Sustainability Hacks: Heliostats

Solar panels are a popular item among people who are trying to do more with less but, at least in the past, they have been pretty expensive to install. For some uses, you can forget using solar panels and use the sunlight directly with very little efficiency loss. A device that lets you do that is called a heliostat, which is really just a fancy mirror that you can set to reflect sunlight to wherever you might want it. You could aim it through a window so that it hits your ceiling and diffuses throughout the room or you could point it towards a location where you could collect the sun’s energy to heat something directly.

For a really good rundown on how heliostats work and how you can build one, check out this page where you can find all sorts of information. Heck, they even have an Arduino controlling some of them!


  1. raidscsi says:

    This is where solar power should be going. We already have advanced steam turbines and generators. Making the steam with the sun is a no brainer, and way better than using solar panels.

  2. fartface says:

    Solar electricity is not expensive anymore. you can do a 6000 watt installation for under $10,000US and that is with a backfeed inverter that sells unused back to the utility and runs your meter backwards.

    Just 10 years ago the same install would have been $50,000…

  3. dnk says:

    maybe not fully a heliostat, but interesting use of mirror to cast some sunshine onto the willage seated under the foot of the mountain without any sun:

  4. fartface says:

    The only fail I see is that he is doing an X/Y setup for sun tracking. use a polar mount like a Satellite dish uses and you only have to do east to west tracking for daily operation. a gearhead on the altitude adjust screw can be adjusted once a day a small amount to adjust for season change.

  5. Zee says:

    @fartface: It’s still not cheap enough to recoup the costs

    • Geirskogul says:

      Actually, it is within 10 years for most installations, and within 5 years for corporate ones.

      Where have you been the last five years? Solar panel development and price drops have been crazy.

  6. Aleks Clark says:

    Actually, what would be cooler would be mounting the mirrors on piezos and encoding datastreams in the vibration of the mirrors. could probably make some pretty long wireless links :)

  7. CP says:

    This is my job. I can definitely say that there’s more to solar than photovoltaics. Passive, thermal, and light harvest systems are all useful.

  8. me says:


    I’ve been wanting to make something like this for a while. Need some natural light in my room, but the sun disagrees.

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