Voltmasters Inverters


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2.2 wide

4.3 high


There are a few potential catastrophic scenarios being developed in regards to our planet and the life upon it. Here are four that I have come in contact with.

Ozone Depletion

A severely depleted ozone layer could interrupt the life-cycle of the vegetable kingdom. If plant life is severely curtailed, especially in the oceans, the oxygen content of the atmosphere could fall precipitously. This would make human life on the planet almost impossible.

Global Warming

There are three potential catastrophic results of global warming. Runaway global warming could produce surface temperatures in excess of 212° F making life virtually impossible. A melting of the polar ice caps could submerge all but the highest land areas. A third possibility is that of a new and severe ice age.


Lately, a variety of new diseases and mutated forms of old diseases have arisen. If a highly contagious form were to appear, the human population could be devastated. Pollution and overpopulation can contribute greatly to this possibility. They may also contribute to plant and animal diseases. New diseases may also arise in the earlier stages of the previous two scenarios.


In this scenario, there is a potential not only for the destruction of life but also for the destruction of the planet itself. This might occur if a large enough celestial body were to collide with the Earth.


All is not darkness and gloom. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. The first three scenarios are well within our power to prevent. We need only the will to act. The fourth is, however, in the hands of fate, for now.

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Solarex & Kyocera photovoltaic modules Trace & Heart inverters controllers, meters & more!

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Great Northern Solar

Route 1 Box 71, Port Wing, WI 54865 (715) 774-3374

Letters to Home Power

Letters to Home Power

California Net Metering

For those readers who have not already heard through the grapevine, I'm writing to follow-up on the status of SB 656, the California legislature's net metering bill that was the subject of my article in HP#46, page 72.

The good news is that the bill passed the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Wilson on August 3, 1995. The law is effective January 1, 1996, by which time utilities have to have tariffs or other standardized agreements in place to provide net metering to qualifying customer-generators.

The bad news is that the bill was amended in several respects as it worked its way through the legislature. These amendments, which further limit the availability of net metering, were allowed as a concession to those who opposed the bill. I'd like to to explain the amendments and their potential impact.

First, the availability of net metering was limited to customer-generators using solar energy (as a practical matter, this means photovoltaics). In the original bill, the list of qualifying customer-generators included those using wind and small hydro systems. But when the political opposition reared its ugly head, wind and hydro lost out. According to the folks at CalSEIA, who sponsored the legislation and strongly supported its run through the legislative gauntlet, there was very little independent constituency supporting wind and small hydro. In hindsight, I think we should have done more to encourage the American Wind Energy Association and other renewable energy advocates to keep wind and hydro in the bill. In any case, I was personally disappointed that this amendment was made. Of course, it may be possible to further amend the law in a future legislative session to include wind and hydro systems once again!

Second, the individual system size was limited to 10 kilowatts of peak generation capacity (down from 50 kilowatts) for each customer-generator.

Third, the overall availability of net metering was limited to 0.1 percent of each utility's anticipated 1996 peak demand (down from 0.5 percent).

The fourth and final amendment was the inclusion of a provision stating that the net metering law would be subject to further legal and regulatory changes imposed by the Public Utilities Commission or other regulating bodies in the course of electricity industry restructuring.

Contrary to what's been written elsewhere I don't consider any of the last three amendments to be significant changes to the bill. The individual system size already was implicitly constrained by other language in the bill, which limited the availability of net metering to residential customers whose generation is "intended primarily to offset part or all of the customer's own electrical requirements." Since very few residential customers use even 10 kilowatts of power at peak, much less 50 kilowatts, the reduction in system size will have little consequence.

Similarly, the reduction in availability to 0.1 percent of each utility's peak demand has little practical significance. Although 0.1 percent of peak doesn't sound like much, it amounts to 17 megawatts in PG&E;s service territory, and 2.6 megawatts in SMUD's (much smaller) service territory. Given the small number of grid-connected PV systems currently being sold, this leaves a lot of room for growth. In PG&E's service territory, for example, the growth cap is equivalent to 8,500 two-kW PV systems. My guess is there are no more than a handful of such systems in place today (remember we are talking grid-connected systems). Considering the tremendous changes that are likely to occur in the electricity industry over the next decade, I think it is highly unlikely that this cap will be reached before much more fundamental and far-reaching changes render the net metering law completely moot.

