By GLENN GARNETT
In the last issue of CottageLink Magazine, we talked about the benefits of limiting exposure to the sunís rays. But the intense radiation emitted by the sun isnít all bad - we can harness solar energy to create electricity.
For the cottager, solar energy offers a low-cost, environmentally sensible source of power in remote areas. The concept is catching on: last year the Solar Energy Society of Canada reported a 33% growth in the photovoltaic (thatís techspeak for solar panel) power market. The society said most of the growth was due to the impressive increase in the cottage and recreational PV application market.
That means solar panels are becoming as prevalent as satellite dishes on the roofs of cottages from coast to coast. There, photovoltaic cells, usually made of silicon, convert abundant solar rays into the juice that powers your lights or your laptop in your vacation paradise. First developed in the 1950s for use on American satellites, solar power systems are low maintenance, easy to operate, quiet and donít pollute the environment.
When sunlight strikes a solar cell, electrons are set into motion, creating an imbalance which is tapped for energy. Solar cells are springing up all over. They've become popular for calculators and for powering display roadsigns, payphones and parking kiosks.
So whether youíre an environmentally sensitive 21st-century kind of guy, or just too cheap to dig up big bucks to hook up your cottage to the power line a mile away, the concept of solar power is an attractive one.
But if youíre not quite sold on the benefits, or ready for the expense, of installing a full-blown solar power system, there is an interim step you can take. This past winter at the Cottagefest Show in Pickering, we were given a demonstration of a portable solar system by Pagan MacKay, marketing and communications coordinator of SolarSense.com, a Waterloo, Ont.-based manufacturer of solar photovoltaic systems.
|Pagan MacKay of SolarSense displays
the NOMAD 300. This portable system
can be taken indoors after sundown
and home after you close the cottage
for the winter.
We checked out SolarSenseís NOMAD 300 (thatís Pagan demonstrating the solar panel) which provides enough juice for a glint of civilization in the middle of your sojourn into all-natural living.
"This is our introduction systemÖit wonít do everything but with it will give you lights, radio TV, VCR for about three hours," she explained.
The solar power system includes a solar panel, an 18-amp powerpack, an AC charging adapter, DC charging cables and jump start cables. It will run small appliances and electrical devices that draw less than 300 watts, although it will start loads drawing up to 500 watts - but not for long periods of time. It takes 10-12 hours of full sunshine to charge the system - longer if itís cloudy. But NOMADís amorphous silicon and bypass diodes makes the most of what youíve got on days with low light conditions.
The system sold for $259, plus shipping and handling costs, at press time.
SolarSense is targeting a wide variety of rural customers, including those with cottages far from the end of the power grid.
"The system is great for people who live in remote areas full-time," Mackay says. "My mum has a cabin without electricity which she uses year Ďround. I got her one of these and sheís all excited, saying ĎWow! Iíve got lights to do dishes and read at night!í"
And if you are hooked up to the power grid, itís not a bad little emergency backup system.
"It can be installed on the roof or on your deck - some people choose not to install it permanently so they can bring it home after cottage season is over, maybe take it camping too," MacKay says.
But it isnít easy being green - just ask the engineers trying to pry us away from our internal-combustion engines in favour of electric cars. There are serious limitations for some alternative energy sources - solar power is no different.
For instance, Sun Volts Unlimited of North Bay, which sells and installs a variety of home and cottage power kits, recommends that appliances such as fridges, stoves, water heaters and freezers be run using propane, while their systems power up the lights, TVs, computers and counter-top kitchen appliances. Sun Volts offers six solar power kits, ranging from a single 50-watt solar panel providing nearly three amps of battery current to its deluxe system featuring six 75-watt solar modules providing 26.4 amps of battery charging current, a system aimed at "energy-conscious people."
While the NOMAD 300 system wonít do any heavy lifting (like powering your water heater), the specs show itíll run an 8" electric fan for 10 hours, a laptop PC and printer for six hours, your CD player for five hours, and a 40-watt incandescent lamp for three. You can use it to jump start your car or boat engine. You can also spare your pristine country environment the exhaust discharge of a gas generator and the attendant noise pollution too - the NOMAD 300 purrs quietly as your read that detective novel by lamplight.
"Weíre going to be coming out with some large units later this year," MacKay says. "Weíre in new product development right now. The first one to come out will be a 1,000 watt unit, with an 1,800 unit to follow."
For more information on SolarSense systems, check out their website at www.solarsense.com. Sun Volts, which offers free installation of their kit systems, can be reached online at www.sunvoltssolar.com.