiot

Preparedness

Whether the next emergency comes from a hurricane, earthquake, terrorist attack, or peak oil crisis, we will want to consider alternative ways for heating our homes during the cold winter months when there is an interruption to our electric, natural gas, and heating oil supplies. We will also need to consider alternative methods for cooking food, and for the numerous other energy-consuming activities of daily life from washing our dishes to powering our portable radios.

Generators

A generator can provide essential electric power during a short-term emergency. There are two basic types: portable generators and standby generators.

A portable generator usually runs on gasoline. If nothing else it may be able to provide enough power to keep your refrigerator and freezer operating long enough for you to consume your cold food before it spoils. The major disadvantage of a portable generator is that it operates on gasoline, which does not store well. Gasoline should not be stored for longer than a year because it deteriorates quickly leading to clogged fuel lines or other mechanical problems. Gasoline is also highly volatile and very dangerous to store.

If you can afford the higher cost, a standby generator that will run on either natural gas or propane can provide plenty of emergency power for short-term emergencies. A standby generator can be hooked directly into your home's existing natural gas line and will automatically provide electricity during an electrical power outage. The system constantly monitors utility power 24 hours a day. When power from the utility line fails an automatic transfer switch safely disconnects the utility feed wires and connects the generator feed. This eliminates the harmful back-feeding of electricity from the house’s generator power to the utility lines. A signal is sent starting the generator and powering up your home. Automatic generators continue to monitor utility power and reverse the switch when the power outage ends, returning to standby mode. A propane dealer can provide you with an underground propane tank that is protected from the elements so that a constant source of fuel is available. According to propane dealers, on average a 250 gallon propane tank fueling a seven kilowatt standby generator will provide enough electricity to power a home for five days. A 500 gallon underground tank will provide power on average for 11 days. Of course, if you can conserve electricity by operating only essential appliances when they are really needed (an air conditioner is not an essential appliance) then your propane supply will last much longer. Even if you have a natural gas line to your home, I recommend that you go to the extra expense of having a propane tank installed, allowing you to switch your generator from natural gas to propane if the natural gas supply is interrupted. If you do not have a propane tank professionally installed you should at least be quipped to switch your generator over to a portable propane tank if the need should arise.

Many of us will not be able to afford a costly standby generator. And even those who are fortunate enough to have one will perhaps want to make plans for when their fuel runs out. What will we do then when the lights go out and the gas ceases to flow? First consider what essential services these utilities provide:

  1. Lighting
  2. Cooking
  3. Heating
  4. Communication
  5. Transportation

I will discuss communication and transportation in later chapters of this web site. In the remainder of this chapter we will consider lighting, cooking and heating.

I purposefully left air-conditioning off this list because I do not consider it essential. There are some who will disagree. My argument is that air conditioning only became widely available a mere 50 or so years ago. Humans have survived just fine for thousands if not millions of years without it. Many people survive today in very hot climates without air-conditioning. If you are in a building in which you don't believe you will survive without air-conditioning, then I suggest you consider another location. When the electricity goes out for a prolonged period of time, there will simply be no air-conditioning, and there are few alternatives other than just sweating it out the best way you can.

Lighting

One solution to the problem of lighting is to make the most of natural light or sunlight. This means getting up and going to bed with the sun. (As you can see, a large part of survival is simply common sense.) But what about those times when you really need to see in the dark, particularly during the months of the year in which the daylight period is shortened?

Pocket solar battery charger

A solar charger can be used to recharge your rechargeable batteries during a prolonged power outage. The solar charger pictured above folds to the size of a pocket calculator and can charge three AA batteries at a time in the included battery pack. The detachable battery pack with multi-plug can also be used as a power supply for small devices like radios.