Finally, the restructuring amendment is essentially meaningless—it simply says that the net metering law is subject to the interpretation of the Public Utilities Commission and to modification by the legislature—which it would be anyway, with or without the inclusion of this language.

Given all this, I was a little disappointed in Michael Welch's description of the amendments as making the legislation "a mere shell of its former self." ("Season of Change," HP#48, page 78). Although I agree with Michael that net metering by itself won't make grid-connected PV economic, it is a very important first step. It provides customers with a price 2-4 times higher than otherwise available for excess electricity sold back to the utility, and it allows customers in most instances to use their existing electrical meters to hook up to the utility, substantially reducing metering and interconnection costs.

I think the biggest concern is that some utilities will violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the new law by placing additional obstacles in the path of enlightened customers who want to generate their own 'green' electrons. I have heard of stories about utilities imposing excessive and/or redundant safety standards, contractual obligations, and insurance requirements on potential customer-generators who are willing to pay the price for a simple rooftop PV system, but are unwilling to pay three times that price to hire the accountants, lawyers, and insurance agents needed to contend with the utility's unreasonable requirements. If any of you have similar experiences, particularly under the new law, please write me and let me know—these stories are a valuable tool for explaining to legislators and regulators how utilities use their monopoly power to unfair competitive advantage.

Finally, I want to note that many Home Power readers sent letters to the legislature expressing their support of the bill, and those letters were an important factor in the bill's passage. In fact, a number of legislators commented on the fact that there were over 43 letters in favor of the bill, and only one against—from PG&E. This entire process has shown that grass-roots support for renewables can make a difference. Keep up the good work! Tom Starrs, 403 94th Ave SE, Bellevue, WA98004, 206-454-4570; [email protected]

Thanks for clearing up many of the misunderstandings surrounding California Senate Bill 656.1 agree—this bill is very important, even if it excludes wind and hydro systems. The big challenge that renewable energy faces is putting its power on to national electric grids. This bill is a big step forward. It empowers small independent producers. It supports "the going rate" or net billing (at least to parity) for independent RE producers. These are big concessions to rassle from the mega-utilities of California. I am glad that Home Power readers helped make this happen. This makes me happy—even though Home Power readers may be small in number, we are doers. Look out America, we have a better way—RE is coming!Richard Perez

The Water of Life

Haiti Mission, Inc. a non-profit organization, has been assisting the people of Cotin, Haiti towards a better and more sustainable lifestyle for the past eight years. Various mission teams have helped with construction, village industry and agriculture.

Two years ago, David Paulson approached me to plan a solar pumping system for this village. The residents, who are sharecroppers, now must walk two to three hours to obtain water from a contaminated surface source. The village contains 100 families. A little arithmetic tells us that 200 to 300 person-hours per day plus clean water can be gained with these pumps. These people work very hard and that extra time will enhance their lives greatly. The solar well pumps will be a historic step to positively change the health and future of Cotin.

The previous mission team drilled a six inch well and hit water at 140 feet depth. Due to the heavy rains, the team had to undertake some road repair to extricate the well rig and allow it and the support vehicles to reach the site and drill the well.

We are now accumulating components: two DC submersible well pumps, 300 watts of solar panels, LCBs, a tracker, spare parts, pipe and wire. We are looking for funding to assist with airfare to get the team and components down there. I would also like to see these people become acquainted with solar cooking, as they now cook with charcoal, when they can afford it.

The next team will deliver and install the solar well pump systems, construct eight benches for the church and school, and deliver clothing which will be used for equipment padding.

David and I are working on a video which shows the ruggedness of this region as well as some of the challenges of REAL remote power development. These videos will be available for a $30 or greater donation after the completion of the well installation.

As well as being an attempt to improve life in this village, I hope to use this as a laboratory to study problems and challenges of village development in third world environments. I plan to share more experiences with Home Power readers in the future.

If anyone would like to make a donation of equipment or money to help this group with their Haitian well project contact: David and Connie Paulson, Haiti Mission, 61 Pembroke St, Kingston, MA02364, 617-585-6119 or me, Steve Pitney, Alternate Energy Inc, 60 Firehouse Rd, Plymouth, MA02360, 800-327-6527, fax 800-659-5961

PVs Survive Hurricane

One week has passed since first Hurricane Luis and then Hurricane Marilyn totally devastated St. Thomas. The island is without grid power. It will be 4 to 6 months before normal power is restored. Things are in a big mess here! It is still hard to comprehend the extent of the destruction

I wanted to take time out to thank Zomeworks for making incredibly strong PV Mounting Racks. We have 30 PC4JFs mounted on them which survived the Hurricanes. Thank You! They are great products and I am 500% sold on them!

Wind gusts of 205 MPH were clocked at the airport. My home and architectural offices, where I weathered the storm, withstood hurricane force winds for at least 8 hours with wind gusts to 150 MPH. Immediately after the storm, I used the power from my PV system to saw and re-install part of the metal roofing that had blown off my house. Our PV system now supplies power for both my home and the CAD system in my architectural office and allows us to help begin the mammoth task of rebuilding St Thomas.

The other system, at my wife's medical supply company, Supply Resources Inc. (SRI), functioned throughout the storm providing power for the refrigeration of critical medical supplies, none of which were lost. Because she had power, she was able to re-open her business the day after the hurricane to provide medical supplies to the hospitals until emergency relief supplies could arrive.

Our systems were supplied and installed by our environmental products division of SRI, Caribbean Care.

Before the hurricanes, there was not much interest in solar electric power in St. Thomas because of the high initial cost. Because of our experiences, that may be changing. Last week, Caribbean Care sold two home PV power systems! Caribbean Care hopes to be able to quickly supply many more of Zomeworks fine products to the islands. Doug White, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands

More PVs Survive Hurricane

For most of us Hurricane Marilyn is already old news, but for the people of the Virgin Islands the story is far from over. I have just returned from an emergency visit to Saint Thomas and Saint John and can assure you that the newspaper accounts and television pictures you may have seen do not convey the scope of this natural disaster and the hardships it has brought to the islands.

When I arrived four days after the storm, the Saint Thomas airport was operating under what looked like war-time conditions. The trip across the island to the ferry was like traveling through a battle zone. Houses were flattened, construction debris and uprooted vegetation lay everywhere.

Arriving in Saint John, I was struck by an unaccustomed quiet and bareness. Marilyn's powerful winds had torn the roofs from houses and toppled trees. There was no electricity or regular phone service. Food, water, and gasoline were in short supply.

I had a pretty good idea about what I would find at Maho (Part of a renewable energy powered resort). Six years ago, Hurricane Hugo ripped the cloth coverings from the tents but left the frames largely intact. There was no power for lighting or pumping water to the bathhouses. We had to close down for six weeks until repairs could be made and facilities restored.

Marilyn left Maho in a similar state. But, to my surprise and delight, the new Harmony facility was not only unscathed, but operating. Its recycled building materials had withstood winds of more than 115 mph. Equally important, its self-sustaining power systems were working. Its banks of storage batteries never faltered and as soon as the storm passed and the sun came out the solar panels continued to recharge the systems.

The immediate benefit of this off-the-grid capacity was that Maho's staff never had to leave the campground. They moved into Harmony and were among the handful of Virgin Islanders who had light, refrigeration, hot showers, flush toilets and communication with the outside world.

The eco-tents at our Concordia resort on the other side of Saint Thomas also came through the storm with its self-contained utilities uninterrupted. There was a lot of flapping tent fabric, but I was able to stay in one of the units. It was something of a miracle to use an electric toothbrush, jump into a hot shower and sit on a working toilet when all about me there was darkness and disruption.

