"Do It Yourself" (DIY) Alternative Energy Projects

Written by: Rebecca Knezek, Client Data Manager

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I got to spend last weekend enjoying the beautiful fall colors and cheering on the University of Georgia Bulldogs in one of my favorite small towns, Athens, GA. The Georgia Bulldogs were playing the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, also known as the “real” USC (at least to me, and just about every other southerner). I attended the University of Georgia as a freshman before transferring to Arizona State to study Sustainability. Even though I love living in Arizona, I sure do miss SEC football!

One of my favorite parts about game day is tailgating! While I was tailgating in Athens last weekend, I was impressed by the number of small, portable solar panels being used to power different tailgate set-ups. People were using these small solar panels (only about the size of a cooler) to power their TVs, radios, speakers, blenders, crockpots… you name it! I kept thinking to myself, “these people are geniuses!” If these solar panels are being used to power Saturday tailgates, what else are they/could they be used for?

Many universities, such as the University of Texas, NC State, Vanderbilt, and many more, have installed solar-powered charging stations around their campuses (the picture to the left is one that I used on the UGA campus last weekend). These charging stations only use a couple small solar panels, and they provide a shaded seating area that allows students to charge different electronics when needed. Many of these charging stations even have a built-in battery that can store excess solar energy, so students can charge their electronics at night!

On a smaller scale, people have created solar powered phone chargers, solar powered toys, solar powered outdoor lights, and so much more. All of these creations can be bought with a kit or built DIY style. (Check out Pinterest for ideas and directions on different small-scale DIY solar powered projects.) The possibilities are endless!

These at-home, DIY style projects are not limited to harnessing solar power; you can harness wind power, too. For example, one man built his own wind turbine out of a vehicle alternator, a General Motors fan, and a clutch assembly. Not only was he able to repurpose old, and no longer used, car parts, but he was also able to harness electricity from the wind in order to work towards living off-the grid. Others have built small, light-weight wind turbines that can be used while camping or hiking to power a light or charge a phone. Again, the possibilities are endless!

Harnessing power from the sun or wind doesn’t always have to be directly converted into electricity that goes into a house or building, which is what I always thought before. There are so many other functions for sun or wind power. I recommend learning about different DIY projects people have done or even coming up with your own. (Our Sustainability Manager, Dr. Auriane Koster, learned that a 5th grade student in the Glendale Elementary School District is developing his own solar battery-storage system with his dad at home!) You’ll learn a lot, have fun in the process, and possibly even create a really cool gadget that might have a lot of practicality. I know one day I hope to power my own tailgates with a mini solar panel; it’ll save the hassle of bringing a generator (or draining my car’s battery), it’s basically free electricity from the sun, and it’ll be a cool, modern decorative addition!