Electricity

A short-term solution for some of our lighting needs will be battery-operated lights. Certainly a good flashlight with fresh batteries is an essential emergency item for any home. You should also keep one in your car. You might also consider buying rechargeable batteries, and perhaps even a solar charger. I suggest that you keep a supply of both regular batteries and rechargeable batteries in your survival stash. The newer nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries are much better than the older nickel-cadmium (NiCd) type. Rotate your regular batteries to keep them fresh and ready for an emergency. You can store batteries in your refrigerator or freezer to prolong their shelf-life. (I will further discuss batteries toward

LED flashlights are the most efficient type providing the most light for the amount of energy used. The LED lights use very little electricity so their batteries will last much longer. The wind-up type of LED flashlight never needs batteries or a new bulb. It has a crank on the side that you turn for about 60 seconds to charge up the permanent internal rechargeable battery. This flashlight provides a low intensity light that lasts a surprisingly long amount of time on each windup.

Wind-up flashlight

Wind-up electrical devices like the LED flashlight pictured above come in very handy during power outages. Wind-up portable radios are also available. Turning the crank for a couple of minutes recharges the internal battery. The crank folds conveniently away when not in use. Some wind-up devices are multifunctional, providing a radio and light in one unit for example, and some can even be used to charge the batteries in your cell phone. These wind-up devices are available at Amazon.com.

Candles

Candles also provide inexpensive emergency lighting and every survival stash should include a nice supply. Lit candles should be watched carefully, especially when used around pets or children. Many houses have burned down as a result of fires started by carelessly placed or unattended candles. Don't forget to store plenty of matches as well!

Candles

I frequently pick up candles at estate sales whenever I find them for 5 to 10 cents a piece. I have a huge box filled with candles in my survival supplies which I purchased for pennies on the dollar. If I have more than I can use during an emergency I can always use them for barter, since candles will be a highly sought after commodity during any prolonged emergency and few people store them these days.

Kerosene

Kerosene Lamps

Kerosene lanterns are also a good option for providing light during a power outage. These too are abundant at estate sales where they can be picked up very economically. In addition to kerosene they will also burn lantern oil, which comes in plastic bottles. Lantern oil is more refined and burns cleaner but is much more expensive and some complain that it does not wick as well as kerosene. I never buy lantern oil new but I have picked up many bottles at estate sales for practically nothing and as a result I have quite a stash.

Lamp Oil

If you plan on using kerosene lanterns you will also want to store a supply of kerosene, extra mantles or wicks, and extra globes in case yours breaks. Kerosene will keep longer than gasoline, but I still recommend that you try to rotate it out every few years or so. If you also have a kerosene heater you can burn your kerosene during the cold months each year so you can replace your supply with fresh stock.

Gasoline

Gasoline doesn't store as long as kerosene and for that reason I do not recommend gasoline lanterns or stoves. If you want you can keep one on hand so you will have the option of using gasoline, if you can get your hands on it during a prolonged emergency, but be sure that you do not store gasoline in your stove or lantern. It goes bad rather quickly and will gum up the works—the last thing you want when you pull the appliance out of storage to use during an emergency.

Propane

Propane Set-up

If you are well equipped for camping, you will also be well equipped for any emergency. Hopefully you will have a good propane lantern as part of your camping equipment. I consider propane lanterns to be a very good choice. Propane is safe to store and it will keep for a very long time, making it one of the best choices for stockpiling energy. Be sure to store plenty of extra mantles for your propane lantern.

Cooking

Propane

I also consider propane to be a good choice for your emergency cooking needs. But, as always, it is a good idea to have more than one alternative to fall back on during an emergency. Alcohol stoves, including the ones that run on canned fuel or "Sterno" are nice alternatives, especially if you live in a small apartment and don't have a lot of room to store propane tanks. Outdoor barbecue grills can be use for cooking during emergencies, but they are terribly inefficient when compared to camping stoves. Since you will want to conserve your propane to make it last as long as possible, I recommend that you avoid using a large outdoor grill, preferring a smaller camping stove instead. (Warning: Never use a barbecue grill or hibachi to burn charcoal inside your home. They produce dangerous carbon monoxide gas and are therefore for outdoor use only. People have died during power outages as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning from indoor charcoal fires!)

Propane Cooking Stoves

A double burner propane stove and two single burner propane stoves are pictured above. Propane is clean, safe and it stores very well making it the ideal fuel for emergencies.

