Plumbing Up Mother's Solar Steam Generator

Our solar steam generator can help you become less reliant on the grid or, depending on your energy needs, live free of it entirely.

| May/June 1979

Previous articles from MOTHER EARTH NEWS showed you how to build a low-cost solar furnace frame and a sophisticated tracking system. Now it's time to combine those components with a boiler and put them to work in our solar steam generator!

We previously featured a solar furnace designed and built by a fellow named Charles Curnutt out in Twenty-nine Palms, California. It seems that Mr. Curnutt had not only come up with an apparatus that captured the sun's energy and made it work for him, but he had done so for a total investment of only several hundred dollars. This meant that, for the first time, energy self-sufficiency was available on the "little guy's" level and that a small backyard — or even a rooftop — would provide enough space to house a genuine home powerplant!

Then — as if just inventing the furnace hadn't been enough—Charles granted MOTHER EARTH NEWS permission to copy and modify his design and make it available to her entire readership, which is exactly what we've been doing. Now we'll get on with the next phase after the solar furnace frame and the tracking system: plumbing the furnace so it can be used to generate steam!

How It Works 

A steam generator is — in effect — a "simple" boiler. Ours is mounted inside an insulated box and installed on a boom made of pipe about 10 feet above the mirror frame. Refer to the Steam Generator and Boom Detail diagram. Each of the one hundred 12-inch-by-12-inch glass reflectors is then aimed directly at the boiler, creating a total reflective surface area of 100 square feet. Enough (when concentrated on the 18-inch-by-18-inch target) to create temperatures within the insulated boiler housing in excess of 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit!

This intense heat then "flashes" the water (the liquid enters the serpentine boiler through one of its supporting sections of boom pipe) into steam, which in turn is forced out of the generator and through the remaining length of rigid conduit. Because the steam is under pressure (we achieved over 300 PSI during one test session), a check valve is necessary on the "feed" side of the plumbing system to prevent incoming water from being driven backward. This piece of hardware can be installed in the water line at any point between the control valve and the steam generator.

Getting Started  

If you've been working right along on your own solar furnace, you already have most of the tools needed to complete the steam generator assembly. The only additional pieces of equipment you'll need are a tube cutter and a pipe threader.

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