Today my guest is John Gambill, president of Hotwire Enterprises. For the past 16 years, this company has focused on wind- and solar-powered systems and energy efficient appliances, with customers worldwide. Today we’ll be talking about how switching to solar energy can reduce the air pollution generated by fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, and the practical steps of making that switch. John has a diverse background ranging from owning and operating a whole grains bakery and motorcycle/auto/airplane mechanic to wind generator manufacturer and solar integrator. For fun, John recently converted a Mitsubishi Expo from a mechanical car to an electric car which gets plugged into a solar array for recharging at his solar-powered home. John has installed solar electric systems on boats, RVs, ambulances, and residences. He has been a frequent guest on WMNF’s Sustainable Living program with Jon Butts. www.svhotwire.com
TOXIC FREE TALK RADIO
Making the Switch to Solar Energy
Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: John Gambill
Date of Broadcast: September 09, 2014
DEBRA: Hi, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and this is Toxic Free Talk Radio, where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world, and live toxic-free. Today is Tuesday, September 9, 2014. I want to say that it’s a sunny day because we’re going to be talking about solar energy, but the sun is just coming out from behind the clouds, which we get a lot of at this time of year because we’ve got a lot of rain here in Clearwater, Florida.
But over the weekend, I was at a potluck. I want to mention about this potluck because this is a very interest concept we have here in Clearwater, something called a time bank, which is not barter. It’s where you can do things and earn hours, and put them in a bank, the time bank. And then you can spend them on other things that you want.
For example, I would like to sew my own clothes, but I don’t sew very well. So, I can do things like help people with their websites or something that I do well, and exchange the hours that I earn for somebody to sew clothes for me or drive me to the store if I can’t drive or go shopping for me if I’m sick or whatever it happens to be.
And I’ve been doing this for a couple of years, and it’s a very good way to get to know people in your community. It’s a good way for people to be able to help each other without the exchange of money.
We have potlucks once a month, so we can get to meet each other. But also, there’s a database online where everybody registers the hours that they’ve earned and spent. But I like to go to the potlucks because I like to meet people that I might be able to do exchanges with.
So I was at the potluck, and one of our new members got up and spoke, and said how he works with solar energy. And I thought, last week, when Dr. Steven Gilbert was on, he’s a toxicologist, he was telling us about how he had just switched his home to solar. And we talked about how important that is to reduce toxic exposures to pollutants in the air that come from the creation of the energy that we use.
Before I introduce our guest, I just want to tell you where our energy comes from. And I’m reading this out of my book, Toxic Free, that I wrote a few years ago.
49.8% comes from burning coal, 19.9% comes from nuclear power, 17.9% comes from natural gas, 6.5% from hydroelectric, 3% from burning petroleum, and 2.3% comes from renewable energy sources such as wind power and solar energy that we’re talking about today.
So that’s 97.7% of our electricity is putting toxic emissions and greenhouse gases into the air every time you turn the switch on. And that’s air that we breathe.
And as we go through this show today, I’m going to be talking about some of those health effects and how doing something like using solar energy can reduce that air pollution, not only for ourselves, but for everybody in the world, all the animals and trees and the birds and everything, that all of life can be helped by switching to something like solar energy.
So my guest today is John Gambill. He’s the president of Hot Wire Enterprises. For the past 16 years, he’s been focused on wind and solar power systems and energy-efficient appliances. And he has customers worldwide.
Hi, John. Hello, John. Are you there?
JOHN GAMBILL: Yes, I’m here. Hello.
DEBRA: Hi. Can you hear me? I can hear you.
JOHN GAMBILL: Yes, I can hear you just fine.
DEBRA: Thanks. So John, tell us how you got interested in solar energy.
JOHN GAMBILL: Well, my wife and I were living aboard a sailboat in the Caribbean. And, of course, you don’t have extension cords long enough to supply power to your boat. So you have to make your own energy when you’re living aboard a sailboat and cruising around.
