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solar from small-scale up, not utility-scale down.
by Ron S
People Making Connections

•• March 2, 2004 •• SolarQuest® iNet News Service •• I've been thinking of solar from the small-scale up rather than from the utility-scale down. What will be the next mass market solar device to penetrate the public consciousness after solar watches and calculators and garden walk lights? I've been trying to come up with the likely candidates and my thoughts run to solar bike lights for visibility, a solar/dynamo battery charger system that works with low voltage batteries, and a one window solar electric system that can be used for emergency situations or to provide light and radio for one room on a day to day basis and may even have a grid interconnect.

I have a red LED flashing light that's solar powered attached to my backpack. It sells for about $18 and is made in Hong Kong. The solar panel charges two button batteries that are spot welded in place. Also clipped to my backpack are another flashing red LED and a steady white LED. These I attach to my bike helmet. They are powered by CR-2032 and CR-2016 lithium batteries. If I could replace those batteries with rechargable ones of congruent power and recharge them in my solar LED, I would have a solar bike light system. All it requires is the ability to do battery switching.

Since before Y2K, I have been using a $25 solar/dynamo radio/flashlight, also made by the same Hong Kong company, to listen to the news in the morning and jazz late at night next to my bed. One charge provides about 60 hours of radio. It's quite a good little machine. The only problem with it is that the solar and the dynamo charge only the hard-wired nickel metal hydride battery inside the case. Although there is battery bay for two AA batteries, there is no way to charge them. I have had two different people make two different versions of the modifications that would allow for AA battery charging from either the solar or the dynamo. Conceptually, this device provides permanent AA power as long as the sun shines, I have the strength to turn the crank of the dynamo, and the batteries can hold a charge. The modifications include a DC output so that you can gang two or more of them together or power another device from the internal battery or the solar or the dynamo.

This solar/dynamo/charger idea I have followed up on by paying a patent attorney to see whether I am violating anybody else's patents. So far, their opinion is that this idea is not in violation of previous patents.

Right after the World Trade Center, I bought the materials for my one window solar system, a Kyocera 60 watt panel roughly 2 feet by 2 feet so that it can fit within the footprint of one sash of a double hung window, a 48 amphour gel cell battery, and a charge controller. I figure that this will be able to provide all the light to my bedroom plus CD or tape player, maybe even a little TV. I envision something that can be simply popped into the window almost as easily as an air conditioner. Open the window, attach the PV support, attach the PV, orient it to the sun, plug the wires into the PV, close the window, plug the wires into the charge controller and the battery, connect to the battery, and turn on the lights, sound, and multimedia.

I wonder whether this one window solar array has enough juice to power the electric ignition system of a oil furnace. If it did, then this idea would have great applicability in the real world. The idea first occurred to me after the big ice storm throughout the Northeast US and Canada a few years ago. People could do without lights but they were buying portable generators and stringing power cords across the street from one generator to a couple of houses to keep the heat on. The same thing happened with the ice storm down South in late 2002.

Those are my ideas on building the solar marketplace from the ground up rather than from the utilities on down. I would appreciate any thoughts that you might have about them because I am serious about making these products real. I've been imagining the solar bike helmet for nearly 20 years now and since nobody seems to be making it for me, I've decided I'll have to make it myself. It's the same with the other ideas. If I have to do it alone, I will. But it sure would be nice to have some help along the way, especially from somebody who knew what they were doing (unlike me).



Do you know anybody who might be interested in producing a do it yourself solar TV series?

Your Southernmost Window

A series of half hour programs for TV, VCR, and DVD

What you can do with one south-facing window, or how to live within a solar budget, including designs viewers can replicate at home to provide heat, light, ventilation, and/or stimulate ecological growth.

Program 1. What You can See from a Window - one square foot of sunlight, orientation to the sun, design principles, window types, glazing, heat loss, infiltration, insulation, heating ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC), air purification, breathing

Program 2. Every Window in the House - window types take 2, radiation and convection, caulking and weatherstripping, drafts and infiltration, how to chart your airflows, how to use them, window insulation, whole house HVAC

Program 3. The Electric Window - solar electricity/photovoltaic/PV, small battery charger, solar/dynamo flashlight radio, one window systems, permanent emergency capacity, battery switching and your car

Program 4. Hot and Cold Windows - windowbox heaters, passive and active ventilators, advanced airflow usage, active and passive water heating, your northernmost window and a nod to refrigeration

Program 5. The Greenhouse Window - windowsill gardens, bubbling out/bubbling in, heat storage, aquaculture, vermiculture, and ecological housekeeping, the neighborhood

Program 6. Most Windows in Town -what if everybody did it?, the economics of sunlight, physics is international, a range of possibilities, systems thinking from community to region to country to world



Mister Franklin's Folks

Mister Franklin's Folks began when a small group of people decided to bring a solar fountain to the local farmers markets, swap meets, and outdoor community events and began to generate public power. Each week, they'd float the solar electric panel and pump on the water in a tub and the little fountain would splash and spray. The brighter the sunshine the higher the water would go. Children loved to turn it on and off with their shadows, jumping into and and out of the sunlight , making the water dance and themselves laugh. Older kids asked questions and so did some of the adults. "What's it for? How does it work? Why are you doing this? So what?"

