Musings from the Solar Pioneer Party

10/28/2016 16:02

Musings from the Solar Pioneer Party

Last weekend I attended the very fun and rewarding three-day Solar Pioneer Party in Grass Valley, California. This was the 2nd annual gathering of us "Solar Pioneers," loosely defined as those of us who have been promoting and selling solar PV since the late 1970s. It was inspiring to say the least to get most of us in the same room at the same time (less those of us who had passed away).

Who Are the Solar Pioneers?

  • Jim Cullen started it all by creating the "Wilderness Home Power System and How to do it." Jim helped give me my start in 1977 before PV even existed and helped inspire me to start Real Goods. Jim showed us how to charge our car batteries while we were driving to power our off-grid homes including lighting, music, and even television. Jim passed away five years ago but was remembered very fondly by our group of Solar Pioneers.
  • John Schaeffer founded Real Goods in Willits, California in June of 1978 and proceeded to sell the very first PV solar panel to the public shortly thereafter.
  • Cully Judd founded Inter-Island Solar Supply in Honolulu in the early 1970s, selling solar thermal long before he got into solar PV in the early 1980s.
  • Dave Katz founded Alternative Energy Engineering (now AEE Solar) in Redway, CA in 1979 - one of the three locations of PV's birth (the others being Real Goods in Mendocino County and the Independent Power Company in Nevada City).
  • Sam Vanderhoof, Ron Kenedi & Jonny Hill together founded Independent Power Company and the Earth Store in Nevada County in the late 1970s.
  • Steve & Elizabeth Willey founded Backwoods Cabin Electric (now Backwoods Solar) in the late 1970s in Sandpoint, Idaho.
  • Wayne Robertson worked at Padula Lumber from the early 1980s after which they soon morphed into Solar Electric Specialties.
  • Johnny Weiss co-founded Solar Energy International, the first PV educational facility and non-profit located in the Western Slope of Colorado.

The Solar Pioneer Party

Solar Pioneers John Schaeffer, David Katz, and Sam Vanderhoof

John Schaeffer with fellow Solar Pioneers David Katz and Sam Vanderhoof.

Originally organized by Jeff Spies in 2015, this year's event was the second annual Solar Pioneer Party. It came off beautifully. Stories were rampant, fascinating, and enlightening. For me it was super interesting to piece together how the first PV panels came to Northern California in late 1978/early 1979. These would become the first PV panels sold retail in the world. David Katz and I put together the story of how he and I both found our first PVs from David Lemm. Mine was a 9-Watt that we sold for $900 ($100 per watt! For comparison, right now on RealGoods.com we have some solar panels going for just $0.65 per Watt!). David Katz's was an early Arco sub-35-Watt module he found at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Jeff Spies got all the pioneers on stage at the same time with questions like: "What is your most interesting solar story?", "Why did you move off-grid?", "How many of you are still active in the renewable energy industry on a daily basis?" and "Once upon a time before computers, cell phones, and fax machines...what was it like?"

Solar Pioneer Party group shot

Group photo of the 2nd Annual Solar Pioneer Party.

Jeff and Jason Veterli are working on a comprehensive documentary on the Solar Pioneers and we were gifted with a short preview of it. It's done as a series of in-depth interviews with the Pioneers and some great photography, including drone photography. Jeff and Jason are truly inspired to produce a world-class documentary. They look forward to screening it at next year's Solar Pioneer Party, scheduled for early Fall 2017. We're talking about possibly doing it at the Real Goods Solar Living Center in Hopland, California to round out the triangle of Humboldt, Nevada, and Mendocino Counties. Stay tuned!

For the Earth,

John Schaeffer,

Real Goods Founder and former President

For more on the history of Real Goods, check out our Wikipedia page.

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