Most people in that situation use a combination of wind and/or solar to make their energy. And so, of course, we were doing the same. We came across this guy in Trinidad that’s on the southern end of the island, Eastern Caribbean Island chain near South America. He was building wind generators.
And so I went over and looked at them. I had a homemade wind generator on my boat at the time. And it looked like he was doing a pretty good job of it.
I went back and talked to my wife, Vivian, and said, “You know, these are pretty neat devices. We could probably sell these in the U.S. if we go back.”
And I finally talked to her into that. So we sailed back to the U.S. for several days and underneath the [inaudible 00:05:22] table in our boat, came back in time for the Annapolis Boat Show in 1998. We didn’t actually get to go, but we made it here just in time to get nailed by Hurricane—I forgot the name.
JOHN GAMBILL: No. It hit mostly the southern part of Florida in 1998. George.
DEBRA: Yes, I remember that.
JOHN GAMBILL: George. Anyhow, we started selling this wind generator. Then we had solar, and we started doing stuff on land-base as well. So now, we do mostly still cruising sailboats, but we’ve done a number of houses and a couple of water-pumping installations set up a cabin up on one of the rivers that’s really hard to pronounce up north, near [inaudible 00:06:23]. It’s got a chic and a wee and a bunch of other around.
DEBRA: All of our rivers here have long names like that that are hard to pronounce and hard to remember.
JOHN GAMBILL: Anyhow, we’ve been involved in that and we’ve also done some RV’s and things like that.
So that’s how we got started and pretty much where we are right now. We ended up flying out the wind generator manufacturers. We’ve been building them here in Tarpon Springs now for the last couple of years.
DEBRA: That’s Tarpon Springs, Florida. I think what we would like to talk about today is how can somebody start to do the thinking, the planning and the practical steps of moving from having pollution-generating electricity to having cleaner energy like solar?
That’s something that I’m really, really interested in. But I think the last time I tried to look into this, it was something like $40,000. And I just didn’t even know where to start or how it might cost less, or if there were any subsidies for me. I just couldn’t even begin to take that first step.
Why don’t we start with that?
JOHN GAMBILL: Well, you must have checked on that about six to eight years ago because prices have come down by more than 50% now, mainly because of the plummeting price of solar panels. And that was brought on by the Chinese building lots of solar panels. More than half of the solar panels in the world are being manufactured in China right now.
And while the Federal Trade Commission is imposing duties and tariffs because they’ve been dumping, selling at prices that are less than what it costs to build a panel here in the U.S., the definition of dumping. So the prices are likely to come up a little bit, but right now, you can buy solar panels for a little less than a dollar per watt. And six to eight years ago, in 2000, they were about five times that cost.
DEBRA: That’s a big difference.
JOHN GAMBILL: Now, that $40,000 system would probably cost more like $15,000 or $20,000. That’s certainly one way to get started. In fact, there are three ways that I would go about figuring out what you need for your house.
We’d either start with your electric bill, and then calculate what it would take to zero that out. And we do that on a yearly basis. Or we’d look at the space that’s available, and we’d figure out what would work there. Or you can tell me how much money you’ve got to spend, and I’ll spend it.
DEBRA: We’ll talk about more about this after the break. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is John Gambill. He’s the president of Hot Wire Enterprises, and his website is SVHotWire.com. And we’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. We’re having a thunderstorm, but then I can hear the thunder. So if you hear any grumbling in the background, that’s what’s going on.
My guest today is John Gambill, president of Hotwire Enterprises. His website is SVHotWire.com.
John, I wanted to ask you, the thing that I have been doing before I get my solar system is that the first step, I’ve read many, many times, is to simply reduce the amount of energy that you use, so you don’t have to have so many solar panels. So why don’t we start there?
JOHN GAMBILL: In fact, that would be the first step, is to reduce your energy usage, so that you don’t need as large of a solar system. And that’s usually very cost-effective to do things like CSO light bulbs or even LED light bulbs if there’s [no installation] in the home and those kinds of things.
And there’s a lot that you can do that is not too awfully even very expensive. The Department of Energy actually has some really good information online. If you go to the USDOE.gov, they’ve got a lot of information about reducing your energy usage.
