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The sun provides more than just warmth

March 23, 2009

by Mark Ollig

When I drove into the car wash last Saturday I was not alone.

I counted about 25 cars patiently waiting ahead of me in the warmth of the sun as it was brightly shining from a clear blue sky.

It’s Spring!

Honestly folks, a few weeks ago when we still had all the cold air and snow I was to the point of ordering an airplane ticket to a warmer climate zone – like Arizona.

But, even Arizona can pull jokes on visiting Minnesotans.

During the first week in March 1985, the temperatures here were very cold and snow was covering the ground. It seemed like the perfect time to take a trip south to warm and sunny, Tucson AZ and visit some friends living there.

When I landed at the Tucson International Airport, the local temperature was 31 degrees.

Two inches of snow had fallen and it was still snowing.

Welcome to warm and sunny, Tucson AZ, Mark.

I took refuge at a downtown restaurant and a couple people sitting along the counter asked me where I was from.

When I told them “Minnesota,” they sarcastically smiled and slowly shook their heads at me saying something along the lines of, “Oh, I see. You must have brought the snow and cold with you — thanks a lot.”

Ha ha HA!

As I drove to my friend’s home I found it strange to be looking at the green cactuses along the boulevards with snow on top of them.

Of course, the next day it was 65 degrees, the snow melted and it was warm and sunny Tucson again.

This brings me to our weather here in Minnesota, which, as I mentioned, is starting to warm up.

Many of us are starting to think about fun in the sun – and for some people, water sports.

As for this columnist I will just turn to the sun, because the last time I tried water skiing on the lake, yours truly spent most of the time gurgling for air and letting go of the white and blue ski rope.

Yes, I know, I know, even though I tried to keep the tips of the skis up, the person operating the speed boat only knew two speeds: fast and stop.

When I was ready to take off from the dock and signaled the boat operator with “Hit it!” I found myself immediately under the water seeing bubbles, fish, minnows, and lake weeds . . . along with my life flashing before my eyes.

These days I prefer “just sitting on the dock of the bay wasting time.”

Converting the sun’s rays into solar energy power is not something new.

In fact, in 1891 the first commercial solar-powered water heater was patented by Clarence Kemp from Baltimore.

I remember solar PV (photovoltaic) panels, which converted sunlight directly into electricity being very popular back in the mid 1970s.

At that time we were going through an energy shortage and people were creatively finding new ways to become more energy self-sufficient.

In 1975 when I lived in Brainerd, local start-up companies were installing solar panels on the rooftops of homes and businesses.

These solar electric-producing systems consisted of PV panels, charge controller units that prevented overcharging the series of batteries which were wired to the inverter box. The inverter provided the AC power output.

The “Hydronic” systems were placed in direct sunlight and used water or antifreeze which was pumped through a string of tubes.

These systems used hydronic solar panels and heated the water kept in large storage tanks. This water would circulate via tubing under a floor, providing radiant floor heat. A heat exchanger was also used to provide for household hot water.

Today’s resurgence in finding alternate means of producing clean, renewable, and independent energy using sources such as the wind and the sun are once again front page news.

There was a very prominent Minnesotant who was called “The founder of modern solar energy usage.”

His name was Dr. Farrington Daniels and he was born in Minneapolis March 8, 1889.

He attended the University of Minnesota, and in 1910 received his degree in chemistry.

It was Dr. Daniels who in 1964 came out with his ground-breaking book, called “Direct Use of the Sun’s Energy.”

In this book which he wrote 45 years ago, Dr. Farrington Daniels said “Plans should be made now to develop substitutes for combustion fuels —coal, oil, and gas. These fuels have become so vital to modern civilization that research for new sources of heat and power is long overdue.”

I found portions of his book online at the Yale University Press and created a shortened link you can use to read it at http://tinyurl.com/dlpbme.

Dr. Daniels was also involved with the Manhattan Project during World War II.

Dr. Farrington Daniels died at the age of 83, June 23 1972.

This week’s “Web Site of The Week,” will feature information about solar power. The Bits_blogger promises many interesting diagrams, pictures, and videos, so be sure to stop by to check it out.