Smart Energy: September 2016

Solar Tour offers chance to be part of the future


New inverters, bigger and more efficient lower cost solar panels, less expensive (like free) LED lighting: what else is happening with Smart Energy in Douglas County?

Energy independence — moving towards zero net energy is the theme for this year’s Smart Energy Green and Solar Tour.

To explain, a zero-net energy building produces as much energy as it uses on an annual basis. With a grid-connected solar system, more power is produced in summer months than is used. This credit is then used in the winter months. Energy efficiency, wood heaters and solar thermal water adds to renewable energy production.

Especially exciting this year, Douglas County Smart Energy will be introducing our new AmeriCorps volunteer Nicole Mandall from the University of Oregon RARE program. She will be assisting us to begin our community campaigns to save energy and money in Douglas County. Her arrival is the cooperative result of many community volunteers and organizations.

Jim Stelson’s home is featured in the tour this year. His career in energy efficiency shines in this home. In addition to low home energy usage, Stelson’s home produces enough renewable electricity to power his electric car for short trips to town. In his home and several others, LED retrofits, solar electricity, solar thermal and other energy efficiency strategies will be discussed and demonstrated.

The Solar Tour will begin at 9 a.m., Saturday Sept. 24 at Phoenix School on Diamond Lake Boulevard.

At a cost of only $10 this year’s solar tour will provide transportation and lunch and will be limited to 40 participants. Be sure to preregister to save your place at this year’s tour. Send an email to or call 541-672-9819 to preregister.

We all stand on the shoulders of others’ achievements. Young American scientists at Bell Labs including two who graduated from Willamette University had read Albert Einstein’s Nobel Prize winning explanation of the photovoltaic effect, when they made the first efficient silicon solar cells in 1954. President Nixon established solar research labs at Universities. By 1962 the Telstar communication satellite is powered by solar cells. President Kennedy funded enriched science in our schools, including solar cell kits to make solar cells.

In Oregon, solar passive homes and thermal hot water systems were being encouraged and built in Oregon during the 1980s and 1990s. During the ’90s, the Umpqua Solar Association was formed and had a solar library in the county courthouse.

Living in an off-the-grid home (one type of a net energy building), which I completed in 2000, has been a good investment for me. With large logs, concrete floors heated by an outdoor wood water stove, solar electricity, solar hot water, and as much energy efficiency as I could incorporate, I now have a home that is very low cost to operate as part of my retirement plan.

In 2002, after so many people wanted to know how to build a solar home, I scheduled a class in my home on solar and energy efficient home building. Sometime before the class started, the UCC coordinator called and said my home was on the State of Oregon Solar Tour!

While that first Douglas County Solar Tour at my home had around 20 attendees, some later tours had more than 150. While the Umpqua Solar Association had disbanded, solar-tour support continued with the members of the Global Warming Coalition, and this year with the Smart Energy Group as part of the Coalition. The support of UCC Community Education, Oregon Department of Energy, Oregon Solar Association, reporters from The News-Review, and the many gracious homeowners who open their homes to educate others have made the Solar Tour a continued success in Douglas County.

Be a part of the future, save money and attend the 2016 Smart Energy Solar Tour!

  • For tips and other ways to save and produce energy, visit Douglas County Smart energy is a project of the Douglas County Global Warming Coalition.
 Al Walker is a retired Solar Contractor who taught solar and energy efficiency design classes at UCC. Currently a member of the Smart Energy project, he led the DC Solar tour for 8 years.