I guess we can lead into water heating.
DEBRA: That was actually my next question because I would suggest that we can start going solar in small ways, even if we don’t do a whole $20,000 or $40,000 solar panel system. A way to start going solar could be with a solar water heater. And that’s something I’m looking at right now is that I need to replace my water heater. Am I going to go just buy a regular water heater, or I’m going to do tankless water heater that only heats up the water as it’s going through, instead of heating it up and keeping it hot in a big container? Or do I want to go solar? And those are the things that I’m considering at the moment.
So why don’t you tell us about solar water heaters as a first step?
JOHN GAMBILL: That’s a lot of territory to cover. First of all, let’s start with the instant water heaters. Those can be cost-effective, but it depends on how you use water. In a typical house, the water heater kicks on and off, maintaining a lot of temperature in the tank, 130 or 140-degrees. I know this is outrageous, but if you are gone for a couple of days a week from your house, the water heater is still kicking on and off, keeping that water hot. And if you only use the water once a day, then you’ve got basically a toaster running most of the day, keeping the water hot. And that’s quite a waste.
So if you use water, say, once a day, then an instant tankless water heater can be very cost-effective.
Now, there’s another option. There are systems that can hook up to your air conditioner.
DEBRA: Tell me about this.
JOHN GAMBILL: At the compressor. Thus, if you may have noticed this box outside your house that’s very warm, that’s wasted heat energy that could be used for heating water.
Now, as far as solar is concerned, there are two types of solar systems—solar thermal or solar electric. I deal mostly with solar electric. But solar water heating is even more cost-effective than a typical system for a water heater for a typical house. It’s going to cost something like $3500 to $5000 installed by a professional.
However, the components to put that together are relatively inexpensive. Now, I spent some morning looking on Craig’s List for water heaters. And there was one in Tampa for $75, used, of course. And there were a lot of these things built and installed years ago. And for whatever reason, they’re coming onto the market relatively cheap.
Now, I have this idea. If we get a bunch of people together, we could do a water heater [arm-raising]. If we were to build our own collectors—though initially, I said, if we could build our own collectors—we can do it pretty cheap, probably less than $300. Of course, it’s going to take a weekend or so. And if we get a group together, we can teach people how to [start] our pipes together, and rivet these things in glue and whatever to put water heaters together.
Solar water heater is a real simple device. It’s a black box. In fact, you could put a black box or black pipes outside your house, leading to the water heater in your house. And the sun would pre-heat the water going into your water heater.
DEBRA: There’s just all this sun all day long. It’s shining on my house. I feel like I should be putting it to use.
JOHN GAMBILL: Well, that’s the simplest way to do it. It’s just some black pipes. We had a system at Marina that I’ve lived up years ago. In fact, it was cheap PVC, the stuff that’s supposed to get hot, painted black, that was on the roof. And that’s heated the hot tub. And it was very hot.
So the basic technology involved here is really simple. After seeing what’s available to use, by the way, these old copper and aluminum water heaters are repairable pretty much forever, so chances of them going bad are pretty slim. Now, I should also mention, there are a lot of solar pool heaters available, which would not be very good to our [domestic] hot water because while they collect a lot of heat energy, they only raise the temperature a relatively small amount. So they’re not really designed for the higher temperatures that we have in our water heaters.
And you mentioned, you need to replace your water heater. Well, the professionals that install these systems will tell you that you need a bigger water tank. And it’s true that that makes it more efficient. So you could double the size of your water heater, and that would mean that you could go for a day or two without any sunlight and still have relatively hot water.
DEBRA: We need to go to break, but we’ll talk more about this when we come back. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is John Gambill, president of Hot Wire Enterprises, and his website is SVHotWire.com. And we’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is John Gambill. He’s the president of Hot Wire Enterprises. Before we go on, I just want to read a couple more things about the health effects of outdoor air pollution.
