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Power Play
Reinhold Ziegler's Energy Gizmo Lights the Way

by Michael McCarthy
Pacific Sun
July 25, 2001

    energy gizmo
Energy Gizmo: Reinhold Ziegler combines a solar panel and windmill with an energy converter to create a Personal Power Cart that he says can supply electricity for all your household needs -- from your TV set to your computer.

"We've all been Bushwhacked."

So says Reinhold Ziegler. The engineer, dreamer and designer of alternative energy systems thinks the "national energy crisis" has largely been manufactured by George Bush and his corporate friends who bankrolled his campaign. In Ziegler's view these are ruthless people out to exploit ordinary Americans while the exploiting is good.

"It's Machiavellian, when you think of it." says Ziegler, First you create a crisis. then you suggest a solution and manipulate a large scale buy-in. But eventually people will ask: Who really created this crisis in the first place? The George Bush energy policy reads like the annual report of 10 Texas oil companies. Actually, it reads like an energy policy for the 19th century: more coal . . . more gas. There is a much better way to solve our energy crisis than by polluting the Planet."

Ziegler is a rumpled, loquacious former Berkeley eco-visionary, now a designer of sustainable living systems in Fairfax. He's a walking, talking history book about fossil fuels, solar power, wind, geothermal and other sources of renewable energy. Ziegler's research and development began in the '70's when the back-to-the-land movement saw a Whole Earth Catalog on every coffee table, right next to the roach clips and water pipe. Ziegler talks energetically of how he thinks we got into this energy crunch in the first place and how we are going to get out of it eventually. It's a different story than the one proclaimed by the drill and burn set.

"This is Personal Power Cart," says Ziegler, wheeling out a shiny black box resembling a miniature moon buggy, replete with impellor from a wind-generator and solar panels, sitting innocuously in the corner of his Fairfax office. "One day very soon, everyone is going to own some sort of energy storage device like this, and we are going to create our own energy grid much like the World Wide Web. Then watch and see what happens when politicians or corporations don't have their hands on the switch."

According to Ziegler, when the hippie "back to the landers" in the late 60's started tinkering with self-sufficiency, they found it had all been done before. Prior to the great Depression in the 30's when the economy crashed like dot-com share values, farmers across the prairies had already been building wind-generators and wind-pumps to power their energy needs. By 1930, 12 million water pumps throughout the Midwest were powered by the wind.

"The Midwest is the Saudi Arabia of wind. There was this guy named Marcellus Jacobs," says Ziegler, sitting back, sipping a latté warming to his subject," who built what became known as the Cadillac of all wind-generators. All across the prairies, people were generating their own electricity and using the Jacobs generator to produce their own electricity and to power their homes and wireless radios. They'd all tune into to radio station in St.Louis, which is sort of like the broadband of today. Philco and RCA even started giving away wind chargers if you'd buy their radios."

Then came a fatal turning point, although no one realized it at the time.

"The FEDS -- the Rural Electrification Administration came knocking on people's doors, offering free hookups to the electrical grid if you had five appliances. That's how electricity made its way west, and when wind generators became obsolete", says Ziegler. "The tragedy is that if we had kept the generators, then the extremities would have fed the center, instead of everyone becoming dependent on the grid."

*      *      *

FAST FORWARD TO the 70's. Many young "back to the landers" had given up on scratching for a living in the woods and gone back to the cities or into academia. At the Integral Urban House in Berkeley, for instance,"green architect" Sim van der Ryn and his students -- like Ziegler, were rediscovering a whole set of enabling tools called appropriate technology. Ziegler and his colleagues continued their search for solar and wind energy devices. They rediscovered the Jacobs wind-generator and went on searching for other relics. Soon they started manufacturing their own updated models. Demand was so hot they opened manufacturing facility in Berkeley called Earth Lab and manufactured Aero-Power Systems.

For the past 20 years, Ziegler has been designing and building eco-houses and eco-products. Today he is General Partner of Synergy California Ltd. He sees the rush to alternative energy products like wind-generators and solar panels as a positive portent.

"It used to be that all people did was sit passively like couch potatoes and watch TV. The programs even laughed for you," says Ziegler. "But there's been a major shift in thinking these days. It is very much like the '60's although this time the issues have to do with the environment and energy. Now with the World Wide Web you can actively participate, send information, join in, think for yourself. Communication has become a two-way street. You are not controlled by any corporate structure; no one tells you what to think or do. This shift in thinking and doing is running through our entire culture. The seed of change has been planted, now it is happening with energy."

Ziegler gets up and wheels the PPC-1100 out into the bright afternoon sun. Powered by solar panels and a wind-generator, the Personal Power Cart is a free-standing electrical system that provides enough power for computers, faxes, printers, household lights and most appliances. At night the system plugs into the regular electrical grid. This is where the story gets really interesting.

If you charge up the power cart from the sun and wind during the day and plug back into the grid at night, you can generator power when it is needed and then sell "back to the grid" when there is a demand. In other words buy low, sell high. One square meter of solar panel generates about 125 watts at any given time. Farifax gets about 5-1/2 hours of full sun per day or about 660 watt-hrs per day from a 120 watt photovoltaic panel. More panels generate substantially more power. At 25 cents per kilowatt hour and 800 Kilowatt hours produced per year, the PPC will save you about $200 per year with 3 120-watt panels. Big savings, however, are in overnight purchase and storage. Utilizing a "time of use meter" ($277), if you buy power at off-hours from PG&E at 8 cents per KW hour and sell back to the grid at the peak hours (noon to 6PM) for 35 cents per KW-hr, the system will quickly pay for itself.

Also, as a renewable energy device you can deduct $1,500 a year (20 percent of the value of the system per year) from your taxes. The $5,000 purchase price (plus about $2,500 for more photovoltaic panels) will pay for itself in about 4 years. It must be said that there are much larger systems than the PPC.

"If you buy power at night, store it and then sell it back to PG&E during peak periods during the day," says a smiling Ziegler, " you can save up to 60% on your energy bills. The process is called peak-shaving and a lot of big companies and agencies like the California Department of Water Resources are doing it. Now ordinary citizens with an E-7 Utility rate plan can too."

End of Part One.

You may contact Reinhold Ziegler at Synergy California Ltd at
phone: (415) 459-2670

© 2001 Pacific Sun

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