Solar Pioneer Party

Although I was doing solar before solar was cool (started in 1990) I don’t think I consider myself a solar pioneer as there were so many before me that inspired me and helped me, but I got to spend a weekend in November at the Solar Pioneer party; hanging out with my heroes, my mentors, my colleagues. Together we have made solar the wave of the Now instead of the wave of the future #SolarNow #GetEnergized #GoSolar #Empowered.

Photo by Jason Vetterli at the Real Good Solar Living Institute

That  weekend in November 2017  I spent two days flying to spend three days in Northern California with more than 300 of my friends, colleagues, and mentors at the third and final solar Pioneer Party. Most of them I knew personally or through reading Home Power magazine over the years or through being in the industry for more than 20 years myself.

Solar Roots By Tyler Kanczuzewski —-The documentary shares many of these common stories of how the solar pioneers devised elaborate Rube Goldberg-like machines to rig their car batteries to play their stereo systems or to power a single 12-watt light. Kerosene lanterns and candles were common lighting alternatives, but so were cats that could knock them down and start a fire. After various happy accidents, the pioneers learned about solar panels that were being used for industrial off-grid applications. They were expensive, but they weren’t noisy and smelly like diesel generators—and they weren’t a fire hazard with house cats either.
Other rural “off-gridders” began to hear about the magic of solar PV that used the sun’s energy to light their neighbors’ homes and play their music. To pay for their PV, many used the income they earned from an infamous agricultural business; you could say that solar spurred the modern marijuana industry as well.

Driven by the need for light and music, many of these same off-grid pioneers became solar entrepreneurs. They began calling up executives from Arco Solar, Solarex, Sharp and other early solar PV manufacturers and ordered solar panels to be shipped to rural California, the Southwest and the Midwest. In one hilariously described scene, solar executives couldn’t believe the $100,000 order that they’d received, so they put on their three-piece suits and drove up in a Porsche to Humboldt County to meet their new customers, who were dressed in jeans and T-shirts. Here is more from Tyler Kanczuzewski.

The solar Pioneer party started when a relative newcomer to the industry, Jeff Spies, realized what the history of solar was and that it needed to be documented and had the great idea of inviting the Pioneers to a get together to film interviews with them to create a documentary. That was the first Solar Pioneer party. Jeff and Jason Vetterli didn’t realize how much work would be involved and it turned into a three-year project with the culmination in early November 2017 of a private showing to the solar Pioneers themselves. I missed the first Solar Pioneer party due to being in my dad’s memorial but made it to the second; where I was one who got to facilitate a round-table discussion and then I got to go the Third and Final Solar Pioneer party showcasing the film Solar Roots.

We started the weekend on Friday reconnecting with old friends and making new ones as people showed up at the KOA campground barn. As a relative youngster I felt a bit awkward being around so many of the greats in the solar industry, truly some of the ones who started it all. What I love about the solar industry is people aren’t afraid or are just open-hearted enough to share their experiences and knowledge to help grow the industry by helping our fellow solar addicts. As I volunteered at the coffee/tea cafe I got to interact with hundreds of my fellow solar people who, even the ones who didn’t know me, welcomed me in the techno babble of solar. Friday we had a taco truck pull up and by some miracle keep serving for over an hour the endless line of a couple hundred of hungry Solar Pioneers. The energy and excitement of the hundreds of conversations was in itself energizing!

Saturday started relatively early for me as I set up the coffee cafe and then went to the world debut of Solar Roots, the story of some of the Solar Pioneers of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. We got to see it on the big screen at the Noyo Theatre in Willits CA.  Walking into the theater in Willits California with probably 60% of the people who were in the movie were also in the theater was intensely awe inspiring. Seeing the movie I was expecting a standard talking head documentary but it turned out to be an emotional rollercoaster and extremely entertaining partially because I knew a lot of people in the film but there was enough people in there that I didn’t know personally, I just knew of them. There will be some private viewings of the Solar Roots film it may be a awhile before the general public sees the film due to figuring copyright issues of music and pictures. But sign up here to find out https://www.solar-roots.com/ The untold, colorful history of the birth of solar electricity

The Skunk train ride was optional and I originally didn’t book a ticket thinking I can always ride a train. Once it was explained that this train would be going through old growth redwoods I booked a ticket. I didn’t book the ticket in time to get the meal provided but thanks to the generosity of a fellow attendee who was on a special diet I was gifted her meal ticket. We had our picnic in an open air car.

Riding on the Skunk train, a 131-year-old train with all of its creaks and wheezes, visiting the huge redwoods was an experience I hope many can have. I spent the afternoon (over 4 hours) riding this train at a sedate pace over the hills and through the very rural forest seeing big trees, even moss covered trees, deer, deep ravines, creeks, seeing tremendous beauty deep within the forest from a comfortable seat with my feet up. There was sing alongs, there was drinks, there was intense conversations, there was relaxed conversations. Doing this was great but became a once in a lifetime experience due to my fellow passengers;  a few hundred fellow solar Pioneers and mentors.

Spending the day on Sunday at Real Goods Solar Living Institute was a flashback as I read the Solar Sourcebook like it was my solar bible years ago and my first “large” solar module (a Kyocera 45 watt) was bought from Real Goods and powered my offgrid living for 18 years.

I am so glad that this film documented history but even more so that it lead to the 3 Solar Pioneer parties to allow people to get together for the soul (misspelled for a reason) purpose of storytelling, inspiration, and energizing each other. The guiding principle behind this non-commercial event was cultivating an environment that facilitates meaningful conversation and connection between solar pros new and old. Power to the People! Let’s #GetEnergized #SolarNow

I look forward everyday to the interactions I have on my Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page and hope you will join the discussion there.

Stay energized, aur

Aur Beck has lived completely off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Projecta fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International  and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FMFind him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!?Facebook page, and read all of Aur’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.