“When we use regular, fossil fuel-type energy to produce our electricity, then we produce outdoor air pollution. And I could read you a list of pollutants, but instead of that, I’m going to tell you that when you breathe air pollutants, your respiratory system is designed to protect your lungs from germs and large particles like dust and pollen. However, toxic chemicals in air pollution bypass those defenses causing harm to lungs and lung tissue. Air pollution can make your eyes water, irritate your nose, mouth and throat, and make you cough and wheeze. But the most common air pollutants can also cause more dangerous health effects, including premature death, shortness of breath and chest pain, increased risk of asthma attacks, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, that’s COPD, a group of diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis that share the common symptoms of breathlessness.”
“In addition, once inhaled, these air pollutants can be absorbed into your bloodstream and reach all areas of your body.”
So this is not an inconsequential thing. This is something we need to start paying attention to. And solar power can help this tremendously.
Just seeing about what it would be like if, instead of solar power being less than 2% because it’s shared with wind power and all the other renewables, but if renewables were 89% of the method by which we produce our electricity, how different our air pollution situation would be very, very different.
So John, let’s go back to what you were saying at the beginning when I asked you about how to get started with the actual solar system. And you said, “Show me your electric bill, and we’ll zero it out,” or, “Tell me how much space you have, and I’ll fill it,” or, “Tell me how much money you have, and I’ll spend it.”
JOHN GAMBILL: We can do that. If you wanted to get started very small, then there’s a fairly new technology out called micro-inverters. When you hook up solar panels to your house, we usually use a grid tie inverter. The grid tie inverter takes the energy from the solar panels, and changes it, so that it can be pumped back into the grid, or used in the house.
With micro-inverters, each individual solar panel has an inverter on it. And so you could start with a single solar panel and a micro-inverter, and tie that into your distribution panels of the fuse box in your house.
So that would be one way to start small.
DEBRA: So how much would something like that cost?
JOHN GAMBILL: About $1000.
DEBRA: And that way, you would be displacing some of the pollution that is currently being generated by the electricity you use. And then you could add to that, and you could just add as you could afford it.
JOHN GAMBILL: It’s true. That would work.
DEBRA: Wow, that’s such a different picture than having to come up with $40,000, or even $20,000.
JOHN GAMBILL: Well, like I said earlier though, the low-hanging fruit, as you mentioned too, and some people said that the source of new energy is conservation to start with. Don’t use the energy in the first place. And then water heaters are more cost-effective than the solar electric system. The sun’s energy hitting a black box, 95% or so percent of it just turned into heat. But as the sun [inaudible 00:21:58] solar panel, about 15% or 17% of it gets turned into electricity. So it would be crazy to use solar electric to run an electric water heater, just that the big, black box sitting up on the roof or in the yard is going to be at last five times more efficient.
DEBRA: I think here in Florida, I was reading a book. Actually, the author of this book was on my show. I forgot what it’s called. I think it’s called Let it Shine, or something like that is the title of the book. I read every word of that book when it first came out. It’s not out in a revised edition. I’m not sure if I even lived in Florida at the time, but I remember him saying that solar water heaters were just standard equipment on houses in Florida in the 20’s or 30’s, or something like that. That there was just a time, he had just pictures of these solar water heaters on house after house after house on a street.
It just made such an impression on me that in a place like Florida or the Caribbean, or sunny places along the tropics at least, solar water heaters should just be standard equipment.
JOHN GAMBILL: Absolutely. In Florida, the home builders don’t offer it as an option as a rule. Just whacky!
DEBRA: Well, I’m really going to look into this because I have the opportunity now where I need to change my water heater. It was leaking and, now, it’s suddenly, just by itself, stopped leaking. So I think I’ve got a little more time. I don’t have to [inaudible 00:23:43] and buy something.
JOHN GAMBILL: Don’t let it start leaking dramatically. You don’t want to—that could do.
DEBRA: I know. It’s definitely on the top of my list of something that I need to handle as soon as possible. What I have here in Clearwater, Florida is that our water company, water and electricity, they have a program where I can buy a water heater for half the price from what it’s sold in the stores. They subsidize the rest of it. And so I actually can buy that one. I can buy a regular tank heater. I can buy a tankless heater.