Alcohol or Canned Fuel

Alcohol or Canned Fuel

Alcohol or Sterno is an alternative cooking fuel that may be suitable for those who live in small apartments. The two stoves on the right in the photograph above fold flat for storage and are designed for canned cooking fuel while the two stoves on the left are designed for bottled fondue fuel or alcohol. Canned fuel keeps very well and can be stored for an indefinite amount of time.

Wood

Wood burning stoves are also a good option if you have a class A chimney flue in your home. They can be used for both heating and cooking, and you can often find fire wood for free. I will have more to say about using wood as a fuel source in the next section of this chapter when we discuss alternative ways for heating your home during an emergency.

Solar

Solar ovens are another excellent alternative for cooking your food. Solar energy is free, and simple solar stoves are surprisingly easy and inexpensive to make. Below are a few simple designs. There are excellent online sources where you can get plans for building a solar oven, including http://solarcooking.org/.

Baking bread with a solar oven

Perhaps the simplest and easiest design for a solar oven is the box type pictured above. This homemade solar oven consists of a wooden box with a double paned sliding glass top. The outside of the box is painted black with nontoxic paint for maximum heat absorption. There are two different opinions as to whether the inside should be painted black as well or coated with a reflective material such as aluminum foil. Even though the oven in the picture above has been painted black on the inside, I believe that it is usually better for the inside to be reflective material. If the box is black then the box will certainly heat up, but the idea is to heat up the cooking container inside the box, and my experience has been that a reflective material inside the box does a better job of that.

Reflector on a solar oven

Regardless of the design, most solar ovens require a reflector, such as the one pictured above, to concentrate the light and heat from the sun. The reflector above was made by simply covering a piece of cardboard with aluminum foil. The aluminum foil is stuck to the cardboard using a spray on adhesive. You can also use ordinary multipurpose glue, thinned slightly with water so that it will spread on easily with a paint brush.

Cooked to perfection

These two 100% whole wheat French baguettes were cooked to perfection in a baguette bread pan inside this simple solar oven in about three hours. A more efficient solar oven will do the job in less than half the time. The efficiency of a solar oven can be improved by insulating the box or improving the reflector.

Inner tube solar oven

Another creative design for a solar oven is the inner tube oven pictured above. It consists of a large black inner tube sandwiched between two panes of glass. The pan inside the oven should be black to maximize heat absorption. The oven pictured above is sitting on a smooth blacktop surface so the bottom pane of glass was omitted. It is important that the glass fit smoothly against the inner tube all the way around to seal the inside from heat loss. Even though this photograph does not show a reflector, this type of oven will also require a reflector like the one pictured with the box oven above.

Parabolic solar cooker

The third type of solar oven that I will mention here is the parabolic type. At the end of this chapter I have provided step by step instructions on how I made the parabolic solar cooker pictured above from an old satellite dish. For more creative and innovative designs for all types of solar ovens visit http://solarcooking.org/.

Cooking in a Solar Oven

Solar ovens generally do not get as hot as conventional ovens, so a longer cooking time will often be required. For example, when I make whole wheat bread in my kitchen oven I bake it for 30 minutes at 350o F (177o C.) Baking a similar loaf in a simple box-type solar oven can take up to three hours, depending on the efficiency of the solar oven and the amount of sun. I have successfully baked bread at temperatures as low as 155o to 175o F (68o to 80o C.) On the plus side of solar ovens, it is nearly impossible to burn anything.

If you cook meat in your solar oven I recommend that you use a meat thermometer. You may never get your meat to the temperature recommended for conventional cooking and so again a longer cooking time may be required. I recommend that you strive for an internal temperature of at least 165o F (74o C) as measured by a meat thermometer.

Food Safety When Solar Cooking

Regardless of the cooking method, the danger zone for cooked food is between 50o and 125o F (10o and 52o C.) It is recommended that cooked food be kept either above this zone or below it. When cooked food has been in the danger zone for three to four hours it should be discarded due to the possibility of food poisoning by botulism or salmonella. Spoiled foods may contain dangerous toxins without showing any noticeable signs of spoilage. Suspect foods should not even be tasted since even a small amount of toxin can be very dangerous. Reheating food that has been in the danger zone for too long will not destroy the toxins nor render the food safe.

When using a solar oven the danger occurs when the food is partially cooked and then allowed to remain in the cooker too long after the oven temperature falls into the danger zone. This is not usually a problem because it is not difficult to keep the temperature above the danger zone. The problem could occur if food remains in the oven for hours at the end of the day or after the sun is obscured by clouds. If the food in your solar oven is not done due to one of these conditions then another method of cooking should be used to finish the job. For additional information on solar cooking safety see http://solarcooking.org/foodsafety.htm.

As long as the above precautions are kept in mind, solar cooking lends itself very well to absentee cooking. Raw, refrigerated or frozen foods, even meat or chicken, may be placed in a solar oven while it is still dark outside—several hours before the sun begins the cooking process. The food will remain cold enough to prevent spoilage and when the sun rises the cooker will reach a safe level of heat quickly enough to prevent it from being in the danger zone too long. Since it is difficult to overcook or burn food in a solar oven, when the food is done it will simply stay hot and above the danger zone until your return.

Heating your Home During an Emergency

If you are already relying on stockpiled heating oil or propane for your heating needs then you may already have a nice supply of stored energy for an emergency. But your thermostat and furnace will not work when the electricity is off. You could also experience this problem if you heat your home using natural gas. You can look into ways of providing electricity to your furnace when the power is off, but it would be even better to install a natural gas space heater or a small furnace that does not require electricity, for a backup during those times in which you lose electrical power but still have gas or oil. If your oven uses natural gas you will have to light it with a match since the electronic lighters will not work when the electricity is off.

Some people try to heat their homes when the electricity is off by operating their natural gas ovens with the door open, but the gas company does not recommend this procedure because it can be dangerous. Install a natural gas space heater instead. However, when the electricity is off during cold weather, that would be a good time to catch up on your baking if you have natural gas, since a hot stove will provide supplemental heat for your home. After your baking is done and the oven is turned off, leave the oven door open for a while to let the escaping heat help keep you warm.

During an emergency your natural gas service could also become interrupted. Alternative methods for heating your home include a kerosene heater, a portable propane heater (like those used when camping in cold weather) and a wood burning stove or fireplace. You will need to stockpile your emergency energy source and conserve it so that it will last as long as possible. You can save energy during an emergency by heating only a portion of your home, closing off the rooms that are not needed. You can also save a considerable amount of energy by not trying to keep your house as warm as you have grown accustomed to during times of plentiful energy. Wear plenty of warm clothing in your house, including a wool cap or similar headgear, and you can be comfortable with inside temperatures as low as 60o F (16o C.) Remember that most heat loss from the human body occurs from the head, so don't neglect the warm headgear!

Wood

If your house does not have a working chimney or class A flue you will not be able to burn wood in your home. But if you are fortunate enough to be so equipped then wood can provide an excellent supplemental or alternative source of heat for heating your home and for cooking.

Wood-burning stoves are usually much more efficient than a fireplace, unless the fireplace has been specially built or modified to increase its efficiency. It is also much easier to cook on a wood-burning stove than in a fireplace.

Wood stove

Heat reclaimer

A heat reclaimer like the one pictured above greatly improves the efficiency of a wood burning stove by capturing some of the heat that would otherwise escape up the chimney or flue and redistributing it into the room.

Wood pile

After every wind storm I pick up loads of free firewood from downed trees. People often leave wood by the curbside for the city to dispose of. Sometimes it is already cut into nice-sized logs that will fit right into my wood-burning stove, but usually I have to do some additional cutting so I take my chain saw, another good survival item, with me when I am looking for free firewood.

Splitting logs

If you plan on using wood as an alternative heating and cooking fuel there are additional tools that you will need, including a wood splitting maul and wedges.

Kerosene

Many people choose a kerosene heater for their emergency heating needs. Kerosene is certainly an option but it presents some disadvantages. Although kerosene has a longer storage life than gasoline, like gasoline it will deteriorate in time. One source that I checked recommended a one-year shelf-life for kerosene. Another said that kerosene could be kept indefinitely if stored in a tightly-closed container. I suspect that the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. I have stored kerosene for many years without any problems. One thing is for sure and that is kerosene should not be stored in your kerosene heater nor in your oil lamps. These are not airtight and the kerosene will deteriorate and gum up the wick. Manufacturers of kerosene heaters usually recommend that the wick be replaced each year, and that is one reason why I do not like kerosene heaters. (The wick will actually last for years, but it will work less efficiently as carbon deposits build up on the burning end.) A kerosene additive is available at most hardware stores that is purported to extend the storage life of kerosene and make it burn cleaner. I recommend that you use this additive if you plan on storing kerosene for long periods of time.

