There is a ratty old quonset hut on the highway 11 north from Toronto and just south of Gravenhurst, so ugly it scares you away. (the crappy Treo picture doesn't do it justice) However since its sign says Solar Power Store and it is bristling with panels and wind turbines, we finally screwed up the courage to look inside and entered another world.Alexander March has been building alternative energy systems for 23 years. He doesn't believe in building new if he can re-use, so he cleaned out the old hut, insulated it to death, found interface carpet tiles from an office building in Ottawa and runs it off the grid, with solar and wind for electricity, and solar with a propane boost for heat. He then filled it to the brim with the a mountain of solar technology. When I asked what is new and exciting he says nothing is new, it has been around for years. When I ask him who is buying he says not Treehuggers- his biggest customers are oil companies working on remote sites, and monster cottagers buying $ 90,000 monster systems. It bothers him that the small system market does not yet beat a path to his door; we told him that they would soon be voting with their wallets. He thinks otherwise- his site says:
"I have hydro now . . . is solar cheaper?"
NO! Unfortunately at this time we are not a viable alternative to your local hydro utility. (we are close though!) Utility generated electricity is cheap, really cheap in North America, this is because society is just beginning to pay some of the real costs of fossil fuel and nuclear generated electricity. "
It is not entirely true that nothing is new- he had a wild collection of LED fixtures. He builds banks of LED's that can light signs and special linear LED fixtures that replace old fixtures in Airstream trailers. We saw a display of compact flourescents and mentioned that these were old school now that LED's were taking off; he pointed out that these were special 12 volt CFC's that could run directly off batteries, with their own electronic inverter built in.
We could have stayed for hours. Living and working in the City, we are often surprised to find such technology in what is for eight months of the year pretty much the middle of nowhere. We should lose this bias- we are finding TreeHugger nuggets all over the countryside this summer.
Unfortunately the website says it was updated last in June 1997 and looks it- it has great information on solar systems but little on his new LED stuff, you are just going to have to climb into that ratty quonset hut. ::Solarpowerstore
In Ontario, the once-proud Ontario Hydro has been dismembered and most people get their electricity from the financially and politically bankrupt Hydro One. We like the bumper sticker Alexander sells: