Arizona Solar Center Blog

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Visions of tomorrow . . . take root today

This morning while thinking of all the solar pioneers and their contributions to an alternative future, I was inspired by a speech my son, Jimmy, delivered last week at the state capitol as part of the protest against budget cuts to education.

“In the words of David Trueblood,” he told the crowd, “it takes a noble man to plant a seed for a tree that will someday give shade to people he will never meet.”

That statement could easily be applied to solar energy devices as well.

Arizona’s history is full of pioneers that have proposed and developed bold new approaches for harnessing the sun to meet our energy needs – from running our industrial processes, heating and cooling our homes, to providing hot water and significant amounts of electrical power.

That is Arizona’s legacy – our pioneering spirit has tested and proven devices that today are reaping the bounty of solar energy.

More than 50 years ago the University of Arizona’s Dr. Aden Meinel, best known as one of the founders of Kitt Peak observatory complex, proposed 1,000 foot-long solar concentrators to produce power.

Dr. Meinel passed away in 2011. But his seed is in full bloom today, providing power to people he never met through projects like the 290 MW Solana solar plant near Gila Bend.

Nearly a dozen years ago, during a late-night discussion, author John Perlin shared with me his theory of what made solar pioneers special. Perlin recounted examples of people that risked it all to turn scientific curiosities into enduring power supplies. Perlin was talking about photovoltaics -- but his theory could just as easily be applied to pioneers of other solar devices, like solar water heaters.

solar-trough-NREL.jpg

Tom Bohner fits Perlin's description of a solar pioneer. Bohner was doing solar before it was cool to do solar. Bohner risked it all to start a solar hot water heating manufacturing company in Phoenix in the late 1980s. Bohner created more than 40 quality manufacturing jobs in the solar industry at a time when solar water heating was suffering through a market downturn.

Today, new challenges to meeting our energy needs are driving even more innovation and motivating a new generation of solar pioneers.

Arizona Solar Center President, Dan Aiello, continuously reminds me that solar energy is much, much more than solar electricity. Sunlight is a source of light and heat – and early civilizations used it for clock and calendar.

Solar includes devices like the patent that was issued on December 23, 2014, to former ASU College of Architecture faculty member Quent Augspurger. Augspurger's patent is for a new solar greenhouse design that utilizes overhead louvers to regulate sunlight and heat gain in a greenhouse.

It is an innovation that holds enormous potential for greenhouses of the future -- whether they are stand-alone structures or attached to our dwellings to provide additional heat to our homes.

Vince Kelly is an emeritus faculty member at Yavapai College in Prescott. Kelly is also an inventor who has a new patent for a solar thermal "micro combined heating and power" system that utilizes a simplified steam engine oscillator that can produce not only electricity, but heating, hot water and cooling -- on or off the grid. His device uses inexpensive, concentrated solar thermal reflector/collectors to provide the required system heat.

Kelly's device could change the narrative on how we power and heat our homes in the future, and is another example of a seed being planted in the energy forest.

Like other solar devices, from the concentrating solar power plant to the solar water heater, Augspurger's and Kelly's inventions are new entries in Arizona's solar legacy where new devices are ever welcomed and their merits tested and proven and achievements acclaimed.

With the tremendous demands being made on our planet’s natural resources, it is essential that we continue to plant the seeds of innovation that will someday take root and bloom.

Jim Arwood
Communications Director
Arizona Solar Center

Question: Is there a solar device or solar pioneer in Arizona’s history that you think should be recognized?

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