Thursday, July 31, 2008

Roadie Report 40- The "Green Summer" of 2008 by Camilla McGuinn

Photo by Camilla

We’ll always remember the summer of 2008 as the “green summer.” The environment has always been one of our concerns. “The Trees Are All Gone,” written in 1990, was somewhat prophetic about the apathy of the politicians and the blinders they wear concerning the energy needs of our nation, but this blog isn’t about politics.

For the first time in years, we found ourselves settled into our home for the summer. Usually, we purposely arrange to be touring somewhere in the world, in order to miss the seasonal heat of Florida, but this year was different.

Taking time off from touring gives us time to open our imaginations and horizons to things we are normally too busy to contemplate.

“Tech TV” was one of the few cable television channels Roger watched faithfully. It was a highlight for him when he was invited to appear on the Screen Savers broadcast. The only sad part of that day was the host,Leo Laporte, was out of town. The network was bought by one of those monster corporations that destroy good stuff. Sure enough “Tech TV” was sunk, but you can’t keep talented people drowning for long. Kevin Rose and Leo LaPorte branched out. They found new outlets for their talents via podcasts on the Internet. It was on Leo’s show that Roger heard about Roz Savage.

Roz Savage has embarked on the adventure of being the first woman to row solo across the Pacific. Her motivation is to raise awareness of environmental issues. She wants to inspire others to make a difference in their lives for the protection of the earth and its oceans.
Photo by Camilla

Roz has an amazing web page and Roger was fascinated; he immediately studied his habits and made some changes.

We live in a land of sunshine. It is time to harness this powerful gift. Roger has been experimenting with small solar panels for the past year. In the beginning he was using them to recharge our laptop computers and cell phones. He wanted more practical uses, so we brainstormed about what we needed most when the electricity was shut down. In 2004, we experienced three hot days and three dark nights when Hurricane Charlie knocked out the power grid.

During those days and nights, the comforts we missed most were ice and cooled air for sleeping. We couldn’t run our air conditioner or refrigerator with our small panels, but we could power some fans and make ice. Thus we invented “solar ice.”

Portable ice machines were being featured in various catalogues. I asked Roger if the solar panels were powerful enough to run the machines. The wheels began turning. We placed an order on the Internet and within weeks, we were making ice from the power of the sun.

My resident “Mr. Wizard” or “Commander Solar” as he jokingly likes to call himself wasn’t content with just ice and fans. He wanted more solar power. The next brainstorm session came up with the question, “Is there a good electric mobile device that we could use for our local errands?”

The Internet search machine was buzzing. We found a reasonably priced electrical device and placed an order. It arrived by truck and was deposited in a crate on our driveway. Some assembly required. You know what transpires when a husband and wife try to assemble anything as a joint project!

Being a typical guy, Roger proceeded to put it together, while I tried to read the directions which were very roughly translated from a foreign language that seemed to read from right to left and from the end to the beginning. I would manage to decipher an important point just after Roger attached that particular part in the wrong position. Give him a guitar or a computer and he can take it apart with his eyes close. This new world of transportation mechanics was bewildering to him. We groused with each other throughout the whole ordeal, but suddenly we achieved that sweet moment of accomplishment and we had a new set of wheels. The bright red bike that was going to lower our carbon foot print was christened “FRED” – Free Rolling Electrical Deliverer.”

Within a week of getting the “FRED” on the road, a couple of local reporters emailed with the question, “How is Roger spending his summer vacation?” They had reported on our “Solar Ice” experiment and knew Roger usually had some tech related project brewing. I invited them over to meet the “FRED.” They filmed Roger riding the "FRED" for their website. (Be sure to click the blue letters for the film...I only say this for those folks, like me, who don’t know why that word was blue)

Our Orange Tree (photo by Camilla)
Now that “FRED’s” wheels were rolling, Roger wanted to use our beautifully situated roof – southwestern exposure – to raise the solar panels. Dinner conversations concentrated on the problems of a barrel tile roof and how to get flat panels safely secured onto the round tiles. As we discussed all the possibilities, our excitment rose. If we were going to put a few panels on the roof, why not put a lot of them on the roof! It was time to go completely solar with the house!

During our recent home re-model (a water leak in the laundry room wall changed the whole house), I was the one who did the research, buying and hiring. This project was all Roger’s. He searched the Internet until he found Michael Brown’s Solar Ray.

Michael was raised in New Mexico, where he was solar inspired during a sixth grade field trip to the Sandia National Laboratory. He is surprised that the residents of Florida haven’t embraced the power of the sun. He uses Photovoltaic cells made by the Evergreen Solar Company. Michael feels the carbon footprint of the company is right in line with the environment. He and Roger put their heads together, planned a system for our house and then called me in as a courtesy. When they told me the refrigerator would always be running even when the electrical grid was down, I was sold. I did request that the septic pump, dishwasher and washing machine keep chugging too. A childhood spent with the necessity of an outhouse, seeing grandma at the wringer washer and being the one who always did the supper dishes, has always kept me very aware of the modern conveniences that I would miss if I had to step back in time.

The solar cells are ordered, Roger is riding the FRED to the post office daily and I’m smiling at the future!

Photo by Camilla