I’m probably going to go with the tankless heater, but I need to see what the difference would be and how much it would cost to do the solar thing, and see if that’s practical for me, given that it’s an emergency.
JOHN GAMBILL: Even with the solar water heater, you still need a water tank. Although there are some solar water heaters that have a tank that’s built into them, again, depending on how you use water—let me just use our house as an example.
We have the standard 40-gallon water heater. It’s from Home Depot, least expensive, whatever.
DEBRA: Yes, that’s what I have.
JOHN GAMBILL: It does happen that on a cloudy day, by the end of the day, or after 24-hours, the water is not very warm anymore. And so if you wanted to take a shower, you just turn the hot water all the way on, rather than having it mixed with cold water. And occasionally, we even turn on the circuit breaker that powers up the electric water heater especially in the winter time when it’s cloudy.
But my system costs about $300, and we’re saving $25 to $30 a month.
DEBRA: I want to hear more about that but we need to go to break. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is John Gambill, president of Hot Wire Enterprises. His website is SVHotWire.com. And when we come back, we’ll talk more about simple things that we can do to get started on solar.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is John Gambill, president of Hot Wire Enterprises. His website is SVHotWire.com.
Before the break, we were talking about the $300 solar hot water heater. How do you get one of those for $300?
JOHN GAMBILL: Well, here’s my idea. Because the solar water heater is pretty much the low-hanging fruit, so to speak, it just makes sense that people would want to put these on. Of course, it prevents pollution from burning fossil fuels to make electricity. But mainly, it’s cheap. It’s an inexpensive way to get started with solar.
It’s going to require some elbow grease. My idea is to get a group together. I found a source for very inexpensive water heaters. It looks like it’s going to be less expensive to buy them than it is to build them myself. And we can put together a very simple system.
For example, the one that I have, which consists of solar collectors, the original water tank, the original water heater, a pump, and a small solar panel. Solar panels, when the sun is shining on it, produces electricity to run the pump, so the pump runs and moves the hot water from the collector to your original water tank. Turn off the circuit breaker for your water heater, and that’s it. That’s the whole system.
Of course, there are pipes involved. It can get much more complicated than that but the collectors are available used or even new at very low prices. And all it takes is elbow grease.
So we get a group of people together and, of course, the time bank that you were talking about earlier, you could perhaps build up time in the bank that could then be used to have other people come in, people with more expertise, as far as putting pipes together, to install the system.
DEBRA: John, you could train a solar water heater time bank installation team. And then people could use their time bank hours to have the team come up and do their installation.
JOHN GAMBILL: That’s a good idea. Yes, I like that.
DEBRA: I think that’s a fabulous idea.
JOHN GAMBILL: I’m so tired of people talking to me about solar. We attend these eco fests and sustainable living and talk to a lot of people. I’m so tired of people talking about it. Just get off your ass and do something.
DEBRA: I agree. You know, during the break, I was remembering from a long time ago when people used to make solar showers by just building a wood frame out in the backyard, and putting a garbage can on top, filling it with water, letting it sit out in the sun, and then gravity-feed it through a shower head, and then there’s your hot shower outside.
JOHN GAMBILL: That’s how basic this technology is and how simply it can be.
DEBRA: It really is that basic. I think that sometimes humans make things a little too complex, and that’s a lot of what goes on in our industrial society. But that is the simplicity of it.
So we’re almost to the end of the show. I just wanted to recap for people about the process that they could go through if they’re interested in starting the solar. So the first one would be, start with something simple like a solar water heater could be a good first step. And then the next one we talked about was just getting one solar panel with, what did you call it, an individual inverter?
JOHN GAMBILL: Micro-inverter.
DEBRA: Micro-inverter. And then you could add to those one by one. And then another thing that you can do is reduce the amount of energy you’re using now, so that when it comes time to switch the solar that you don’t have to have so many solar panels.
Another one would be to, if you looked that in the past, take a new look at it because the costs have come way down.
