Going on the Solar Tour

The Sundog Blog

The national solar homes tour this Saturday, Oct. 6, is another chance to get excited about solar energy – and that’s another thing that makes solar power different.

When was the last time you saw the kids get excited about a coal-fired power plant?

Tennessee’s largest coal-fired power plant isn’t far from a residence that needs a bit less of it.


Not that a field trip to one of those mammoths wouldn’t be interesting. Anything that big and powerful is worth standing in awe of. The sheer size, the huge furnaces, the enormous heat, the belching smoke – it’s a dinosaur worth visiting before it goes extinct.

Okay, okay, coal-fired power plants aren’t going extinct in my lifetime, maybe not in yours. But the chances of their being gone by the time the grandkids are my age is a definite possibility. At the very least and with a high degree of certainty, there will be fewer of them someday soon than there are today, replaced by solar, wind and forms of energy production we may not even know of just yet.

Seeing solar in action is a science class waiting to happen. In fact, I’ll be at a local high school later today doing exactly that. Science teachers are incorporating solar energy into their curricula, and the Tennessee Solar Energy Association is starting to help with that. Today’s lesson will be on Ohm’s Law, though we may leave the title at home. The solar panel, the solar simulator, and the voltmeter and ammeter will do just fine by themselves – along with the old comparison to water pressure (voltage) and the flow (amperage) that happens when you turn on the tap. Kids love that.

I’ve taken my little solar demonstration and solar PowerPoint to a number of schools, and I can report that youthful curiosity is high and knowledge is right behind.

Reminds me a little bit of the second Earth Day, 1990. If you were around to recall, that’s when we all learned to reduce, reuse and recycle. My small role in that play was playing the Shawnee Earth Day Trashman. I’d go to schools dressed up in my overalls with all kinds of offal hanging out the pockets and disembowel a trash bag filled with the correct proportions of materials trashed by the average American household, according to scientists who’d researched such things. Then I’d hold stuff up and let the kids tell me what could be recycled and what couldn’t, and what we should do with it all.

“Recycle!” they’d scream. “Reduce! Reuse!”

I think it was kids who got the recycling revolution going by going home and nagging their parents, though like a lot of revolutions, it got off to a great start and still has a ways to go a generation later.

Solar’s slow start is really picking up speed in this generation. It’s been almost two centuries since a teenager, Edmond Becquerel, first described the photoelectric effect of sunlight. Quite a few scientists later, it was still more than a century ago that Albert Einstein used mathematics to suggest there was such a thing as a photon, a little energy packet riding on sunbeams, that caused the photoelectric effect. Earned him a Nobel prize a few years later.

And it’s been more than a half century since NASA started using what we now consider antiques to power spacecraft up where electrical outlets have not yet been installed. Now here we are on the cusp of the 21st century, and by golly the thing really works. People are even doing it in their houses.

Take a look!

Beth and Eric Lewis are the hosts of the TSEA-Nashville solar tour, which only has the one stop, so it’s really more of an event. Much more convenient than getting out of your car every few miles, we think.

The Lewis household has a 4.2 kilowatt solar array in their front yard instead of on their roof, so that makes it easy to see up close. You can actually touch a solar panel there, no harm, no foul. They also have a solar thermal panel on their house to heat their water, and Eric recently built a portable solar generator so he can have power on construction sites for his contractor business.

Come see – 7978 Highway 100 in Bellevue – all day Saturday.

Sundog Solar will be there with a boothful of information, a variety of solar panels and solar installation paraphernalia for your inspection, our solar simulator and classroom science experiment, and even a renewable energy science kit that might be a good item for any curious kid’s Christmas list, ages 8-108 according to the box.

The sun has been here longer than any of us, and will probably stick around for a while. Solar energy has arrived, just in time for the future. Make your date with it this Saturday.

(Gary Wolf, a solar installer, owner of Sundog Solar Energy, and board member of the Tennessee Solar Energy Association, will be doing what lots of solar enthusiasts will be doing this Saturday — talking solar at Nashville’s stop on the national solar homes tour.)


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NABCEP-certified solar PV installer and licensed Tennessee electrical contractor. An original employee of the original full-time solar PV installer in Tennessee and its first crew leader (2007-2010). Established and taught a solar installer training program at a state technology center (2010). Owns Sundog Solar Energy (2011-present). Currrently under contract with another company to provide online monitoring services, direct O&M and lead installations. Moved to Belize, Central America, September 2014. Former journalist and journalism professor.

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