MREA Energy Fair 2018

by admin on June 19, 2018

This past weekend was the MREA Energy Fair. I always look forward to the event, but this year was more of an adventure than usual…

One of the big things I was looking forward to is the new solar car-port, a nearly 20,000 watt array of solar PV panels OVER the top of the electric car charging area. I was originally all signed up for the workshop to help install the system, but an injury this spring kept from from participating. Solar AND Electric cars was a big theme this year, so I wanted to bring my car up to show off!

Unfortunately, my car has pretty much THE smallest battery pack and shortest range of any electric car out there. While it’s a FANTASTIC city car, it’s not really designed for road-trips. DC Fast Chargers can really extend the range of the car. For example, I bought the car on south-western side of the greater Chicago area and drove it home to south-east Wisconsin, thanks to DC Fast Chargers. Unfortunately, there are NO fast chargers between my house and the Energy Fair.

So, I left extra early, made a day of it, and knew that getting to the Energy Fair would be an adventure.

It’s always great to see old friends and check out what there is in new technology. I spent most of my time trying to stay in the shade and off my feet.

The ribbon-cutting and dedication for the new solar car port took place at 11:30 AM. Nick Hylla, Executive Director of the MREA made a great speech about the project, including thanking all who made it possible.

Afterwards, I grabbed a quick video interview with Nick about solar and electric cars.

While I had my video camera out, I thought I’d check in with my buddy, Ryland Erdman. I originally met Ryland at the Energy Fair, probably in 2006. He’s one of many people I always look forward to seeing at the Fair. Ryland designed and built an electric motorcycle which uses golf-cart parts, the stock drive-shaft, and a custom shaft adapter he created to make a motorcycle conversion anyone could assemble. Here’s the video describing the motorcycle.

Late Friday afternoon, I gave presentations on what I’ve learned in One Year in my Solar Garage. After that, I presented on how to build a Passive Solar Garage Door. Attendance for that one was very good! I think that in a world where things keep becoming more and more “professionalized”, people like simple and hands-on. I’m really impressed with how well the solar door turned out. Not only is it great for heating my garage in the winter, but it offers a view and fantastic natural lighting, while still allowing control over temperature and privacy.

On Saturday, my main goal of the day was to participate in the Ride-and-Drive! Sponsored by Wisconsin Clean Cities, the Ride-and-Drive was an event to actually get people out RIDING in electric cars. As I like to say, a gas car and an electric one sound and feel the same when they are PARKED! We had the latest Chevy Volt, Prius Prime, and Honda Clarity Plug-in brought by car dealers. A private owner gave rides in his Tesla Model S. (There was a line for that one!) Lastly, my friend Terry and I both offered rides in out matching Mitsubishi iMiEVs. Terry was nearly continuously shuttling folks in a loop down Hwy 10. I took the opportunity to sit on my tailgate and converse with fair-goers about all the different great plug-in cars out there. I gave several rides and drives, including letting a friend from the Milwaukee Makerspace take my car out for a spin. Afterwards, he told me how IMPRESSED he was with the car. I don’t often get too many other people driving my car, so it was nice to get opinions! There was also a gentleman there who was at least 6’8″ tall. After he went for a ride in Terry’s iMiEV, I asked him how the headroom was. He said it was GREAT and that he had inches to spare! Sure enough, looking around, the iMiEV was by far the TALLEST plug-in car there, and had the best view of the road.

IMG_9343Saturday evening, I split a hard cider with Ryland, and then called it a night.
I normally camp at the “Back 40” campground just down the road from the Fair. Unfortunately, with my bad knee and shoulder, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep on the ground in a tent. Instead, I planned on sleeping in my car. While that doesn’t sound super-comfortable, the shape of the seat was probably the best sleeping option for me. Since it was an electric car, I could simply leave the car on all night, with the vent fan running on low. That gave me plenty of fresh air with NO mosquitos! I checked the battery pack before bed, and in the morning it looked like the car used approximately 1 kilowatt hour of energy for my overnight camping. I had set the parking brake to ON before turning the car on to the Full Ready mode. This meant that the 12V battery would be continuously charged by the main battery pack. I once had a bad experience at a car show where I was exhibiting my car, and I had the radio on. At the end of the day, I needed a jump-start. After that, I decided it made more sense just to leave the car on. After all, it doesn’t idle, make noise, or create exhaust.