JOHN GAMBILL: There you go.
DEBRA: And see who’s doing what in your community in order to see what kind of help you can get.
JOHN GAMBILL: Absolutely, you got it.
DEBRA: Well, we still do have about five-minutes left. So is there anything else you’d like to say about solar that we haven’t talked about yet?
JOHN GAMBILL: I’m open to any questions that you might have. I mentioned that a typical system on a house is about 5000-watts or 5-kilowatts. And in doing just a little bit of research online, the savings in coal that would be burned to produce that amount of energy over a year’s time is about 3000-pounds of coal. I was pretty amazed with that too.
And there are some other things here too. 6.6 barrels of oil would be required to be burned to make that same amount of energy. And that reduces the CO2 that’s produced to make that electricity, by the same amount as about 22 acres of trees.
So even a little bit, even small systems can make a pretty big difference.
DEBRA: They can. I’m looking here. I had a page that I had found before the show that had some statistics on it. And then I was looking for other things and it got lost. So I can’t tell you those. I’m just going to click through here.
Here it is. This is from Environmental Defense. And they say the generation of electric power produces more pollution, in bold letters, produces more pollution than any other single industry in the United States. Isn’t that amazing?
I mean, it’s been ordered to produce the electricity that we use causes more pollution than anything else. And what’s commonly used are fossil fuels, coal, oil, natural gas, known as non-renewable resources, and burning of fossil fuels such as coal or oil creates byproducts that pollute when released to the environment. There’s sulfur, 62% of sulfur dioxide emissions that contribute to acid rain. These are all produced by us making energy or using energy that needs to be made.
Twenty-one percent of nitrous oxides contribute to smog. Forty percent of carbon emissions contribute to global climate change. And it just goes on like this.
So it really is making a big impact, and we can make a difference in what goes on in the environment by looking at what’s going on in our homes and the choices that we make.
JOHN GAMBILL: Here you go. So let’s stick together and do it.
DEBRA: I agree. And I really like your idea of having there be teams of people and groups of people working together to make this happen. Can we build our own solar panels and not to have them come from China?
JOHN GAMBILL: Yes. I haven’t done an exact materials list, but I believe it’s going to cost $300 to $500 to build your own solar collector, depending, of course, on a lot of factors.
DEBRA: And how much are the ones from China?
JOHN GAMBILL: Well, you can buy one from China right now. You can find from deals. And I found one this morning that was $100.
DEBRA: $100 for a solar panel?
JOHN GAMBILL: Yes.
DEBRA: And of course, there are some, maybe, toxic materials that are used to make solar panels. But the point about this is that once you make them, then they can be used for how many years.
JOHN GAMBILL: Well, the solar water collectors, solar water heater collectors panel, if they’re well-made, I don’t know, this stuff doesn’t exactly go away. It’s pretty much permanent. Solar electric, the panels typically have a warranty that they’ll be producing 80% of the rated capacity in 25 or, in some cases, 30 years. They’ll probably still be producing some power in a hundred years if possible, if somebody could be using one, although it would be reduced in efficiency, in a long time, in a very long time.
And if you go on and look at some of the right wing website, they’ll say, they’re using toxic chemical tools to make these, and it’s more polluting than burning coals. Realistically, if you had a solar plant, a plant-building solar panels that was run largely by solar panels, it’s pretty obvious. And it’s cumulative. Every time somebody adds to the amount of solar energy that’s being produced, they simply add to all the other ones that have come years before.
DEBRA: Well, I think it’s a great idea. Thank you so much for being here with us today. Again, my guest is John Gambill, president of Hot Wire Enterprises. And his website is SV, v as in victory, HotWire dot com.
I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and you’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. If you’d like to know more about this show, you can go to ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com, where you can see all the guests for the week. Each one of these shows is recorded and archived, so you can listen to all the shows as many times as you want, 24-hours a day, anywhere in the world. That’s lots of valuable information, lots of really interesting guests, lots of ways to help you live toxic free.
I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. Be well.