Make a Solar Furnace

Solar energy is easy to harvest wherever the sun shines, but Charles Curnutt's solar furnace makes harvesting solar energy a feasable and cheap task for anyone with basic shop skills. Start on the path towards renewable energy and learn how to make a solar furnace with this article.

| July/August 1978

  • Furnace1
    Charles Curnutt demonstrates the action of his ingenious $13.50 solar tracking mechanism.
  • Furnace2
    The backside of the Curnutt solar furnace may look like 'the running gears of a grasshopper" but it's simple, rugged and troublefree.
  • Furnace3
    If you think the boiler on the end of that boom looks hot, you're right. It was running about 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit when this photo was taken.
  • Furnace4
    That's live steam, generated by the sun!
  • Furnace6
    "Send on the sunshine," says Charles Curnutt. "I'm ready for the Solar Age."

  • Furnace1
  • Furnace2
  • Furnace3
  • Furnace4
  • Furnace6

Sometimes there just ain't no justice. Take solar energy, for instance: Here we have a extremely diffused form of energy (the sun shines brightly and often enough to be important anywhere most of us really care to live).

Which means — now that we've all started to realize that solar really is the energy source of the future — that our society should be launching a massive program designed to [1] develop the use of the sun's rays on a crash basis, and [2] promote this use on as decentralized a scale as possible. That is: [A] All our big government agencies and giant corporations and large foundations should be pouring money, staff, and technology into solar energy research at the expense of shale oil, nuclear, etc., development; and [B] top priority should be given to the conception and manufacture of smallscale hardware that you can install in your own back yard to make your family energy selfsufficient, instead of to the design and construction of monster equipment that only large utilities and overstuffed government bureaus can afford and control.

Right? Right. That's what should be done. Unfortunately for us all, however, that's not the way society seems to work these days. Because — No. 1 — the U.S. government and every other major government in the world plus all the giant corporations plus all the large foundations are still squandering billions of dollars on shale oil development and nuclear development and the development of other "dead horses" for every million they're investing in solar energy. And — No. 2 —what little is being spent on solar projects is being spent almost entirety on research designed to put the control of solar power in the hands of the already-big, the already-rich, and the already-powerful at the expense of all the world's "little people" (that's you and me, folks).

(A wonderful example of the duplicity of our elected officials in this area: Little Jimmy Carter zipped around the country on May 3 — Sun Day — this year giving glowing speeches about the future of solar energy here in the United States. Everybody knows that, because it was widely reported in the newspapers and on the evening TV news. What wasn't so widely reported, however, is the fact that — just before leaving the White House to make those speeches — the same Little Jimmy Carter rejected a Department of Energy proposal to add $100 million to the federal government's paltry solar energy research budget; a budget, of course, which is dwarfed by the funds appropriated to the shale oil, nuclear, etc., boondoggles. That's called "telling the troops what they want to hear while cutting them off at the knees".)

It is extremely refreshing, then, to pay a visit to Twentynine Palms, California (as two of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' staffers did in the 1970s) to meet a fellow named Charles Curnutt.

Because — while our President is jetting about saying one thing and doing another, while our government and big corporations and fat foundations are pouring billions into the wrong kind of development of the wrong sources of energy; and while all the vested interests of the world seem determined to hand solar energy (if and when they decide to let it happen) to themselves on a silver platter — ol' Charles has just rolled up his sleeves and made a solar energy breakthrough — for the little fellow.

3/19/2007 9:04:06 PM

Anyone with any shop skills at all will be able to construct the basic Curnutt furnace, you say. And that certainly evokes such rousing can-do spirit. Indeed, a fine demonstration of concept. Nevertheless, and at the risk of ideological heresy, I would like to open the discussion to planning the next level: In order to promote significant change, what is needed is installation and finance, much the same as if ordering from Sears, with clear savings at the bottom line. Now, savings given costs amortized over time, would justify the purchase as an investment. But savings, the greater, sooner and more immediate the better, would make for a truly revolutionary killer application for maximum impact upon a mass market. And that might be possible, if at all, by two means: First of all, maximal cost effectiveness of the system, but also the best possible and longest terms of finance, in order to transform cost advantage when amortized into immediate lower monthly costs that no one will be able to turn down. If the above can be worked out in any feasible detail, then you will be well on the way to an air tight business plan with an excellent management team, in order to prospect for the requisite capitalization.

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