Solar Power isn't Feasible!

Solar Power isn't Feasible!
This cartoon was on the cover of the book "SolarGas" by David Hoye. It echoes the Sharp Solar slogan "Last time I checked nobody owned the sun!"

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Solar Powered Music Festivals: Solar CITIES calls all musicians to action!

From left to right: T.H. Culhane, Peter Padua, and Dr. Stephen Cass of the solar powered band "SolarPlexus" perform at the Roseville Electric Green Earth Day Festival in 2003

Coming off of the India Youth Climate Network (IYCN) Climate Solutions Tour performing with the awesome New York solar powered musical group "Solar Punch" led by James Dean Conklin and Alan Bigelow (with Andy Matina and Frank Marino), Musical Goodwill Ambassador Paul Lincoln (Broadway musical theater performer, lawyer and former organizer of Harvard Krokodiloe Alumni international tours) T.H. Culhane and Solar CITIES are working hard to organize as many solar powered musicians around the world as possible to use the momentum and media attention that the amazing IYCN has created to create an inflorescence of Renewable Energy powered performance events around the world that can help stop climate change in its tracks!

Calling all Bards, Calling all Bards: beat your swords into ploughshares, beat your brown electrons into green electrons, get with the beat, the beat, the beat!

Our goal is ambitious only on a political level. Technically it is pure "plug and play", easy as 1, 2, 3. We want to take the novelty out of solar powered performances.

Isn't it crazy to think that at a time when we have solar powered robots crawling over Mars, and solar powered satellites directing our global communications here on Earth we still think it is unusual to power an electric guitar (arguably a MUCH less sophisticated machine) with the same technology?

This has got to stop!

We want to make the idea of a solar powered or renewable energy powered band so mundane, so ho-hum, so just plain ordinary that it fails to generate any more stares or media attention.

After all, what is the big deal? Solar panels, bicycle generators, wind generators, fuel cells, micro-hydro generators and biofuel or biogas powered electric generators simply make electricity. As far as electrons go it is effectively the same electricity coursing through the wires and sockets that otherwise would be produced by filthy "clean-coal" plants, deadly "safer nuclear plants" and global warming inducing oil and gas plants.

Nobody makes a big deal when a rock band plugs their amps and lights and electric guitars into a conventional power-plant fed socket. So why the amazement when we plug into a solar powered plug? We must demystify the renewable-energy-fed sockets.

At Solar CITIES our goal is to make safe renewable energy yawningly "conventional" and thus make dirty deadly fossil and nuclear energy the "unconventional" technologies. Let the press and the public marvel every time somebody plugs into the "dirty electron pool". When the rest of us plug in to the sun and the wind and the water and the biomass fueled "clean electron pool" we want to see people simply shrug and say "so what else is new? That's how all of us (except really backwards people who don't know better or are enslaved by petro-nuke-dictators) get our energy. "

Below, I've reproduced an article written by Green Energy Utility Consultant Frank DiMassa back in 2003. At that time he brought to the Roseville Electric Utility Green Earth Day Festival in Northern California a San Diego based solar powered band I was in, called "Solar Plexus", that had been performing in various locations since 1998, using BP30 Solarex Portable solar panels for small gigs and setting up solar powered stages with parellel connected 100 Watt Polycrystalline modules for larger gigs. 10 years ago we solar musicians were novelties at fringe earthy-crunchy California eco-arts festivals, like the wonderful "Eco-Maya" festival in L.A. or at the Solar Living Center "SolFests" at Real Goods in Hopland. 6 years ago we began to be sought out for corporate sponsored events highlighting green energy. 5 years ago we were building and performing on solar powered stages in Egypt. Today we should be as common as clovers on a summer lawn.

Photo: Having constructed a solar and wind powered stage amidst the olive plantations of Wadi Foods outside of Cairo, Egypt, the Wadi Environmental Science Center gets ready for a rocking weekend of environmental workshops and demonstrations. It was the connections made at such concerts and environmental festivals that led to the current Solar CITIES work in the poor sections of Cairo. As Paul Lincoln stated to the press in India "once music opens the doors for dialog and fellowship, the serious work of development can occur. But music, culture and the arts creates the bridge for technology and idea transfer to take place. That's why we start with solar powered festivals."

The U.S. State Department funded Musical Goodwill Ambassador Band "Circus Guy", led by Michael Culhane, performs during its "Solar Circus" tour of the Middle East. Left to right: Frank Marino (drums), James Dean Conklin (guitar), Greg Ross (bass), Ted Stern (violin), Anais Mitchell (vocals, percussion), T.H. Culhane (vocals, guitar) and Mike Culhane (vocals, guitar) performing for children on the Solar and Wind Powered Stage at the Wadi Environmental Science Center, Egypt, 2004).

