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Publication Title | A Solar Cabin on Wheels

Organic Rankine Cycle

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Like many of the residents of this tourist town, I live in a vehicle, a 1970 Dodge school bus. Unlike most, I enjoy the use of power tools, musical equipment, radio and lights thanks to two 85 watt Solavolt modules, an inverter and battery bank. While many people living in buses or motorhomes resort to the use of a generator, the thought of destroying the tranquil silence here with the noise of a generator pains me. After many months of candles and flashlights, I realized that my homemade cabin on wheels would be the perfect test subject for an experiment in solar electricity.

My interest in the project was inspired by the desert itself, where the bright power of the sun is so forcefully felt, even in winter. Keeping in mind my plans to build a more permanent dwelling someday, I began to learn as much as possible about electricity and solar power.

Moab is a town located about two hours from the nearest big city. I soon discovered that I would have to send away by mail for much of the solar equipment. Even items that would be commonplace in some towns, such as wire, were unavailable locally. I collected catalogs, which became my main source of information.

24 Home Power #53 • June / July 1996

Rob Magleby ©1996Rob Magleby

The desert around Moab, Utah is vast and breathtakingly beautiful. Sunny days are a frequent blessing in this red rock landscape, making southern Utah a choice area for the use of solar modules.

Many companies that sell equipment include a lot of information in their catalogs, I was still left with a lot of questions.

From the catalogs I ordered three books which proved extremely helpful in answering questions. Each book covers different aspects of solar electricity. Sources I found the most valuable are listed at the end of this article.


My most pressing needs for electricity were night lighting and the use of my radio. I also wanted to run a drill and a skil saw. I did not want to run the battery in my bus so low that it would not start the engine, leaving me stranded at a remote campsite. This fear motivated my use of candles and flashlights to a large extent. The bus has a series of dome lights that light up the whole interior. My use of the interior lights was very frugal. I installed toggle switches in each of the lights so that they could be turned on and off individually. My rule was: no more than one light on at a time, and left on for the minimum amount of time necessary. This strategy worked, as I never did become stranded.

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