Kerosene heaters

If you use kerosene as your alternative fuel be sure to rotate your fuel out of storage and replace your stock every few years. At the end of the cold season completely empty your kerosene heater before putting it away for summer storage.

Gasoline

Gasoline burning heaters and stoves are available but I don't recommend them. Gasoline has a recommended storage life of only 6 months. Gasoline is also very volatile and dangerous to store in large quantities. When you use old gasoline there is a tendency for it to gum up the valves in your stove or heater. Never store a gasoline appliance with fuel in it or you will have problems for sure.

Gasoline stoves and heaters

Coleman makes a special fuel (shown on the left in the photograph above) for their stoves which is highly refined and less likely to cause problems. If you use a gasoline stove or heater you should use the recommended fuel. But this fuel is expensive and it still has a relatively short shelf-life when compared to other energy sources and I do not recommend it for long-term storage. This photograph also shows a catalytic heater (right back) designed to burn the same type of fuel and a two-burner stove (in the middle.) In the foreground on the right is a black heat drum designed to convert the one-burner stove (left foreground) into a heater.

Propane

Propane burns cleaner than gasoline or kerosene and has a much longer storage life. Propane heaters and stoves are very reliable, requiring almost no maintenance. Propane is my preferred source of emergency fuel for both heating and cooking.

Propane heaters

Two types of propane heaters are shown above. Portable propane camping equipment, including heaters, lanterns and stoves, are excellent for emergencies.

Refilling a propane cylinder

The handy adapter shown above allows you to refill your small propane bottles from your 20 lb propane tank. (Propane is far cheaper to buy in refillable 20 lb tanks.)

Propane stash

The photograph above shows the corner of my unattached garage where I keep my emergency propane stash. I pick up used 20 lb propane tanks for about $5 each at estate sales (sometimes they even come with propane) and get them refilled at my local hardware store, where the propane is much cheaper than swap-out places like grocery stores.

Caution: The combustion of most materials, including wood, camping fuel, gasoline, propane and natural gas, releases varying amounts of potentially dangerous carbon monoxide gas, so adequate ventilation is recommended, especially when operating any camping equipment indoors. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, invisible and lethal gas that you will not be aware of until it is too late. That is why I strongly recommend the use of a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home. And never burn charcoal indoors!

DC Power

The electricity that comes into our homes from the electric company is Alternating Current (AC.) AC has the advantage of being transferred with low resistance over large distances through electrical wires or power lines. Most of the appliances in our homes are designed to operate on AC. The ones that don't either run on batteries or have a transformer that converts AC into DC (Direct Current.) All batteries, like the ones in your flashlight, cell phone and automobile, provide DC power. Solar panels also produce DC power.

In my video on Ham radios which appears in Chapter 11, I describe a simple inexpensive 12-volt solar powered system that I use. Use this link to watch that video starting at the point where I begin discussing my 12-volt system, pictured below:

Click here to watch the video describing this inexpensive system.

Power inverter

An Inverter is an electrical device that converts DC power to AC. You can purchase small, portable inverters, like the one pictured above, to convert 12 Volt DC power, such as that from your automobile, into AC power that you can use to run AC appliances. The problem with inverters is that they are inefficient because some of the DC power is converted into heat rather than into AC power. They even contain an internal fan to help dissipate the heat to prevent overheating. This means that a lot of your DC power is wasted and as a result your battery will be drained quicker. For this reason, if you use DC power, it is far better to use it to run DC appliances rather than to convert it into AC power to run AC appliances.

