Harbor Freight (www.harborfreight.com)and some dealers on E BAY offer small portable solar panels. Some models are encased in a hinged plastic box shape that you open and point at the sun. They do the job. Look around and compare models. The case model has a cradle in the back that fits four AA batteries that can use to operate your devices at night and the batteries recharge during the day. The panel’s job is to charge your rechargeable MP 3 and MP 4 players, phones and AA batteries. They come with universal adapters that hook your devices to the panel. I have several. I never found one that fit my Sprint Sanyo phone. That was two years ago, and I no longer have that phone. I have some flashlights that will sync up with my panels.
The simplest solar power cooker I have come across is the framed Fresnel screen. A page magnifier is a Fresnel screen. Also on the side of the road you will see older model big screen TVs tossed until they make the trip to the landfill. The first layer of the framed TV screen is a smooth surfaced plastic/glass (plexiglass) cover. It protects the magnifying screen from dust and scratches. The second layer is the magnifying Fresnel screen.
Build a frame to attach the Fresnel screen from the big TV or purchase a photo frame that your page magnifier will fit. Place the roughest side of the magnifier toward the up side. Cut two ‘legs of furring strips, 1” by 2” or 2” by 2”s from your scrap pile to screw to the outer side of your frame so the frame stands upright at an angle. The legs are as long as they need to be to create a 45 degree angle. Set in the direct path of the sun. Around noon-ish you can take a zippered bag of frozen uncooked veggies from the freezer or raw veg from the garden, place flat in the center of the screen shadow In the baggie, and let the sun pass over dinner. You don’t have to worry about over cooking or burning. The sun steams the veggies and stays that temperature and no hotter. TAA DAA!
As you learn more, you may want more. When you unplug your power leeching charging cords from the outlet and see your electric bill drop, you will want more. More-bigger-better is expensive but may be your desire. Kits can be purchased that include all the parts needed to run lamps, laptops, and small appliances for a limited time. Most DO NOT include the marine battery needed to store the electricity from the sun. The battery is around $100 and will last years if you take care of it according to manufacturers recommendations.
Solar heaters are another use for the sun.
Purchase a metal paint can from the paint store. You also need a large spaghetti pot, five sets of washers and nuts to fit a 3 foot all thread, synthetic oil (2 quarts), a faucet, length of hose and a vent (see below).
Put the lid on the paint can, drill a hole at the top and bottom. Thread a length of ‘all thread’ about 3’ long through the lid and the can. Secure the bottom of the can with a rubber flange a washer and a nut. Fill about half way with synthetic oil. Tap down the lid with a hammer to secure all the way around. Secure with a rubber flange, washer and nut.
The oil should not leak and should last about three seasons.
Drill out a hole on the side of a large stock pot near the bottom and attach a closing and opening flange. A faucet works. The steam vent of an old bun warmer works. You can line it with the rubber of an old bike tire and rivet it in. No air should leak.
Drill a hole to one side of the center of the lid and fit a hose to allow air to flow into your home. I have it coming through my wall and attached to a faucet inside for turning on and off the airflow.
Drill a hole in the large stock pot at the center of the bottom and the lid. Suspend the oil can inside a large stockpot securing the works with washers and nuts. One set at the bottom outside of the big pot, one at the bottom inside of the big pot, Thread the lid of the big pot down onto the pot and use a set of washers and nut to torc it down.
Close the venting device. Set in the sun. Open the vent at night to allow air to flow past the hot oil can. Hot air rises. Cold air comes in the bottom, heats up in the dead space between the walls of the cans and rises up the hose into the home. It doesn't last all night but takes the chill out of the air till bedtime.