Sparking in the Rain

Richard Perez

Ever wonder how renewable energy works during cloudy, rainy weather? Well, the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair in Amherst, Wisconsin was a great place to find out. Home Power joined some 6,500 energy fair attendees for a wonderfully energetic, wet weekend.

An Energy Fair with a History

Few large scale energy events have survived long enough to have a history. The Midwest Renewable Energy Fair (MREF) happened on schedule, in the rain, for the fourth year in a row. What began as a tentative step to inform the neighborhood about renewable

©1993 Richard Perez energy, has developed into the premier energy fair in the USA. From the very beginning the main idea behind MREF has been education. While many energy events happen nationwide, MREF stands alone in educational quality and quantity.

This year's MREF provided 139 hour and a half long workshops on 69 different topics. Wow! There were also featured speakers, entertainment, guided tours of RE powered homes in the neighborhood, and an RE model home on the fairgrounds. Perhaps the best illustration of the educational intensity of MREF is the Energy Cycle.

The Energy Cycle

The Energy Cycle is a bicycle married to generator. You pump the bicycle and power a variety of appliances. Instruments measure your power production as you pedal up four compact fluorescent lamps into life. Then the Energy Cycle instructor switches you to powering four incandescent light bulbs of the same light intensity. Your legs instantly tell you that the light bulbs are consuming about four times the power as the compact fluorescents. Your eyes see the equal light intensity of the more efficient fluorescents and the energy hog incandescents. Not only is the Energy Cycle the most effective energy demonstrator I have ever seen, but it's also loads of fun. Folks were standing in line to feel the difference between powering the compact fluorescents and the incandescent bulbs. A crowd gathered around each of the five working Energy Cycles at MREF. Everyone was watching the meters and trying out the variety of appliances attached to the Energy Cycle. Energy education has never been this much fun!

The Energy Cycle is the brainchild of George Hagerman of SeaSun Power Systems, Alexandria, Virginia. For over two years George has been developing the Energy Cycle as a demonstrator for schools. His hard work reached fruition at this year's MREF with the construction of five complete Energy Cycles. Construction of these five Energy Cycles and training their teachers/operators was funded by Wisconsin Demand-Side Demonstrations with cooperation from several Wisconsin utilities, the local PUC and the MREF Board of Directors. The levels of cooperation between MREF, the local utilities, and local ecological groups is astounding. It took this powerful team to bring George Hagerman's Energy Cycle into reality. Plans are underway to put this most excellent

teaching machine into service across the nation. Want to know what a watt is worth? Then pedal it up!

The "killer watt" culmination of the Energy Cycle display happened on Saturday afternoon. George Hagerman assembled five teams of cyclists. Their mission was to pedal all five Energy Cycles into operation for ten minutes and thus produce >>0 of a kilowatt-hour of electric power. This "killer watt" mission challenged over thirty experienced cyclists. The crowd cheered as all four lights on each Energy Cycle lit brightly. Each cycle was powering four 50 watt incandescent lamps and riders usually lasted under two minutes before collapsing. After ten minutes of furious pedaling, the killer watt mission was accomplished. We had generated >>0 of a kilowatt of power. George Hagerman beamed as he presented one penny to the sweating

Above Left: Ranks of Energy Cycles demonstrated what a watt's worth at this year's MREF. Above Right: George Hagerman and his invention, The Energy Cycle.

cyclists and told them that you can buy a tenth of a kilowatt hour for a penny. His talk on the value of electricity and its conservation held the crowd, in the rain, long after the pedaling stopped.

The Fair's Renewable Energy System

Every MREF has been powered by renewable sources of energy — solar and wind. These folks practice what they preach. This year the fair's electric crew outdid themselves. They installed two RE systems, one utility intertie and one stand alone with batteries.

The utility intertie system was powered by a 10,000 Watt Jacobs wind generator and a 4,000 Watt Carrizo Solar photovoltaic (PV) array. Together these wind and solar sources can produce a whopping 14,000 Watts of power. This energy was coupled to the local utility grid via Omnion synchronous inverters. This system was operational for about two weeks before the fair, pumping energy into the local utility grid.

