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3920 East Huntington Drive, Flagstaff, AZ 86004 (800) 588-9816 • (520) 526-1133 • Fax (520) 527-4664

Above: The Southwest Renewable Energy Fair—first year and in full swing.

On September 19th and 20th, 1998, thousands of renewable energy folks gathered in Flagstaff, Arizona for the first annual Southwest Renewable Energy Fair.

Energy Fairs Everywhere!

1998 may become known as the "Year of the Energy Fair." Energy fairs were once rare events, happening only occasionally and only in special places. This past year, the concept seems to have sparked imaginations everywhere. There were more energy fairs this year than in the last five years combined. Folks are becoming increasingly interested in clean, dependable, and sustainable energy sources. While Energy Fairs were once the province of the "granola crowd," everyone now seems to find them interesting. These fairs are popping up everywhere.

Getting a fair off the ground for the first year is an immense job. The folks in Flagstaff had a leg up on the process because of the tremendous support they received from their local business community. Just as locally produced renewable energy is good for local economies, so are renewable energy fairs. Thousands of folks from all over came to Flagstaff for this fair, making motel rooms a scarce commodity. We met people from as far away as Washington, Maine, and Hawaii.

Karen, Don Kulha, and I represented Home Power at the fair. We met hundreds of long-time Home Power readers for the first time. This is the highlight of every fair for us—meeting RE users and discussing their problems and successes. The Flagstaff area is a hotbed of renewable energy activity because there is so much desirable off-grid property in the vicinity.

Below: Moppets learn about solar.

Featured Speakers

The Southwest Renewable Energy Fair (SREF) organizers arranged for some very interesting speakers. I was part of a panel discussion with Christy Herig of National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL), Anthony Gibson from the White House Office of Science and Technology, Daniel Aiello of the Arizona Solar Energy Advisory Council, and Amanda Ormond from the Arizona Department of Commerce. The topic was Legislative Policy: Opportunities and Barriers in the Future of Renewables. We discussed President Clinton's Million Solar Roofs program and how it could promote the use of RE.

In my opinion, the star speaker at SREF was Alan Weisman. Weisman is the author of the book Gaviotas. His presentation was a fascinating description of the self-sufficient eco-village in Colombia. His experiences are totally inspiring! In spite of a cranky slide projector, Alan held the attention of all who attended his lecture. I was so enthused with his presentation that I've reviewed his book in this issue of Home Power (see page 102).


I consider workshops to be the lifeblood of any energy fair—that's where the real action is. The folks who organized this fair really did a wonderful job of securing great workshop speakers. There were experts in just about every aspect of renewable energy and they were ready to share their knowledge with all. There was something for everyone—PV, wind power, passive solar, electric vehicles, financing RE systems, alternative building materials, solar cooking, water heating, water pumping—the list went on and on! While I was able to attend only a few of these workshops, the ones I did attend made me realize how much more there was to learn.

Above: Windy Dankoff "pumps-it-up" with a solar-powered SunRise deep well pump.

What really surprised me was the booth participation from several large megacorps such as General Motors and Honda. GM not only displayed their electric car, the EV1, but also offered financing of RE systems through their GMAC Mortgage Corporation. When megacorps such as GM show up for an event like this, you really have to believe that RE has finally arrived!

New Products

Every energy fair is an opportunity for manufacturers to display new products. There were many of these at SWEF, but one in particular attracted my attention. FireWind&Rain, a Flagstaff company, was displaying their new product—a maximum power point tracker (MPPT) for PV systems. The MPPT constantly adjusts the PV array voltage to maximize current output from the array.

Industry Booths

SREF had tremendous industry attendance for a first-year fair. Most companies who are players in the RE business scene were there, and there were a few new ones to boot. Industry biggies such as Golden Genesis, Siemens, Southwest Windpower, Trace Engineering, and UniSolar were there displaying their products. Smaller grassroots solar businesses were also on hand— AAA Solar, Backwoods Solar, Dankoff Solar Products, ETA Engineering, NativeSUN Hopi Solar Electric, Northern Arizona Wind and Sun, RV Solar, and many others.

Below: The only thing traditional is the color on GM's EV1.

Below: The only thing traditional is the color on GM's EV1.

Energy Fair

Above: FireWind&Rain's MPPT/ charge controller.

PV users have been waiting for a product like this. Bill Schlanger, president of FireWind&Rain, demonstrated the MPPT for me. I actually saw three series-connected PV modules deliver more current into a 48 VDC battery than four series-connected PV modules. All of the modules were identical Siemens SP75s (75 Watts), in full sun on a cool windy day. The only difference between the two PV strings was that the three module string was being electronically processed by FireWind&Rain's new MPPT product—the "Power Advantage 30"—while the four module string was being processed by a conventional, major brand PV regulator.