With a few repairs, the eco-tents were open for business by September 25th, nine days after taking a direct hit from a major hurricane. Restoring Maho Bay Camps will take longer, but we hope to have it operating by early November. On the


©1995 Bill Barmettler

the 6th of that month, we still plan to host a conference at which members of the U.S. National Park Service and staff from the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources will meet with Maho's development team to design the first stage of the expanded Concordia prototype project.

Unavoidably, Marilyn will have an effect on our agenda. While no one would remotely argue that her ill wind blew any good, she did put our new concepts through a successful stress test and gave us new ideas about building in exposed environments. Although I always believed that sustainable development was good ecology and good business, I never thought it would allow my staff and me to survive in style. Stanley Selengut, President, Maho Bay Camps, Inc.

New Zealand Video

HELP We are currently researching and collecting new information on PV and wind generation systems to produce an educational video on the subject in New Zealand.

I would welcome any constructive comments (large or small) on installed systems, etc. Is there anyone out there who is willing to loan at minimum cost, completed videos on their own PV and wind systems. We would also be interested in swapping video information on New Zealand PV and wind systems.

We are currently the only experimental home in the South Island of New Zealand generating our own PV and wind. Alternative Energies Ltd., 74 Adamson Crescent, Invercargill, New Zealand voice and fax (64) (03) 217-4807

From the UK

I was interested in your Burr Oak, Kansas correspondent's letter regretting there was so much Green Politics in your magazine. The answer to that is that there are no "technical" questions. How we use and generate energy affects everything we do.

As a non-American, I admire your democratic constitution, but am puzzled that Americans make so little use of it. Many don't vote, and their politicians operate against the real needs of their voters. Why are so many Americans afraid to discuss real political issues? Surely, they aren't still brainwashed into thinking any criticisms of the standard way of doing things is Communism? This is not a democratic attitude, but a variety of totalitarianism.

One of the real faults of western science is that so many scientists operate only in a "technical" sphere . Western science is an offshoot of Islamic science (Bishop Grossteste, Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus and so on) which paid more attention to the moral and religious context. Perhaps Green Politics is an attempt to restore these dimensions. E. G. Matthews (Not afraid to be named), Dorset, United Kingdom

Well, E.G., Im with you here. As a fellow Limey (born Bedford, UK in April 1945), I too am puzzled by America's interia to change and frustrated by her refusal to consider new ideas on their merit. Renewable energy is "green", that's why many of us are making our power this way Renewable energy is also self-sufficient, reliable and sustainable. It puzzles me why some America's folks perceive RE's attributes as a threat. I totally agree about Western Science's apolitical attitude—nerds are responsible for their creations. To demand anything less is to demean us all. All any of us can do is to weed our own garden—keeping on putting up those PV modules, wind turbines, and microhydros. This is surely a very effective way to make change. Richard Perez.

Working Cows

I first heard of HP about 14 months ago in the New Farm magazine. This spring New Farm stopped publishing rather than try to pass increased paper and postage costs on to subscribers. I'm glad you put the subscription rate up instead of following NFs route. My husband and I operate a seasonal grass dairy farm—a lot more energy efficient then conventional containment dairies, but to be sustainable we need to farm energy production. I'd like to see some articles on methane (small scale production & use). What little research I've seen from the ag community has been high cost, high tech, & large scale; aimed at big confinement dairies & not at all appropriate for our situation.

On the home front, the "Home & Heart" discussion on washing machines was good. I'd like to see information & comparisons on refrigerators. A feature on some relatively low initial cost and quick payback RE investments might encourage those of on tight budgets to get started.

Above all, keep the presses rolling! I don't want to lose another good magazine this year. Chase Tanner, Fredericksburg, Maryland

Thanks for the encouragement, Chase. We will keep the presses printing issues of Home Power. The information is too valuable to do otherwise. Our knowledge of working methane systems is limited, but then that's what Home Power is for—to share information. How about it, readers? Can anyone help the Tanners recycle the energy in cow manure? Richard Perez

Dear Home Power

Thank you very much for your great coverage of the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair. Credit for our success should be given to our faithful vendors, workshop presenters, and equipment donors, and the thousands of people who visit us every summer solstice. And a very special thanks goes to you, Karen and Richard, for your generosity and enthusiasm. Without your undying belief in us, we would have given up long ago. You two are the "spark" that keeps us alive.