A 2,000 Watt Solarex PV array and a 1,000 Watt Whisper wind generator powered the stand alone system which energized the model home. The 24 Volt system used lead-acid batteries and Heart and Vanner inverters. Also employed in this system were a Bobier LCB-80 allowing long distance DC power transmission for the Whisper wind generator. This model system powered up a model home that visibly demonstrated every energy saving feature you could imagine. Energy efficient construction, insulation, solar hot water, low flush toilets, super-efficient windows, efficient lighting, efficient refrigeration, and more were all powered by sunshine and wind. This model home with its stand alone RE system attracted thousands of visitors. It was so crowded with people gazing at the marvels within that I had trouble getting photos. Kurt Nelson designed and built this model home with help of a volunteer crew. Every homeowner should visit this model home and find out what they are missing.

Jim Kerbel of Photovoltaic Systems, Amherst, Wisconsin was once again Head Spark of the electrics crew at this year's MREF. He, with his band of merry volunteer electricians, spent weeks installing and trouble shooting the various electric power systems. By fair day, all the equipment was working perfectly.

As just one example of the MREF Crew's dedication and unceasing hard work, I offer the Niewiadomski Family of Plover, Wisconsin. Silver Niewiadomski and his family have taken down their 80 foot free standing wind generator tower every year for the last four years. Each year they haul it to the Portage County Fairgrounds in Amherst and set it up for MREF. Each year they take it down, haul it home, and set it up again. This crew are truly custodians of the Spark! MREF is serious about putting this planet on renewable energy. They have the energy, the know how, and the life experience. If the fate of our world lies in the hands of those like the Niewiadomskis, then we all have much less to worry about.

Alternative Transportation

This year's fair included a vastly expanded transportation section. From pure solar cars, to hybrid electrics, to wood-fueled, to production all electric conversions, all the vehicle technologies were present. There was even a solar-powered catamaran! All day long the fairgrounds quietly hummed with electric vehicles pulling into the RE-sourced recharging station. Twenty minutes inside the EV area was enough to give even hardened science fiction reader a case of future shock. What you have been reading about future electric transportation is being driven down the road today by these folks! But what impressed me more than the displays of cutting edge technology, were the EVs in common use. The EV showcase abounded with production electrics and electric conversion that you could actually buy and drive. For example...

Jim Kerbel has recently returned from taking Solar Car Corp's (Melbourne, Florida) electric car conversion course. He bought a brand new Geo Metro and converted it to all electric operation. Jim, with a gleam in his eye, offered rides to MREF attendees. I was lucky enough to take a cruise about the green Wisconsin countryside with him in this new electric Metro. I haven't had so much fun in motion since I learned to ride a bicycle. The Metro was smooth, quiet, and accelerated at least as quickly as it did with a gas engine. Before I knew it we were doing better than sixty. The lack of noise makes EVs deceptively swift. Jim says that range is 60 to 80 miles. He refuels this EV with wind and solar power from his main home system. This car has so impressed folks in Jim's neighborhood, that he's going into business converting gas vehicles into electrics. If any one wants to buy a new Geo Metro gas engine with zero miles on it give Jim a call.

Questions Answered and Deals Made

Part of every energy fair is asking questions of those with answers. Dealers, distributors, and manufacturers were on hand to answer questions about everything from system design to product specifics. In just the course of the MREF weekend, I helped more than a dozen families with their system's design. And Home Power was just one of over eighty display booths and EV exhibits. These questions were asked by folks who had already done their homework, but needed specific answers to their particular problems.

If you know what you want, the energy fairs are an excellent opportunity to shop around for a good deal on

Top Left: Mick Sagrillo at his wind generator supermarket. If he don't got it, it just ain't!

