An older guy up the street showed me how to make a crystal set. Wow, free energy - no batteries, like magic!
I was hooked. I made many types of crystal sets with different coils and large antennas strung up on the back fence of our suburban backyard in Colac
I then became fascinated with electronics, Together with a friend of mine, Tom we took apart old radios and collected parts
We started making transistorised circuits as they were just then beginning to appear
We both finished year 12 at Colac Tech and went to the Gordon Institute in Geelong, Electrical Engineering Department
In two years I studied 4 subjects, Micro Hydro, Solar Hot Water, Wind Generators and Photovoltaics.
It was during the course that I met my now business partner, John Budd
As I was already an Electronic Engineer, I was able to get an exemption for the electronic requirements for becoming an accredited installer with what was then the BCSE which later became the Clean Energy Council.
A lot of our early work was with solar Hot water. For the first 10 yrs from 1996, most of our work was with solar hot water
Beasley from Adelaide made very good quality copper Gravity tanks and very good quality stainless steel mains pressure tanks – both roof mounted and gnd mounted
Beasley was eventually bought by Rinnai after Rinnai worked closely with them to provide the gas boost technology for their pump circulated systems
John Budd was so keen to get involved with solar, he took himself off the grid around 1997 in Torquay. He contacted Powercor to come by and remove his grid meters – they eventually did!
When he sold his Torquay home, he had to ask them to come by and re-install the connection – many years later though!
He started off with 2 x 75 watt BP panels and later expanded that to 12 panels
His original system is still working – Sonnenschein A600 Batteries included, at his 10 acre bush block near Winchelsea – still providing power 24-7
His inverter (was) is an SEA 1500 watt 24v – still working after 20 yrs
The solar hot water was provided by a Beasley 180 litre close coupled tank on the roof with gas boost. He also had a Air 403 windgenerator to supplement his power on dull windy days – he turned it off at night though, so as not to annoy the neighbours!
We didn’t have the internet back in 1996 when we started so advertising consisted mainly of attending shows and similar events to demonstrate our wares. We attended the Deans Marsh Pioneer Festival, The Bellbrae School May day event, the Little River School Fair and of course the Geelong show. We did attend the Ballarat Show one year
We also stuck up our business cards at a lot of country general stores which had notice boards
A lot of leads came from Going Solar who had a dealer network which covered most of Victoria. They were exceptional in the early days providing knowledge and training. Nigel Morris from BP Solar would come down to Melbourne once a month to encourage those present to use their solar panels and wet lead acid batteries. Steve Ingroulle, the owner of Going Solar, would provide free Pizza for those installers who would come from as far as Wangaratta and Colac to attend
It was an exciting time when Nigel from BP finally announced a new panel which was twice as large as their standard panel – 150 watts.
The competing wholesaler at the time – I think there were only two – was Solar Charge who were the suppliers of Solarex panels
Richard Potter was the owner of Solar Charge and he also cultivated a number of installers.
Solar Charge are still operating but Going solar has closed after 42 yrs promoting renewable energy products
Both BP and Solarex had manufacturing plants in Sydney. Later, BP bought out Solarex and moved to the new Solarex plant and stopped production of the Polycrystalline range of Solarex and produced only their monocrystalline type.
IN 1999, Citipower subsided a program of 100 small grid feed solar systems for their customers in the Citipower area of inner Melbourne.
Going Solar got the task of designing a then revolutionary pressed colourbond framing system for frameless BP 75 watt panels. Most systems consisted of around 8 panels and used a range of small inverters. Handling frameless panels was tricky – not all survived!!
John and I were team leaders and we had a helper to assist. We both installed around 20 jobs each of the 100 in total
Another roll-out that we were involved with was the Battery Power jobs. They used a large profile Amorphous silicon strip panel about 2.4m long and about 400mm wide. These were installed on many Battery World outlets in Geelong, Melbourne and Ballarat. They used the SunProfi grid feed inverter which I think were made in Perth. The framing was particularly robust and easy to install
One of the most gratifying jobs I have been involved with was teaching people about Renewable Energy Technology. I was asked to train in Solar Hot water at Dandenong TAFE. I travelled down to Dandenong each week to teach a very interested band of students as a part of the Renewable Energy Technology Cert 4 course that they were offering. I think I trained there for two years then at BonnBeach for a year. As John and I were installing mostly shw systems at the time, the students benefited greatly from our practical experiences and job photos
Fortunately, Ray Black from the Gordon Institute in Geelong somehow heard about me and offered a job teaching at the Gordon TAFE – No more travelling! I think I spent the next 8 yrs teaching Most parts of the Renewable Energy Technology Cert 4 course which then gave entry into the BCSE/CEC installer accreditation. I was responsible for teaching many of the leading off-Grid and Grid Feed installers in the Geelong and District areas.
About 7 Yrs ago, TAFE funding was cut by the Federal Govt and I had to leave. All good things must come to an end! I’ll always have fond memories of sharing my off-grid wind and solar experiences with many interested students