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Soda Can Solar Man

August 2, 2010

EAST PEORIA, Ill. - Although a glut of supplies is bringing down the cost of solar panels, experts say homeowners still need to invest at least a few thousand dollars to install a system that converts solar power to electricity. However, East Peoria homeowner Ward Miner says with only a few hundred dollars and a little ingenuity, anyone can build a simple solar heating system before next winter.

The secret to low-cost solar heating is recycled aluminum cans, he explains.

"I'm really trying to get somebody to realize just how unbelievably green this is. I mean, paint an aluminum can flat black and set it in the sun and see if you can pick it up in five minutes. It'll burn your fingers."

Miner, who is retired and likes to tinker, says it took him about six months to perfect his design. He built two solar panels using 600 recycled aluminum cans. After attaching the panels to the south side of his home, he managed to heat 1,600 square feet on sunny days last winter - in fact, it worked so well that he turned off his furnace, he says.

Miner admits that it did take awhile to collect the 600 cans.

"I don't drink, but I got a buddy that drinks. I ask my daughter to save her pop cans; I've got another buddy that's got a business and a soda machine, and I go get their cans."

Miner says no one complains about his do-it-yourself solar panels because, even though they didn't cost much to build, he did consider the aesthetics.

"I put vinyl facia around mine so it looks good outside and it's gonna last 20 years or so. With doing all that, I've probably got $200 in it."

The $200 paid for some black paint, particle board, plexiglass, vinyl and a couple of fans to complete the project.

Miner says he's planning to meet with community groups of young people to teach them how to build their own recycled solar heaters.

Experts say converting the sun's heat to electricity is more technical than Miner's simple solar heater and may require professional assistance.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL