The great beauty of the Sun is that it provides us with infinite energy and natural light. Unfortunately, most of us cannot enjoy the benefits from the Sun directly. Most of us have to make do with the dark and distant stars as our solar backdrop, as shown in the graphic below.
So, how can we enjoy the beauty and benefits of the Sun more directly? One way is to build a sun lounge or a skylounge, as shown in the graphic above. A skylounge is a lovely place to relax, with no visible light pollution and views of the stars and the Sun as they change throughout the day.
In this blog post, we will discuss one potential solution that might allow you to build your very own skylounge. We will assume that you have the basics of a 12-volt electricity system—namely, a power source (battery) and some wiring (either battery powered or wired to an mains power supply).
Solar Power Basics
Before we begin, it is worth spending some time understanding the basics of solar power and how it works. Simply put, solar power is the generation of electricity using nothing but the power of the Sun. The more sunlight that falls on a photocell, the more electricity it will produce. Most solar kits come with all the necessary components to get you up and running fairly easily. Some of the more popular components are detailed below.
To create electricity using solar power, we need to use solar cells. A solar cell is a special type of photovoltaic (PV) cell used to convert sunlight directly into electricity. The great thing about solar cells is that they are fairly inexpensive to buy and can be found in most electronic stores or online retailers. The most popular manufacturers of solar cells are solar cell ARPs, seen below. In general, the higher the efficiency rating of the cell, the more electricity you will produce from a given amount of sunlight (conversely, the lower the efficiency rating, the more heating you will generate). Here is a short list of the efficiency ratings that you will usually see on solar cells:
In practice, the efficiency ratings of a good set of solar cells range from 12 to 17%, so you can expect to gain at least 2 to 4% on a regular basis. This gain can be fairly significant, even if you have a small space.
The downside to solar cells is that they are relatively expensive (a good quality set of solar cells can cost you up to a thousand pounds), so you will need to weigh up the pros and the cons before you make a purchase decision. On the plus side, you will be able to generate electricity at any time of day. On the downside, it is worth noting that the efficiency of solar cells decreases over time due to exposure to sunlight and temperature changes. This loss of efficiency can be significant and will require you to make up for in some way (either by replacing the PV cell or having additional ones to generate more electricity). Finally, because most solar cells are made of solid-state components and wafers, they are fairly fragile, so extreme care must be taken when handling them (e.g., storage in a cardboard box, away from direct sunlight).
Another important component of a skylounge is good insulation. Without good insulation, your skylounge will be at risk of overheating. If you live in a hot climate, then you will need to pay special attention to this aspect (e.g., using more effective cooling strategies). Of course, everyone’s needs are different, so you will need to find the best solution for your personal case.
To enhance your experience in the dark, you will need some good quality soft white lighting, such as small lamps or small florescent lights. The choice of lamp depends on your personal preferences—if you are looking for a romantic atmosphere, then you might want to consider small florescent lamps, as they are very romantic and gentle. Alternatively, if a darker atmosphere is more to your liking, then you could try out small lamps (see the gallery below for examples). When selecting soft white lighting for your skylounge, it is important to bear in mind that the more light that is present, the more efficiently your PV cells will be able to convert sunlight into electricity (more on this below).
Ceiling / Roof
Depending on your personal preferences and your living space, you could choose to have either a ceiling or a roof above your solar space. Either choice has its perks and quirks. If you have a ceiling, this will allow you to see the progress that you make without having to climb up on a chair or a table to inspect it (this is most useful if you are working alone as a DIYer). On the other hand, a roof will provide you with an extra layer of protection (e.g., from the rain or the sun). If you decide to go for a ceiling, then the choice of lamp is completely up to you—you could either go for small florescent lamps or small lamps, as both can be found in most electronic stores. If you decide that a roof is more suitable for your needs, then choose light colors (white or yellow) to make the most of the space underneath your roof (see the gallery below for examples).
If you decide to store any equipment or furniture inside your skylounge, then you will need to take into consideration how you want the room to look. One possibility is to use the spare room for storage, for example. If you have a lot of space, then you might want to consider using a shelving system, as shown in the graphic below. This will allow you to easily access your gear, so you do not have to spend time looking for things that are not there (e.g., if you decide to store some of your electronics items, then you will need to make sure that there is enough room for them all). Another option is to use free spaces in your house for storage (e.g., your garage or attic). Finally, if you have a lot of space and are also an avid outdoorsman, you could bring the woods inside your home (e.g., plant a backyard forest)—allowing you to enjoy the benefits of the forest while still being inside your home (make sure to set some ground rules with your family and friends, though).
Depending on your space and how much you want to spend on this venture, you might want to consider a number of other factors. For example, if you are in a tiny house and do not have a lot of room, you might want to consider a wind turbine to generate electricity—allowing you to avoid wiring your home to an electricity supply and having to spend thousands on expensive electrical appliances. If you live in a country that charges you for energy use (e.g., through your phone line or with a surcharge on your electricity bill), then it might be worthwhile investing in a solar power system, so you can generate your own electricity and save money (this will also help reduce your carbon footprint, as solar power is carbon neutral).
On a sunny day, the sun provides us with a constant supply of energy that we can use to power our homes and businesses. Unfortunately, we do not always have access to this source directly. Most of us have to make do with the limited light provided by the stars, as shown in the graphic above. One option is to build a cabin in the woods, far from any energy source, and live off the land; however, this is an option that is better left for those who can afford it (e.g., survivalists who have stocked up on food and water and want to live off the land for a few days). Alternatively, you could purchase a small solar powered system to generate electricity directly in your home—saving you both time and money in the long run (it is also worth considering that most solar kits can be found for pennies on the dollar, as prices have come down in recent years).