NW Solar Expo (Saturday and Sunday)

2011 May 1

Helped Solar Oregon with a model electric car demo exhibit at the NW Solar Expo over the weekend.

The organization had gear-driven and pulley-driven solar car kits from SunWind.ca on hand. We (volunteers) assembled the cars on Saturday. We then took them apart half-way, leaving the axle and motor mounts on the body. Expo attendees re-assembled the cars and raced them down a track.

Since we were inside, we needed a light source powerful enough for the solar panels. Ironically, this turned out to be 20 incadescent light bulbs connected mounted on a PVC-pipe frame. Here we were on the warmest day of the year (so far) showing the wonders of solar energy by powering PV panels with light from inefficient bulbs.

I realized that this situation mirrored the overall state of the renewable energy industry. Renewable energy is good. To show this to the non-converted public, however, companies must concoct elaborate schemes through which the public wonders "why bother?". This is not necessarily the fault of the energy industry. Just something to consider. If we want to convince not just the converted, we must leave not one inkling of doubt and we must make the show grand.

We had no ruler when we were assembling the kits on Saturday morning, so many of the axles were a bit misalinged. The value in this exhibit was thus not only the ability to see solar cells in action, but also to experience tinkering with the design of the solar cars. Some attendees didn't have patience and had us help, but many chose to persevere and figure out how their designs could be improved.

Video of a race:

The curiosity of a boy named Cadence, who came in with his mom, just couldn't be satiated. He stuck around for almost 2 hours. After assembling the regular car, he started experimenting. This video shows his super car with two motors:

Don, who thought up of this whole idea, kept saying that the sun powered these cars much better than our bulbs. I took the car outside to test it:

As we were packing up, I spoke to Don about the deterrents to a more widespread acceptance of solar. Don mentioned that save for Arizona, nobody thinks that their locale has enough sunlight to justify using solar panels. Very interesting and valid point! Food for thought!

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