Solar

Q&A with HomePower’s Richard and Karen Perez

From humble beginnings in 1987 to a vibrant international readership in 2004, HomePower magazine has supplied renewable energy aficionados the hands-on technical information they need to make intelligent and cost-effective decisions about how to generate, save, and efficiently use clean energy in their homes and businesses. Both the magazine and the RE industry have come a long way. When the magazine started, a big photovoltaic (PV) module was 50 watts and carried a 10 year warranty. Now, 150 watt modules are common, and most have 25 year warranties – and most importantly, they cost around half of what they used to. In light of HomePower’s 100th issue milestone, here follows a Q&A interview with Richard and Karen Perez, founders and Publishers of HomePower magazine.

April 19, 2004 [SolarAccess.com] How did it all get started – when did you two go from solar/home power wrenches to worldwide publishers of RE information? What was the catalyst for that development? The first issue of Home Power was mailed in November of 1987. I’d been an installing dealer of PV systems for over five years then. I found myself delivering the same information to every new customer, so I compiled this info into booklets which I gave to each new and prospective customer. These booklets contained basic information on how PVs worked, how batteries worked, and how inverters worked. In 1987 I saw a new industry emerging–solar electricity for homes. I saw that virtually no one knew what this industry could do for off-grid homes. I saw that this new industry had no way to connect with potential customers. We thought that this would be a perfect place for a magazine–one that informed about the technology, how it worked, and provided advertising space for this new industry.For the next five years, we both published Home Power and ran our installing PV business, Electron Connection. By 1992, Home Power had grown into a more than full time job and we sold Electron Connection to Bob-O Schultze. What are your views on the present RE industry? Is it moving in the right direction? The present RE industry is moving in the right direction and has grown mightily since the early days. We now have a vast array of power processing electronics — MPPT PV charge controllers, great sine wave inverters for use both on and off grid, durable wind generators, microhydro turbines to suit virtually any site, and a great collection of energy efficient appliances which stretch our RE production. This vast armada of great hardware, coupled with high user awareness of what it can do, will spur the industry into great growth over the next decade. RE for residential uses got its start in off-grid applications by users in very remote and ‘rustic’ locations. How do you feel about the increasingly grid-connected direction that the RE industry is taking? Well, over 99% of the folks in the developed world live on grid. While we off-gridders did the pioneering work, RE really needs to spread widely, and this mean on-grid. RE can offer solutions to many of the problems facing electrical grids — blackouts, brownouts, security issues, and power line overloading. In terms of the developing world, I think that they will leapfrog over the grid phase of electricity and go straight to solar-powered distributed systems. What are the biggest hurdles this industry still has to overcome? Two big hurdles. One the price of PV. Two, the utility attitude of centralized power production. If the price of PV drops below US$2.00 per peak watt, then we’re looking at the world’s favorite roof. At this cost level, solar power becomes cheaper than any other energy source. If utilities would wake up and realize that their century-long monopoly on electric power production is coming to an end, then they could be a major force in helping establish global solar power. Is there a particular RE technology that is NOT getting enough attention, and vice-versa, is there one that is getting too much of the limelight? Solar hot water isn’t getting the attention it deserves. Solar hot water is more cost effective than PV at this point in time. Hydrogen is getting more attention than it deserves. Most folks actually think that hydrogen is an energy source–it’s not, it’s a medium to store energy. We are decades away from having a hydrogen system which will replace the batteries we now commonly use in home power systems. What do you tell people who call you and really want to get into RE as a business? Install solar electricity and solar hot water on your own home. You can only learn and appreciate solar energy by living with it. You can’t talk the talk if you don’t walk the walk. What’s next for HomePower – where do you two see your business/life going over the next 10 years? More of the same, bigger and better! The next ten years will produce a solar electric power source that cost less than US$2.00 per watt. At this point the entire industry will explode and solar will become a standard fixture on all homes. Hybrid electric vehicles (such as the Toyota Prius) will become very common, and this technology will produce even better power electronics and batteries for use in the home-scale RE industry. Anything else you want to get off your chest about RE, Home Power or any other subject that would be of interest to our readers? We have to stop burning carbon! Global warming is a looming reality. Solar energy can greatly help to reverse this impending doom. If we don’t stop putting CO2 into our atmosphere, then there won’t be much of a world left for future generations. Don’t rely on government to make this change. They are in cahoots with big business in a head-long dash for next quarter’s profits. An energy source which is freely and democratically offered to everyone everywhere doesn’t fit in with their plans. On the personal side…what do you like to do when you’re not dealing with RE, and the magazine? I’m frankly ashamed to admit that I love my work so much that I really don’t have much “free” time. Solar energy is a consuming passion with me, and if I’m awake I’m doing something related to solar. When I’m too tired to work, Karen and I chill out and watch a movie on our solar-powered home theater. Karen has many hobbies–critters, knitting, gardening, and cooking. Favorite toy or gadget? My favorite gadget is a very useful tool called a Stylus made by Streamlight. It is an LED flashlight that’s super bright, and powered by three AAAA batteries which last over a year. It’s about the size of a pen and is always with me in my shirt pocket. Mac or PC? I’m I died in the wool Mac freak. I got my first Mac in 1984 and I’ve owned and used dozens of Macs since then. Home Power is an all Mac shop. Richard and Karen Perez