The exhibit was labeled, "Solar Fountain/Wishing Well" and some coins lay at the bottom of the tub. There was a big can labeled "Donations" on the table under the shade of an awning or umbrella where one of Franklin's Folk sat with a portable computer and a collection of books, pamphlets, leaflets, cards, and stickers. The car, van or truck parked behind them was full of working models and public experiments, product demos and testing equipment. The computer had a wireless connection to the Internet and could print out paper copy or burn a CD. For a donation.

Each week, from Memorial Day to the week before Thanksgiving, throughout the farmers market season, they'd be there . Each week, they'd set up the solar fountain and present a different demonstration of solar ingenuity and practical power. When they said power to the people, they meant it.

The Franklin Folk said "Your south-facing window is already a solar collector but we can show you how to use it." They provided designs and projects that began by caulking and sealing and ended with a complete one room, one window HVAC and electrical system for daily and/or emergency use.

They liked the little solar/dynamo radio/flashlights that were out then. "A solar/dynamo and a set of rechargable batteries is a perpetual source of personal AA electrical power - at least until the batteries wear out. You should have power as long as the sun keeps shining, you can turn the handcrank and the batteries hold a charge. And when the batteries die, all you have to do is go out and buy some new ones. That is, unless we've changed to fuel cells or flywheels by then."

"If you have a bicycle or exercise equipment, you can probably install a generator device and provide another lifetime supply of AA power from that, too!" They had the plans so you could do it yourself and a bulk buying club so that people could save money on parts and supplies. "Let your kids make their own battery power from sunight and a little exercise. Power your Walkman with a walk on the treadmill."

They did simple experiments like the one with three boxes of air - three small, transparent, sealed boxes all the same size, each with a thermometer. They set them out in the sun - one box totally transparent, one box covered in white insulation board except for the side facing the sun, the third box with black insulation board. Two thermometers measured the temperature of the outdoor air, one in the sunlight and another in the shade. The Franklin Folk at the table could display the day's results for you on the computer in a variety of different ways.

They called themselves Mister Franklin's Folks because, like Benjamin Franklin, they believed in ingenuity and thrift. They quoted Poor Richard:

A penny saved is two pence clear. A pin a-day is a groat a year. Save and have.

Every little makes a mickle.

A wise Man will desire no more than what he may get justly, use soberly, distribute cheerfully and leave contentedly.

Spare and have is better than spend and crave.

Like Mr Franklin, they were experimenting with electricity but instead of kites and lightning, they were looking at the sun for energy independence and building the idea of a renewable economy use by use, appliance by appliance, socket by socket, room by room.

One day, one of Mr Franklin's Folk pointed back at their car and said, "This car is now a hybrid vehicle. We modified it to charge an extra battery and can switch that battery with one in the house to run another room or part of the household. Many of us Franklin Folk are reducing our electricl bills considerably. Eventually we want to use the the grid only for back-up and you can too. With the money we save,we'll be able to install enough solar electric panels so we can begin to run the meter backwards and the electric company will have to pay us."

Other days, they had information on how to keep a pantry and food storage. Not only did they teach people how to can and salt and dry foods but they also helped organize buying clubs and bulk purchases in season to save everybody money and help the farmers in the local agricultural system steady their income and cashflow. At the farmers market they displayed maps of all the agricultural resources in the state - farmers markets, pick-your-owns, farmstands, CSAs, community gardens and farms, coops, buying clubs, community kitchens, food pantries and feeding programs. They had composting and worm farming demonstrations, taught gardeners how to lengthen their growing seasons, and encouraged the public planting of fruit trees and berry bushes throughout the city and town.

"Spare and have is better than spend and crave."

"A wise Man will desire no more than what he may get justly, use soberly, distribute cheerfully and leave contentedly."

"Every little makes a mickle."

"A penny saved is two pence clear. A pin a-day is a groat a year. Save and have."

They quoted Poor Richard's old home truths but put them into an ecological survival context. Each week they offered practical lessons in real thrift or how to save a fortune while saving the environment, the community, and the world.

"Franklin established the oldest working cooperative in the United States, the Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss Against Fire in 1752. It was called the Hand-in-Hand, after the symbol of four hands grasping four wrists in a form commonly known as a Jacob's Chair. It was their fire mark, a sign they put on the houses they insured so that their volunteer fire department would know which houses it had responsibility for. A volunteer fire department not associated with the Hand-in-Hand would just let the buildling burn.

How might Mister Franklin be doing business these days?

Benjamin Franklin was one of the early researchers into the Gulf Stream. How would he deal with global warming and the ozone hole, let alone local pollution? He invented an odometer to set up postal routes and was the first postmaster general of the United States. How do you think he'd feel about the Internet? He published the first political cartoon in North America and refused the job of writing the Declaration of Independence because he would not be edited by anyone but himself.

Benjamin Franklin was a printer, writer, editor, newspaper, magazine, and book publisher. How do you think he would have felt about modern news outlets?

These were some of the things Mr. Franklin's Folks brought to their table at the farmer's market or church social and neighborhood celebration week after week all that year.

George Mokray
218 Franklin St #3
Cambridge, MA 02139
617-661-2676

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