Portable 12-V DC power

Various types of rechargeable 12 Volt DC power supplies are available, such as the one pictured above. These are usually purchased for recharging dead automobile batteries, but they can also provide emergency power during an electrical outage. Ordinary automobile batteries are not suitable for this type of use because they are not designed for repeated deep discharges (discharges of more than 50%.) If you want a battery for an emergency power supply you will need to purchase a heavy duty deep cycle lead acid battery, which has thicker plates and lead-antimony support grids for years of over 50% deep cycle charges and discharges.

Solar panels

Twelve volt solar panels can be used to recharge your automobile battery or any other rechargeable 12 volt power supply. The larger panel shown in the photograph above provides up to 4.5 watts of power and is suitable for recharging any 12 volt battery, even one that has been completely discharged. The smaller unit in the foreground is a battery charge maintainer, or trickle charger, which will not recharge a dead battery but is designed rather to maintain a battery in an automobile that is parked for a period of time. The trickle charger is plugged into the cigarette lighter and placed on the dashboard where it will receive maximum exposure to the sun.

DC Oven

Various devices and appliances are available for 12 volt DC power supplies. These are popular with truckers and can be found in the stores located at truck stops. The 12 volt oven pictured above can be used to cook an entire meal. The 12 volt cooler pictured below can be used to keep food either cold or hot.

DC cooler

Renewable Energy (Photovoltaics, Wind Turbines, Micro-Hydropower)

Renewable Energy (RE) sources are used primarily to provide clean supplemental energy to lower energy bills and help the environment. I mention them here because they can also provide energy during an emergency and some readers may be interested in pursuing this topic further. Their disadvantage is their high cost. The wiring and installation of the generators is expensive, and they require a bank of high-maintenance batteries to store the energy and an expensive inverter to convert the direct current electricity they produce into alternating current. If you are interested in using solar energy to reduce your utility bills you might consider a solar water heater, which may provide a greater return on your investment. Discussing RE in detail is beyond the scope of this web site. Check the Additional Resources section at the end of this web site if you are interested in exploring this subject further. A good introductory book on the subject is When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance & Planetary Survival by Matthew Stein. A good web site to check out is http://www.aaasolar.com/.

Action Step 14: Energy Check Lists

Turn to the page in your Action Planner where you have begun your "Get" and "Do" lists for energy and begin making your lists. The check List below will help you with your "Get" list.

Printer Friendly List Printer Friendly List

Energy Check List:

    Lighting
  1. [  ] Flashlights
  2. [  ] Kerosene lanterns
  3. [  ] Extra wicks for kerosene lanterns
  4. [  ] Extra globes for kerosene lanterns
  5. [  ] Propane lantern
  6. [  ] Extra mantles for propane lantern
  7. [  ] Lantern oil or kerosene
  8. [  ] 1 or 2 lb propane bottles for lantern (preferably refillable)
  9. [  ] Refill adapter for 1 or 2 lb propane bottles
  10. [  ] Candles
  11. [  ] Matches
  12. [  ] Extra batteries for flashlight
  13. [  ] Rechargeable batteries (nickel-metal hydride, NiMH)
  14. [  ] AC powered battery charger
  15. [  ] Solar battery charger
    Cooking
  16. [  ] Propane stove
  17. [  ] 20 lb or larger propane tank(s)
  18. [  ] Flint spark lighter with extra flints
  19. [  ] Stove for canned fuel
  20. [  ] Supply of canned fuel (e.g., Sterno)
  21. [  ] 12 Volt DC oven
  22. [  ] Aluminum pans for 12 Volt DC oven
  23. [  ] Solar oven
  24. [  ] Meat thermometer
    Heating
  25. [  ] Propane heater
  26. [  ] Kerosene heater
  27. [  ] Extra wick for kerosene heater
  28. [  ] Wood burning stove
    Wood Burning Supplies
  29. [  ] Fireplace tool set (ash shovel, poker, etc.)
  30. [  ] Fireplace bellows
  31. [  ] Ash bucket
  32. [  ] Hearth wood rack
  33. [  ] Firewood carrier
  34. [  ] Outdoor wood rack
  35. [  ] Wood splitting wedges
  36. [  ] Wood splitting maul
  37. [  ] Wood saw
  38. [  ] Chain saw
  39. [  ] Heat reclaimer
    Fuel and Fuel Supplies
  40. [  ] 20 lb Propane tank(s)
  41. [  ] "T" adapters, hoses, wrench, etc. for propane
  42. [  ] Kerosene
  43. [  ] Kerosene treatment (increases storage life of kerosene)
  44. [  ] Firewood
  45. [  ] Pressed logs
  46. [  ] Kindling wood
  47. [  ] Old newspapers
    12-Volt DC Supplies
  48. [  ] Rechargeable power supply (heavy duty deep cycle)
  49. [  ] Inverter
  50. [  ] Solar panel

