An Idea, Planning, Seeing a Dream Come True.

Solar One of is Growing. By Corporal Willy, July 8, 2009 ; It is so nice to get a chance to play and do the things that you have longed to do to satisfy one's mind or curiosity. So this is what I have been doing to proceed with what I hope w

Solar One of is Growing

By Corporal Willy, July 8, 2009

      Well folks, I’ve been very hard at work on Solar One, of and I haven’t had much time to do anything else.  Going to school (on line) writing and building the Thermal Storage Container in my back yard is all that I seem to be doing lately.  Okay, on Saturday nights I play poker with some friends that come on over the house.  I lose on a consistent basis but I do love it when we play Trivia Pursuit and I win.  I’m full of nonsensical, non important, information due to the fact that I’ve been around for many years and that I have heard and done so much in that time. 

    As the title for this article suggests, not only is Solar One growing but I have found some muscles again that are getting hard as I work about 4-6 hours a day in 107 degrees Fahrenheit heat or 41.67 Celsius.  Yup, this is the desert region where there is a town that most people have heard of called Las Vegas, Nevada.  Summers are hot and the pool is like a warm bath and the winters can be very cold sometimes as my first pictures down below will attest to, because I took them over this last winter.

      The first picture here is of Corporal Willy in his Marine Cap getting rid of the snow on the walkway.  They don’t even sell snow shovels here in any of the stores.  Go figure.  I left all of mine up in New York.

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This next picture is of my shivering little yellow pool ducky that was cuddling by the side of the pool trying to stay out of the cold northerly winds.  This picture I sent into the TV news stations and they showed it quite a few times but never when I was watching.  It seems like everyone I know saw it but me.  But I did take several pictures and they only showed this one down below here.

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These pictures would be hard to fake so I am letting you see that snow can fall here in Las Vegas and although it is not very often, it is happening with much more frequency now since I moved here.  I came to Las Vegas, to get away from the hurricanes in South Florida and the high taxes in New York.  That is the side yard over there and just on the other side of my Jeep Liberty is where Solar One is being built.

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One interesting fact here is that many of our kids have never seen snow at all.  Only when the weather gets just right for it, then it will come down and the kiddies will be introduced to that white stuff that they have only seen on TV in other places.  It doesn’t last very long but don’t tell these kids.

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So that should convince everybody that our winters can actually be winters.  Now on to Solar One of

In order to work outside in this kind of heat three things are very necessary.  Lots of fluids, the wearing of protection on tender spots like bald heads, starting early in the morning and it helps very much to be crazy.  Was that three or four?  Oh well math wasn’t my specialty, but I am still trying to figure out what is.  Down below here are some pictures of Solar One and the first section to be built, the Thermal Storage Container.  I had to plan for a worst case scenario.  Weight would be a factor in this build.  I needed a Thermal BTU absorbing material that would be dense or as engineers would say a heavy MASS.  So I took some time to plan and build this simple foundation.  Corner cement blocks from Home Deposit (they like me there) were embedded into the playground area gravel.

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I have a 4 foot long level there (1.22 Meters) so that will give you some idea on the size of the plywood box I had to build to protect the Styrofoam of 2 inches (5.08 Centimeters) and water resistant Sheet Rock of 5/8 inch size or (1.59 Centimeters).  This Thermal Storage Container is going to have to hold a lot of material even though it is a small size.  The outside dimensions are 46 inches by 46 inches (1.17 Meters) by 24 inches high (0.61 Meters).  Then I have to deduct for the insulation materials used on the inside volume area and I did insulate the top, bottom and all sides equally with these materials, you would get a cubic foot capacity of 31,135.546 cubic inches or 18.02 cubic feet (0.51 Cubic Meters)  So now the Container has a pretty good or at least decent base in which to build upon.  Planning for the worst case is something that I like to do.  It is going to be very heavy that is for sure.

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That travel trailer is 6 feet wide (1.83 Meters) by 6 feet high (1.83 Meters) by 12 feet long (3.66 Meters).  It is my intention that this trailer will act as my “test house” to see if I can keep it warm and toasty inside during the winter months with a radiator and it will be thermostatically controlled when I mount a line voltage thermostat on the wall inside. (No insulation in trailer). Oh Yeah, “the road to hell is payed with good intentions.”  Remember now that Solar One was reduced to 1/4 of the original size that I wanted to build.  I decided to build a smaller one because I could not find any funding by the Department of Energy and I wasted two afternoons on that maze of a web site looking.  I even sent emails into their support team for help but nobody could find the support team. 

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I used cheap plywood for the outside physical protection needed to protect the much more fragile Styrofoam and Sheet Rock.   NOTE: Cheap plywood comes with an infinite number of splinters.  I lost count.

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So there is Solar One up on its foundation and all the Styrofoam placed all around on six sides with the Imperial System or (7.8 sides in Metric Scale) J only kidding.  The greenish stuff is the water resistant Sheet Rock that was also placed on top of everything to protect the Styrofoam from the very high temperatures expected.  That is what I hope to trap inside of this Thermal Storage Container.  I decided that it would be an added safety thing to vent this box to the outside.  I’ll tell you why later on.