The technology is Homer Simpson easy. You just prop up a couple of solar panels facing the sun, plug them into a charge controller, plug the controller into some batteries, the battery into a DC to AC inverter and the digital amps (no tube amps please!) and LED lights (no incandescents please!) into a power strip plugged into the inverter. Then you rock the house. Doh!

So come on fellow musicians and events coordinators, what do you say? Before "2010 A Space Odessy" becomes a Gregorian calendar reality, can we all get together and stop adding to climate change and pollution, inflationary economics and international conflict? We will be happy to show you how.

Let's make solar powered music boringly commonplace, shall we?

Freedom of Choice and the Power to Choose
Written by Frank Vincent Di Massa, April 2003

Now in its 33rd year, Earth Day has become a vehicle for environmental organizations and retailers of “environmentally sustainable” products and services to reach out to the public at large. This year I was in Roseville, a boomtown just north of Sacramento, working a booth at the Green Energy Earth Day Celebration sponsored by Roseville Electric, a municipal, or City-owned, electric utility.

Roseville Electric (RE) was promoting their progressive Green Energy program that gives its customers freedom of choice, the choice to say “I want the power purchased on my behalf by the utility to come from clean renewable energy sources like the wind, sunlight, the Earth’s heat and the power of moving water.” Although participating customers pay a small premium for Green Energy, the electric utility matches their contributions dollar for dollar to build new renewables in town, like the 18.2 kW solar electric system gracing the top of Roseville’s new state-of-the-art Fire Station.

Also participating at the Earth Day fair were the City of Roseville’s Water Conservation and Resource Recovery folks, representatives from the local Shade Tree program, the Northern California Electric Vehicle Users Group, Social Justice Advocates of Placer County and others. The California Conservation Corps provided labor for set up and tear down of the booths.

Perhaps the highlight of the event was the solar-powered band, "SolarPlexus" (see photograph).

A local photovoltaics (PV) provider supplied a solar electric system to run the band’s amplifiers and equipment. The set-up was brilliant – four pole-mounted Sharp 165 Watt PV semi-crystalline modules glistening magenta and blue, a new Outback inverter and charge-controller and four Trojan 6-volt batteries. Of course, the system worked flawlessly, proving the point to anyone paying attention that solar energy works! (Most people still don’t understand that it does). I enjoyed talking to people about the solar energy system, helping them delight in the idea of clean electricity silently generated by modules right above their heads using an inexhaustible (for all practical purposes) power source 93 million miles away.

Like the sun that day, the SolarPlexes band was brilliant. Lead singer and bass player T.H. Culhane re-thought the lyrics to traditional songs and sang about sunshine, solar power, clean air and the great things that the City of Roseville is doing (Roseville is located in Placer County, the fastest growing county in California).

I have been providing technical and “education and outreach” support to Roseville Electric and others for the past four years and I lined up the gig for the band whose members are friends and associates of mine. Solar Band Leader/Guitarist and Film-maker Peter Padua has been playing Solar Energy Powered gigs with Culhane for several years now and even runs part of his house and production studio on PV. Culhane has created a completely solar powered urban apartment at the Los Angeles Eco-Village. Drummer/Vocalist Dr. Stephen Cass, who is an expert on Middle Eastern politics and Iraq-U.S. relations, has just come off of a musical goodwill ambassador tour of Syria (called by Bush part of "the axis of evil") with Culhane, where, they have learned that most people love Americans but hate our policies, blaming our addiction to oil for the underlying causes of the wars in the Middle East. Solar Powered concerts help prove that we can do without oil and still have a wonderful fun time! Thus, Solar Plexus is all about raising that awareness.

To help raise awareness, T.H. Culhane and I are currently producing an educational video about Renewable Energy for RE that includes animated Benjamin Franklin and Joe Roseville cartoon characters. Shooting the video has been a joy. On the same day we filmed at a century old small hydro plant in the Sierra foothills, and at ultra-modern wind turbines in Solano County: dozens of massive yet sleek wind machines, with huge white blades turning slowly in rhythm with the wind and with each other. Wind is the fastest growing renewable energy source worldwide and turbine manufacturers continue to spawn larger, more efficient turbines that coax increasing amounts of power from the wind.

All electric utilities should be as socially responsible as Roseville Electric, especially California’s mammoth investor-owned utilities, PG&E and Southern California Edison. Small city-owned electric utilities like Healdsburg Electric can lead the way too and my company, Utility Consulting (, can help them get there. In addition to consulting in the energy and environmental field for many years, I just finished building a solar thermal pool shed in my backyard to heat the Jacuzzi and pool and have installed a 2.5 kW solar electric system on the roof of my home. There is no substitute for hands-on experience. And as a pianist, I can't wait to get my hands on my solar powered keyboard and get out into the sun with the band and play!

1 comment:

Karthika Qpt said...

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