One correction: this past Energy Fair was our sixth. Time flies with great friends! Mick Sagrillo, President, Midwest Renewable Energy Association

Aw, shucks, Mick. Thanks for the flowers. The Midwest Renewable Energy Fair is indeed the high point of our year. Sorry about missing the number of MREFs. You'd think we'd remember since we've been to every one, but time is one thing we seem to have trouble with. See you at the Fair! Richard and Karen Perez for the HP Crew

High School Dream

I am a seventh grader attending Mt. Greylock Regional High School. I have been interested in the subject of solar and electric vehicles ever since the 1987 World Solar Challenge. I

love to design battery-powered cars, and hope to build an electrathon racer. My dad and I have attended the Tour de Sol four times, and the Solar and Electric Vehicle Symposium once (where I met some of the G.M. people). I have also collected, read, and filed all the information that I could find on the topic.

My "dream" vehicle would use aluminum box beam construction, "ski suspension" (HP#44) and a slightly modified version of Michael Hackleman's series-parallel controller. I would use moped or small motorcycle wheels. (I tried making a rolling mock-up last year, with bike tires which gave less than satisfactory results.) How can I get the necessary funding for the project, and approximately how much will it cost to construct the vehicle? Can I realistically expect to do this, if none of my teachers have any direct experience in this field?

Thank you for the "Go Power" section! Ben Erickson, Williamstown, MA

Wow! You've seen FOUR Tour de Sol races? I'm envious! Okay to answer some of your questions. This issue's article on solar cars confirms what an adventure it can be.

Okay let's get to your questions. First, an Electrathon STYLE vehicle can be built low-buck for neighborhood operation. Use moped wheels for asphalt cruise. Use go-kart wheels for hard cornering on/off the road. Attend rallies for ideas, read articles—but rely on your self. Study the characteristics of hardware so you can find cheaper motors, switches, indicators, wire, connectors in surplus houses, or scrounge them from discarded machinery i.e., washer, tv, stereo, and computers. For race-COMPETITIVE vehicles, expect to pay $200 for a motor (the Doran-Scott PM motor seems to be the hot choice), $300 for an electronic controller (a Curtis unit with regen will be out soon), $100-200 for batteries (The Sears Diehard (Marine) Gold, at 12v, meets the rule's 64 lb battery weight), and $100-500 for body/chassis parts. Sound like a lot of money? Work at jobs to earn it and you'll start with good components. Funding? Sponsors supply money for a good idea, or a person they know will COMPLETE the work. Honor thy sponsor(s). (Choose carefully You will endorse who they are and what they do.) You will want your project to reflect positively on their involvement Where will anyone see your finished vehicle? Race attendance may be small. Study the last year's worth of issues at the local weekly newspaper office for annual events—parades, car shows, Earth Day etc—and scheule your vehicle to attend THIS year's event. Work with newspapers, tv and radio stations, or local cable access both to help solicit funds and sponsors, and to show progress with your project Add tenancity power of belief and boldness to your vocabulary You can do anything you want. Good luck. Michael Hackleman

Getting Educated

It has been several months since I heard Richard Perez on National Public Radio and we subsequently spoke on the telephone. I was trying to buy a very small island in the Bahamas and couldn't figure out how to make the telecommunications work with cellular and my need for modems and fax machines. You explained your radio telephone system and put me in touch with Carlson Electronics.

Well, Carlson was great and I am still negotiating with the Bahamin authorities to get the property under contact. We are absolutely committed to living there part time and I will keep you informed and also take advantage of your offer to look at my RE plans before I give my contractor the go ahead.

I also took your advise and ordered one years back issues and one year forward of Home Power. I can't tell you what a joy Home Power has been. My awareness of RE was limited to the little solar panel that operated my $10 calculator. Having spent 20 years of my business career dealing with utilities, mining companies, and the Fortune 500 from the view point of a recycling executive, I can appreciate the uphill battle in front of any of us whose eyes have been opened to the benefits of RE. Don't you just wish that you ruled the world and could mandate that we all begin to convert our energy needs? In reading just six issues of Home Power I feel like even I could come up with a better plan.