IMG_9376The highlight of Sunday was that I did a demo of my Solar Ammo Can. This was outdoors at the one permanent stage on the fairgrounds. I was greeted by a good-size audience. I spoke about the project, how it works, and pulled out the various components to demonstrate them. Afterwards, there were plenty of great questions for the Q&A, followed by lots of people taking a look at the components I was using. One woman even showed me a small solar-powered cell phone charger she built, but it wasn’t working. Since I had my multimeter handy, we used that to trouble-shoot the project. It turned out that the solar cell wasn’t producing a high enough voltage to charge the battery. That’s exactly the type of thing I had just spoken about in the demonstration.

Other Fair highlights (for me anyways!) included a Tiny House, a Delivery Truck converted to a solar-powered adventure van, and the University of Minnesota solar-racer!

Since I’m still in recovery mode, I was making sure to take it easy at the fair, walking as little as I could, and staying in the shade. In fact, I didn’t make it to a single presentation, any exhibitor booths, or see any band. Even so, visiting the Energy Fair was a great success, getting to see old friends and new, dedicating the new solar car port, and helping educate folks about plug-in vehicles and solar power.

IMG_9383The return trip home was much less adventurous than the trip out. I already knew where to charge, and my portable EVSE was now compatible with the camp ground power outlets. It was still a long trip, but taking the side roads is always interesting, including stumbling on road-side folk-art and cheese-themed restaurants in small towns. On the last leg of my trip before returning home, I ended up driving right past the road-side marker for a wind-farm. I pulled out my video camera to film it just as the rain started hitting. It was a terrible day for solar power, but a great day for wind. Pretty neat to go straight to the source of where my home electricity comes from when my solar garage ISN’T powering my place.

I always love attending the MREA Energy Fair, but it’s always nice to be back home too. It’s amazing to see the advances in renewable energy and clean transportation that have occurred in just the years since I’ve attended. I’m very proud to be involved in that in whatever small way I can. It’s difficult to explain the full feeling or Gestalt of the place. It’s positive, full of amazing people working the right direction. It isn’t just another festival. They walk the walk. The event is powered by renewable energy made right there. Food is served on compostable plates. Even at the beer tent, there’s no red plastic beer cups – buy a glass or bring your own!

I always love the Energy Fair, and will be back next year. I hope you will be too.

Until next time, stay charged up!


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dick Anderson June 25, 2018 at 11:47 am

Hey right on post. Enjoyed the video of the MREA charging dedication. That Kerbel is quite a guy. I had the pleasure of taking a few workshops from him when the MREA was still at the Amhurst fair grounds. Mick Sagrello was another guy I got to work with on some wind power workshops. That was when they were dirt cheap and for $50 you could spend four days working on a project. Nice picture and story. They have really put together a good grass roots level operation that is an experience to be part of and learn with. Like you say these folks “walk the walk” and do they ever. Some even drive all electric vehicles!

2 SMC June 26, 2018 at 10:11 pm

Hey Ben, it is great sitting thru your solar panel talk; 1 year later, and your talk about passive solar heating. You said you get full credit for the Energy you generate from your solar panels!? You’re so lucky; I’m moving to your utility district! Do you know what WE Energies provides? Thanks!

3 admin June 27, 2018 at 5:57 am

It’s my understanding that WE Energies (a for-profit electric utility in Wisconsin) credits you full value of your solar electricity on a monthly basis for up to the total amount of energy you use. If you produce more power than you consume in a month, they credit you the lower wholesale rate of that electricity for the overproduction. (Somewhere in 3-4 cents per kilowatt-hour.)
The downside to that is people who have a solar array which is designed to make all of their electric power on an ANNUAL basis aren’t able to take advantage of “overproducing” during the summer months and carry over a credit.
That’s really only an issue though for people with fairly large solar arrays who are frugal with their electric use. In the case that a person feels that they aren’t getting a good deal from their electric utility, I actually encourage folks to use MORE electricity! WHAT!? That’s right, use MORE electricity, because you are producing it yourself from a renewable resource, and use to to displace some other energy source, such as gasoline, natural gas, fuel oil, etc.
Electric cars, heat-pump water heaters, mini-splits, etc. are all good ways to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

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