It surprised me how nice things were coming out so I wanted you to see the green sheet rock on top of the Styrofoam.  Seams were caulked also.  I’m trying to make a thermos bottle here like those that would be used to hold hot coffee or tea or cold red wine.  Before filling this container up I also decided to place a six mil plastic tarp on the inside as well to cover over the sheet rock.  Just for a little added moisture control.

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Before filling it with my BTU absorbing materials inside, I had to make two copper coils to act like heat exchangers.  I was offered some really great ideas for this step but decided to go with making my own coils.  I wanted to keep the heat evenly dispersed around this container as best as I could.  So for those of you that had those really great ideas about using automobile radiators and transmission coolers, I thank you but my coils are much cheaper.  I also could not find any junk yards that would sell them for good prices.  Copper is expensive and they usually send them out to repair shops to fix and resell.  Great idea though.  Now to make the coils with muscle power and a bending spring.

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I got some weird looks from people passing by thinking I was wrestling with a snake or something but down below you will see the finished coils.  I said nothing by the way.  Now I can line the container with that plastic tarp and then start filling it up.  It is probably not going to be as efficient as a manufactured heat exchanger; guaranteed.  I agree and I will even bet money (this is Vegas) that it will not impress any of you thermal engineers out there, but one thing is for sure.  I should have paid more attention to my father when he showed me how to bend soft copper tubing when I was a kid.  This is only my second time at bat doing it and I could see a lot better back when I was a kid.  That is also 3/8 inch OD (.95 Centimeters) refrigeration copper tubing.  More expensive than most other things I could have used but I was too afraid that plastic PVC pipe would melt.  My solar mirrors had already generated 350 degrees Fahrenheit (176.67 Celsius) without being set to the optimal angle to the sun.

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Now that I have made my coils I can start filling it up.  The bottom most coil will be placed in the gravel mixture and I decided it would be about three inches (7.62 Centimeters) up from the bottom.  Then a lot more gravel was put in before the second coil was placed at right angles to the first one and once again about three inches down from the finished gravel grade at the top.  I chose this type of gravel for two reasons.  The mining company allowed me to take it home free in two trips and lots of six gallon buckets (empty chorine buckets large size) and it is also what is already there in the playground area so when I decommission this Solar One project it will blend in perfectly.  But FREE was a pretty persuasive reason I will admit.  I live in a land of rocks and I would really hate to have to buy it.  Thank you Roger and Alex from Rock Service.

It is my belief that while there are many very tiny air spaces in-between this size of gravel, it packs down pretty tightly which gives a pretty good solid mass of BTU absorbing material.  This whole experiment is being done to see what works and what doesn’t remember.  Many of you that offered very sound engineering judgments will appreciate those things that fail here, because you knew better with your experience and engineering know how.  At this point in the experimental project I must prioritize the money angle.  Between this Thermal Storage Container and the 76 solar mirror array I have far surpassed six hundred dollars and I am keeping all receipts.  Later on in the building of this prototype I will tally everything up for you.  I did make some mistakes and had to start over with some items.

Once this gravel grave gets hot, I think it will stay very hot because I took the time to consider trapping the generated heat energy and keeping the heat loss to a low factor.  We shall see.

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As you see down below here the last coil at the very top is going in and will soon be buried in the gravel grave.  Then the plastic will be folded over and taped on top of the gravel.  Then the last piece of Sheet Rock will be placed down on top of the plastic.  Next the last two pieces of Styrofoam will be placed on top of the Sheet Rock and finally the ½ inch thick plywood top (12.70 Millimeters) will be screwed down to make the finished physical protection layer.  The Mechanical Elevation Section will be built on top of this bottom Thermal Storage Container.  That is the next job.

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Capturing or generating the Thermal Heat from our Sun is just one part of this project.  Holding this stored BTU heat energy for later use, would be just like photovoltaic cells that store the electric energy they produce in batteries when sunlight is no longer available.  Take a look at what my Heliostat design can do with only 76 little mirrors  each measuring 3 inches square (7.62 Centimeters).  Not too bad huh?  Yes that is just about 350 degrees Fahrenheit and it wasn’t even orientated at near right angles to the sun for the best optimization reflectance angle.  Before I forget, the gravel was very wet in order to keep down the dust that can be hazardous to lungs, so as heat builds up inside this container I do not want to produce any steam that will blow the box apart as it once did happen to me with another one of my projects back in the 70’s.  No, I am not talking about temperatures here but the years.


So far so good.  Next picture below here will give you a better perspective at the size of Solar One.  I have planned for the addtion of one more mirror section of 36 mirrors, if needed.  When this is all assembled I am still going to try and power the tracking mechanism with a pendulum clock movement.  If that won’t work satisfactorily then I will use motors or linear actuators or phneumatics or some other kind of physical force to do it.  So we shall see what happens as I design and build it and then do it over again. 


Down below here is the conceptualization screen shot from my SolidWorks program on how I visualize the finished project.  It should look exactly like this or perhaps incorporate a few small changes.  I just do not know for sure yet because I am trying to concentrate on one thing at a time.  Never works but I try.

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Here’s hoping you enjoyed this update article on Solar One of  Hope to have more soon.  Take care everyone and have a really great week.  Bye for now.