Making a Parabolic Solar Cooker

The simplest, easiest and most versatile type of solar cooker is probably the box type. But those inventive souls among us who like to tinker with new technologies might be interested in designing and building their own parabolic cookers. There are many ways to make a parabolic cooker. I have seen them made from umbrellas and even cardboard. Plans for various designs are available at http://solarcooking.org/. Here is how I made my parabolic solar cooker, using an old satellite dish:

An old satellite dish has some nice advantages.

An old satellite dish has some nice advantages. It was designed to be adjustable, so it can be rotated and tilted to the most efficient position for capturing the sun's rays. The first step in making a parabolic cooker from a satellite dish is to mount the dish on a sturdy base that is heavy enough to resist toppling over in the wind.

Making a parabolic cooker step 1

After removing the LNB's from the LNB mount, I removed the dish from the supporting pole and reinstalled it on the pole upside down. Turning the dish upside down moved the LNB mount from the bottom to the top, where it can be used for hanging the cooking pot.

Making a parabolic cooker step 2

I found that a 1x2 inch board would fit perfectly into this type of LNB mount. I made the arm adjustable by drilling holes in the board about one inch apart, and using a nail to hold it at whatever position I desired. I also put a hook in the end of the board to hang the cooking pot on.

Making a parabolic cooker step 3

For the reflector I glued aluminum foil to the satellite dish. I used ordinary white multipurpose glue, thinning it with a little water so I could easily brush it on the dish.

Making a parabolic cooker step 4

The dish should be positioned at a 90o angle to the sun's rays. I replaced the angle adjustment nuts with wing nuts so they could be loosened and tightened by hand. The angle remains the same throughout the day. It changes only when the angle of the sun changes, according to the season of the year. However, when in use the dish must be rotated to follow the sun throughout the day, so I left the nuts which hold the dish on the post loose so the dish could be freely rotated.

Making a parabolic cooker step 5

For maximum absorption of heat and light, I painted the cooking pot solid black using high temperature paint (the kind you use to paint barbecue grills.)

Setting fire to a newspaper

I'm sure we have all, at one time or another, used a magnifying glass to focus the sun's rays to set a piece of paper on fire. A parabolic reflector works in a similar way, as demonstrated in the photograph above. A newspaper held at the focal point of this parabolic cooker took only 15 seconds to ignite into flames. This experiment was conducted in September at 8:30 AM with the sun still low in the sky and an ambient temperature of only 65o F (18.3o C.)

Making a parabolic cooker step 6

It is important to position the cooking pot at the precise focal point of the parabolic cooker. Throughout the cooking process, the cooker will need to be rotated slightly, about twice every hour, to follow the sun as it travels across the sky. For this reason, a parabolic cooker does not lend itself to absentee cooking as well as a box-type solar oven, which can be left in the same position all day.

Making a parabolic cooker step 7

A final and necessary step is to insulate the cooking pot to prevent heat loss to the surrounding air. This greatly improves the efficiency of the cooker and increases the temperature in the cooking pot. This can be accomplished by placing the black pot inside a clear Pyrex glass dish, or as illustrated above, by placing a clear plastic cooking bag around the pot (the same kind of clear cooking bag that you use in your oven.)

A Final Warning about Parabolic Cookers:

A parabolic solar cooker produces an intense light and heat at its focal point that can be very dangerous. I have even heard of one man who inadvertently set his house on fire with a parabolic cooker that was not even in use. Always wear sunglasses when working with any solar cooker outdoors. Just as you would never look directly into the sun, be careful not to look directly into the focal point of your parabolic cooker, where the sun's rays are intensified many times. Never allow children to play with a solar cooker—particularly a parabolic solar cooker!

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