Top Right: Talk about future shock. The SunSeeker Solar Car, a production EV, a solar pontoon boat, an electric tractor towing a trailer-mounted PV system, and riding above it all, the 10 kW Jacobs wind generator. Above Left: UW Madison's hybrid electric was as slick an

EV as I've ever seen. Right: Home Power's Kathleen

Jarschke-Schultze and Jim Kerbel wear the happy grins of humans who ride on sun and wind power. Here they go for a ride in a Geo Metro converted to all RE power.

perhaps PV modules, or a wind generator, or a new inverter. The trading was fast and furious, with many folks hauling dream equipment home.

Everyone gets to meet everyone else. Where else can you talk with the likes of Michael Hackleman, Mick Sagrillo, Joe Bobier, Jim Kerbel, Docktor Rick Proctor, Silver Niewiadomski, George Hagerman, Phil Manke, Julie Weier, Paul Collard, Gary Chemelewski, Al Rutan, and far too many others to name. If you recognize the names, then you'll appreciate the energy present at MREF. If you don't recognize these names, then come and meet these folks next year. These folks dream the dream that realizes the ideas and products that energize renewable energy. To have everyone together produces an unimaginable Spark.

New Ideas and Products

Stirling heat engines were operating at MREF. I saw a working hydrogen-fired Stirling engine. Stirling engine expert Phil Manke displayed a variety of heat engines and also gave workshops on the technology.

One of the major advantages of energy fairs is checking out the new products. For just a few examples, Joe Bobier of Sun Selector was displaying his new OmniMeter, Chuck Bennett of Vanner was displaying their new inverter that makes 120 vac and 240 vac at the same time, Gary Chemelewski of Exeltech displayed his new 1,000 to 3,000 watt sine wave inverters. And we're not even out of the home power equipment and into the accelerating area of electric vehicles yet.

The Workshops

Every time I thought the fairgrounds were crowded, I reminded myself that probably twice as many people were in the tents participating in workshops. These workshops were short-courses in specific subjects delivered by hands-on experts in the field. In some cases, the person giving the workshop invented the field. This was and will be the greatest strength of MREF. These folks assemble the most intensive energy educational experience ever held over a weekend.

Page 10 top: Steve Schmeck answering questions at his booth.

Page 10, bottom left: Phil Manke gives a demonstration of a hydrogen-fired Stirling engine. Page 10, bottom right: Another of Phil's creations, a Fresnel lens concentrates sunlight and drives a Stirling engine.

Top: the model home's power room.

Center: Business was fast and furious at dealers's booths.

Bottom: Al Rutan demonstrates his portable methane generator.

Heroes and Heroines

The best feature about renewable energy is the number of heroes. Every PV module that sees the sun is a victory. Every wind machine that finds free air finds freedom for us all. Every pound of fossil fuel we don't consume is a victory won by heroes that just said, "No." If you need a hero, then you should have been at MREF. If you were there, then please enjoy these pictures and excuse my pale words. If you weren't there, then I hope this description of what you missed will encourage you to join us next year.

We are proud that Home Power Magazine received an award from MREF. But, in fact, renewable energy users are the real heroes and heroines, we at Home Power merely chronicle your doings. We have mounted the award on our wall and will keep the Spark bright.

And then it rained some more. The wet weather didn't dampen the spirits at the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair. The more it rained, the more we Sparked. I'll see you at next year's MREF, and I'm bring my rubber boots. The water is getting deeper and the voltages are getting higher...


Author: Richard Perez, c/o Home Power, POB 520, Ashland, OR 97520 • 916-475-3179

Midwest Renewable Energy Fair (and their on-going Association), Box 249, 119 Cross Street, Amherst, WI 54406 • 715-824-5166

The Energy Cycle: George Hagerman, SeaSun Power Systems, 124 East Rosemont Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22301 • 703-549-8067. Wisconsin Demand-Side Demonstrations, Inc., 201 West Beltline Highways, Suite 307, Madison, WI 608-275-7180.

Electric Geo Metro: Jim Kerbel, Photovoltaic Systems Company, 7910 Highway 54, Amherst, WI 54406 • 715824-2069

Stirling Engines: Phil Manke, c/o MREF, 119 Cross Street, Amherst WI 54406

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