The real purpose of this letter is to tell you that reading six issues in a row was quite an experience. I feel like I now have a basic education and am a lot more hip on what I might want for my system. I started out thinking PV with a gas genny backup. Now I am investigating PV with a microhydro backup. I saw an ad and just got a brochure from Jack Rabbit Marine about their Aquar UW. There is a 150 foot wide channel; between the island and the mainland. The tide rises and falls three feet twice a day, so this might work; especially if we constructed a small concrete type venturi on the island side to hang the UW and funnel water. Have you ever tested this system? I seriously considered wind. However, with their hurricanes and us only being there four months per year, wind leaves me with an uneasy feeling. So look how picky I have become. See what a little education will do?

It struck me that HP#48 is different than the previous five issues. Is the magazine becoming more sophisticated or have I gained just enough knowledge to appreciate the writing more? It looks like you have some new advertisers and the reviews of the Trace 4024 and Statpower's charger were just excellent. The real measure of my knowledge will be when I understand even half of an article from "Code Corner."

I don't know what you have done or are now doing, but whatever it is; Keep It Up! I am now a fan and wonder if you send a copy of each issue to some of our legislators? If this is too expensive, I would be happy to make a donation to help out. You know how you see those "adopt a highway" signs? How about "adopt a senator"? Please let me know if I can help. I will be back in contact when I am ready to plan my system.

Thanks again for your help and for turning me on to RE. Kenny Fischer, Saint Louis, MO

Thanks for the flowers, Kenny. Both Karen and I feel that Home Power is our life's work. We are satisfied to have found our reason for living and we will do our very best Home Power continually changes. We merely chronicle the doings of RE users worldwide. RE isn't just two hippies in a tepee anymore. It has clearly become the way we will make our energy in the next century. We currently have an "Adopt A Library"plan (we pay half, you pay half, see the Advertisers Index, under Adopt A Library on page 112 for the specifics). We'd love to also adopt legislators. What we need to be sure of is that the issue of HP will be actually assimilated by a thinking human. In the Adopt A Library deal we ask readers to first check with their public library and make sure that the library has space to handle Home Power.We need to have a similar assurance from legislators. We don't want HP ending up in landfills. If someone will actually read the information, then we will move heaven and earth to get a copy into their hands. Anyone got any specific ideas? Richard Perez

Vehicle of Change

I just discovered your magazine and was overjoyed. It educated me on subjects in the first minutes of reading. We are living in the countryside of NE Oklahoma, building a dome home and setting up an RE system. Being a native of Marin County, CA, solar panels & domes are normal things, but not to the people here. The one thing I would like to see is more workshops and educational things in this area. As we know, the greatest obstacle in the advancement of RE is that people don't think it works. My wife and I are quickly becoming a vehicle of change locally. Any help we can get benefits all. So if there are any classes, workshops, demo's, etc. in this state, I would love to know. Josh Wilkins, RR1 Box 143, Boynton, OK 74422

Well, Josh, we're pretty much at a roll-yer-own stage now. If there are not workshops and other educational events locally, then it must be time to organize one. Check out Solar Energy International (see ad index). They can often help with seminars and educational events. Other than that, we at HP can help promote these events. Richard

Double The Pleasure

Great magazine before, with "Go Power" even better. Well, I am finally off-grid. What a change for the better. Not only has it forced me to be more conscience of my energy usage but I get more enjoyment our of using it. I also now get double pleasure out of sun, wind, and rain as they recharge my batteries.

I have a 24 Volt system and would like some 12 Volt devices. I would like to know if the Vanner battery equalizer is something that works or if I should use a DC to DC converter. John Swatosh, Brush Prairie, WA

The Vanner Voltmaster works, John. See HP#41, page 16, for an article about a system that has been using the Voltmaster since the Spring of 1994. Efficiency is high, RFI is low, and the Voltmasters hasn't failed yet! Richard Perez

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DIY Battery Repair

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