Helmut Martens of Summerland, a solar energy pioneer. (Photo by Jerry Flaman)

Column: A solar pioneer in the Okanagan rides among us

This Summerland octogenarian has been producing his own electrical energy for more than 20 years

This is the story of Helmut Martens, a progressive thinking solar pioneer.

This Summerland octogenarian has been producing his own electricity for more than 20 years. Starting with a cast-off Arco solar panel purchased at a recycle sale in the mid-1990s, Martens started producing his own solar power to facilitate a more comfortable RV experience while boondocking with his fifth-wheel trailer in the Arizona desert.

While other RV’ers paid $350 per month or more for their pad rental, Helmut and his wife Kathy enjoyed the freedom of self-contained camping without needing to hookup to power.

READ MORE: Column – Why your next vehicle might be electric

Helmut is a former engineering technician who continued to research solar power. He regularly expanded and upgraded his solar system to the point where he was able to produce more electrical energy than met his needs. He then shared the power produced by his panels with his immediate desert neighbours, reducing the air-contaminating noxious fumes and noise created by gas generators.

The Martens not only use their RV solar system while travelling, but also use the system year-round by powering many of their household appliances when they are in residence in Summerland. Their large freezer and garage door-opener are powered with solar. The Marten’s seven panel RV system is bolstered with a ten unit acid battery backup system that maintains sufficient charged capacity throughout the winter.

READ MORE: First Things First Okanagan speaker explores climate change and B.C. wildfires

Their system now consists of 10 modern solar panels, 10 lead acid batteries and ancillary equipment. The Marten’s RV-mounted solar system ensures that their domestic electric expenses and reliance on the electric grid are significantly lower than their neighbours, simply by using the power of available sunshine. In March, when surrounding homes use 35 kilowatts per day, the Martens use about seven kilowatts, which is one-fifth of their neighbours’ electricity use. You could say that they have the ultimate energy recycling system, and that system produces energy every single day of the year for a reduction of 80 per cent off electricity charges.

The Martens hold the opinion that their RV solar system has repaid them in more ways than they can express, and, since over the last decade, electricity rates have increased on average five per cent per year, their financial expenses have been repaid many times over. They encourage everyone to investigate the possibilities of solar energy.

Jerry Flaman is a member of First Things First Okanagan, a community group promoting climate change awareness and solutions for a better future.

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