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Hitch Your Wagon to the Sun


You’ve heard about the problems Volkswagen is having after its false claims about running on cleaner energy came to light. But we have a story about something called the “Voltz-Wagon” that rolls around Floyd, Virginia. It’s traveling a different road to the clean energy future.

It’s 12 feet long and six feet wide and covered with 1500 watts worth of solar panels.  They call it the "Voltz-Wagon."

Billy Weistenfeld says, “We picked that name before the emissions stuff with Volkswagen (happened).”

“And unlike Volkswagen,” says Rick Brown, “we don’t have anything to hide here. We don’t need to do any cheating because it is clean inherently.”

Rick Brown and Billy Weistenfeld are part of the volunteer team who built the Voltz-Wagon. It can be hitched to any midsize pickup truck to provide electricity wherever it goes.

Brown recalls, “We had the trailer at a local event, a Fandango music event, so it was producing power for individuals that were staying there overnight; because this location didn’t have access to power, here we had a clean, renewable source, quiet, no generators - how awesome is that?

Brown is the owner of Sol Shine Energy Alternatives, which installs solar electric systems

Billy Weitzenfeld is the Executive Director of the Association of Energy Conservation Professionals, a nonprofit trade association in Virginia.  Their project is part of Sustain Floyd, a non-profit booster of all things renewable there.

Weitzefeld says, “Our primary goal, we’re not there yet, is to have this parked at the community market, which is another Sustain Floyd project, every Saturday morning and power the venders, if there’s a band power the band.”

This off-grid solar mobile electric system has an inverter inside the trailer that converts the DC current from the panels to AC, the standard American current. Running right off the sun it can power a small appliance or two, but it’s the onboard batteries storing up energy that give it lasting energy output. And if the Voltz-Wagon is a rolling classroom for the technology of solar, Brown and Weitzenfeld are the teachers.

“You know, you’re not just showing someone a (solar) panel or handing them a brochure, you’re plugging things in and then you can talk about how it works and what it costs, and talk about how it’s changed. I think Rick can remember too, it wasn’t long ago, it was $12 a watt. Then $10 a watt was the norm for several years and now it’s $3 dollars a watt.  That’s only in four or five years. So it’s working. And all these deniers and anti-renewable energy people just need to recognize that."

Brown says the return on investment for installing residential solar panels keeps getting shorter. Right now it’s usually under 10 years.

“Once you hit that return on investment it’s free energy. It’s a hedge against rising prices and utility rates, which, they’re never static. They never go down. They always go up."

Weiztenfeld adds, “There’s no drilling, there’s no pipelines, there’s no oil spills, no transporting or leaking.”

Brown and Weitzenfeld were not the first to come up with the idea for a mobile solar trailer. You can see them in other places.  They remember when a Floyd resident did a similar thing decades ago.  But that was when significant adoption of renewable energy was just a gleam in the eye of a small but passionate few. Now it looks like the world is catching up with them.

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