FireWind&Rain claims a 25% increase in power from PVs using their unit, and based on the live test I witnessed, this claim seems to be true. What PV owners would not want a 25% power increase from their modules? The Power Advantage 30 also functions as a PV regulator and data logger. It works in either 24 VDC or 48 VDC PV systems, and can handle up to 30 Amps of current. All of the data logging and control

Below: Southwest Windpower's new AIR 403.

features can be easily accessed via any PC (which is not required to operate the unit as an MPPT/regulator). The unit has a 45 day nonvolatile memory which logs PV power production, system energy consumption, battery utilization, and temperature. The Power Advantage 30 automatically adjusts the PVs to obtain maximum power regardless of PV temperature or battery state of charge. This is a very slick, and well-developed new product that will soon find its way into many PV systems. It improves PV performance, and with a retail price of $699 it makes financial sense. Although I haven't tested it personally or seen it in long-term use, it's a promising product.

Southwest Windpower also had a new product on display. They were flying their new AIR 403 wind turbines. Since their booth was right next to ours, we had a great time visiting with them and discussing all the changes they have made in their turbines. We were so impressed that we decided to visit their Flagstaff factory after the fair.

A Tour of Southwest Windpower

It's not often that you find a cutting edge company with a totally self-made product. Finding such a company built and staffed by RE maniacs is even harder. Southwest Windpower is both. Their factory is a study in doing the most excellent job possible with appropriate and self-built tools. We took the factory tour with Steve and Elizabeth Willey of Backwoods Solar. Southwest Windpower founders David Calley and Andy Kruse were kind enough to show us around and give us the straight scoop on their new AIR 403 turbine.

The AIR 403 is not a radical departure from their original best-selling AIR 303, but it has many engineering refinements which together produce a more powerful and reliable wind turbine. It has increased heat-sinking, an improved regulator, a better blade design and materials, better arced permanent magnets in the alternator, and better materials for the blade hub. There are closer tolerances everywhere, and many other improvements. You'd think that after making and selling over 18,000 of these turbines that Southwest Windpower would be content to stop making improvements and just crank them out—but this crew is committed to quality and reliability. They are continually making their wind gennys better.

I've visited more than a few factories making RE gear. Among other things, I judge a manufacturer by its employees. The dozens of folks making the AIRs were indeed happy workers—they were all obviously enjoying their work. The crew is very diverse—I saw all ages, races, and genders working side by side making these new AIRs. As David and Andy guided us from assembly station to assembly station, I saw workers paying meticulous attention to every detail of the manufacturing process. I realized that Southwest Windpower is indeed a family—from the rock and roll blasting out of the factory's sound system to the mad rush when the burrito lady showed up, these folks move and act together.


Karen and I had never been to Flagstaff, Arizona before. We were pleasantly surprised—it's a wonderful town. The 7,000 foot (2134 m) plus elevation gives great performance for all solar devices. The wind blew constantly while we were there—we even ran short of rocks to keep our magazines from blowing off the tables. The high piney woods made us feel at home, and the folks there are as wonderful as the physical location. We didn't run into a single sour-puss!

The folks that organized this energy fair are wonderful, warm folks who are looking to the future. Kudos to the Greater Flagstaff Economic Council for promoting and funding this fair. Special thanks to Kim Poirier, the Project Coordinator—she did a bang-up job!

If you missed the Southwest Renewable Energy Fair this year, then you missed something special. We'll see you there next year! If you want to see a video of this year's Southwest Renewable Energy Fair, then check out the Robwood Publishing ad in this issue.


Author: Richard Perez, Home Power, PO Box 520, Ashland, OR 97520 • 530-475-3179 • Fax: 530-4750836 • [email protected] Web:

Fair Organizers: The Greater Flagstaff Economic Council, 1300 South Milton Road, Suite 125, Flagstaff, AZ 86001 • 800-595-7658 • 520-779-7658 Fax: 520-556-0940 • [email protected] Web:

FireWind&Rain, 3920 East Huntington Drive, Flagstaff, AZ 86004 • 800-588-9816 • 520-526-1133 Fax: 520-527-4664 • [email protected] Web:

Southwest Windpower, 2131 North First Street, Flagstaff, AZ 86004 • 520-779-9463 Fax: 520-779-1485 • [email protected] Web:

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