by Jens Naumann
Photo of Jens with solar panels.
It was 1999 on my farm when it came to having to update the old wood
stove in the main room of our house. Even though it's called
"Southern Canada" where we are, it certainly doesn't have a Southern
feel to it during the winter months. So off we went to the nearby town
of Kingston, searching in the renewable energy store for what we needed.
We thought we found what we wanted, but since I can't really see with my eyes, I insisted to feel it out. "Careful..." warns the sales agent."There's a solar panel just to your right..." I reached out, remembering the little 3 square inch solar cell on my Radio Shack 65-in-1 electronics kit back when I was a kid, giving just enough power to make a small meter's needle move when the sun hit it. But this panel was huge. About ten square feet in surface area. Suddenly I had an idea. "I want to get these!" Then I continued, "I want to get our house right off the electric grid." "You'll never do that with solar panels." The agent stated.
That night I thought about it. I couldn't understand why it wouldn't work. I calculated our consumption, maximum power draw, and then compared it to the output of the solar panels. With a small generator for backup if there was a lot of cloud, it should work, I thought.
So the next day I bought 2 of the 100 watt panels. It was exciting, mounting them to face South on home made wooden racks, then charging a small battery bank, which in turn was hooked to an inverter so I'd have the household power we are used to. I ran a single cable into the house where my office was, mounting three plugs for my computer equipment and ham radio. It worked!
So the next week I bought two more panels and four more batteries. I needed to keep the batteries from over charging, so I used a bit of my knowledge from my kiddy years playing with that 65-in-1 electronics kit. A zener diode, transistor, relay and a couple of resistors and capacitors and I made a simple charge controller on a piece of cardboard serving as the circuit board. I mounted it in a wooden cigar box - and there was my invention which works to date. With four panels, my computer and ham radio couldn't spend all that power. We ran an extension cord to the fridge. It was fun!
Then I bought 12 more panels and a large inverter, along with more batteries. I was hooked! I installed an auxiliary power jack to the breaker box, connected my solar station, and disconnected the power from the grid. Everything seemed to work fine, and the batteries weren't losing any charge. After a few weeks of continued testing, we realized it was working reliably. I even assembled a home made generator for times when there's too much cloud to keep up with our demand. I added a couple of small wind turbines, and then called the electrical authority to disconnect the house from the grid. No more electrical bills...!!!
In 2008, I incorporated my own green energy company. With a small production facility in Napanee, I redesigned the charge controller to be more elaborate, and began its mass production. Additionally, I designed a build-it-yourself solar panel that children could assemble for science projects, all material non-breakable and not requiring soldering. For a number of years TREC (Toronto Renewable Energy Coop) bought them for their educational program for grades 3 - 5. I took one to Mozambique in December of 2008 where a blind school teacher, Angelina, assembled it as a demo for her students, using it to charge a cell phone as often their electrical grid is down.
As part of my business I put up solar electrical systems for those who want to go green. The hardest part of my job is convincing the client that it will work; solar is slow to be embraced here in the North, but it is happening and those who take that step, never regret it afterwards.
When I worked as International Development Worker in Mozambique, I discovered that a country close by, Angola, just finished a terrible war where bombs disguised as toys hurt many children, leaving many with no hands or eyes. I have a dream project where I'd start a vocational school, teaching these now young adults to assemble solar electrical systems as renewable energy experts. Most of Angola, as with the rest of Africa, has little for an electrical grid, so solar is a need, not an option. Once I perfect the method of connecting the various system components without using the dexterity offered by fingers, this project is going ahead.
I may not see the color green, let alone the lights which work thanks to my green energy initiative, but I really feel green anyhow!
by Jens Naumann
This article was received on 10th July 2014
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My company, Green-First Technologies Inc.
My green energy initiative in Mozambique 2008
My solar test station I put up in 1999, sloppy as I didn't think it
would stay up this long, but still running the household!
A solar electric system installed on Ambherst Island, Ontario
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