DIY, Open Source, and Solar

Emergency photovoltaic box
This emergency photovoltaic box is one of several solar DIY projects created by Environmental Resources Engineering students.
Cal Poly Humboldt Environmental Resources Engineering students harness the power of the sun through creative, innovate solar projects.

Cal Poly Humboldt Environmental Resources Engineering students have teamed up with the Appropedia Foundation to develop innovative solar solutions that can be recreated by all. The projects are designed and constructed for the Appropedia Foundation, which runs the Appropedia, the largest open edit resource for sustainability and appropriate technology.

The projects will be on display during a reception on Tuesday, May 10, from 11 a.m. to noon, on the lawn of Alistair McCrone Hall.

The projects come as California briefly reached a big milestone: California was powered entirely by renewable energy for the first time. Solar power prices are also dropping precipitously while grid-connected solar has risen sharply, says Lonny Grafman, the students’ instructor. Even so, solar is still out of reach for many and needed, especially for communities that are not connected to the electricity grid. 

To explore what’s possible with solar energy and inspire a new future of sustainability leaders and engineers, Grafman’s students developed innovative, open source, DIY, solar-powered products that filter air, ventilate rooms, and provide not only emergency and continuous energy but also energy for low power medical equipment. For good measure, they created an apocalypse computer for accessing Wikipedia and Appropedia long after a fall of civilization. 

Each of these projects challenged Humboldt students to devise innovative solutions that could be recreated by anyone. 

“Our pioneering partnership with Appropedia showcases the brilliance of our students through creating open-source solutions that improve the world,” says Grafman. 

Grafman recently co-authored To Catch the Sun with ProfessorJoshua Pearce of Western University in Canada. The book features stories of communities that work together to harness their own solar energy. It also includes instructions, shopping lists, and directions to design and build projects for work and home. Book proceeds helped fund the students’ projects while the knowledge in the book helped guide the projects.

“Solar energy projects are important, not only because they will help supply communities with energy in the near future, but because it’s important for all of us to understand where the energy we use comes from,” says Appropedia Executive Director Emilio Velis. “These projects are an excellent example of taking control of our carbon footprint and enabling more sustainable consumption. We’re grateful to Cal Poly Humboldt for their support in making this happen.” 

For more information on these projects, visit or contact Lonny Grafman directly at