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Reston Nature House Hosts Energy Fair

Alternative energy on display at Reston fair.

Visitors to the Reston Energy Fair examine a portable solar powered generator Sunday, July 14.

Visitors to the Reston Energy Fair examine a portable solar powered generator Sunday, July 14. Photo by Alex McVeigh.

— Environmental enthusiasts from Reston and beyond gathered at the Walker Nature Education Center Sunday, July 14, for the first Reston Energy Fair. Visitors learned a variety of ways to use solar and other ways to power their homes and gadgets.

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Jon Mills shows off the parts of a solar powered generator that he built, which is powering a cell phone, lamp and laptop computer during the Reston Energy Fair Sunday, July 14.

Jon Mills, an electrical engineer, gave a demonstration on how to build a solar powered generator. He demonstrated how to build a small one that was capable of powering a small lamp, charging a laptop and smartphone, as well as a larger one that he built for a Reston resident.

“When it comes to electricity, there’s a lot of confusion about volts, amps, wattage, that can become very confusing to people,” Mills said. “My goal was to show what equipment one needs, equipment that’s not hard to find, to turn the energy generated by a solar panel into a current that will give usable 120 volt power.”

THE SMALLER GENERATOR requires a motorcycle battery, 12 volt, 10-watt solar panel, charge controller, a 12-volt, 750-watt inverter and an inverter wire kit, at a cost of around $160. The larger one consists of a 180-watt solar panel, charge controller, inverter, marine battery, charge maintainer and battery terminals, for an approximate cost of just over $700.

“I came after the class, but what I saw on display afterward was very interesting,” said Sean Wilson of Reston. “Jon explained everything really well, and I’m very interested in a generator like this that I could take out to my yard and power speakers or charge an iPad.”

While the generators Mills presented were designed to take camping, or to power essential items during a blackout, others who came to the fair were interested in something more permanent for their homes.

“I’d like to see Reston’s Design Review Board and Covenants make it clearer and easier for residents who want to take advantage of solar power,” said Tori Welch of Reston. “I know neighbors that have geothermal power, and I know the aesthetics of Reston are important, but it was also founded on strong environmental principles.”

Several programs, such as the Local Energy Alliance Program, and Dominion Virginia Power’s energy conservation program, were on hand to discuss ways homeowners can cut down on their energy use, and therefore their power bills.

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A devil’s food cake cooks in a solar oven at the Reston Energy Fair at the Walker Nature Education Center Sunday, July 14.

“It might seem counterintuitive that a power company is trying to find ways for customers to reduce their bills, but in the end, less energy use means less strain on the grid, meaning not as many power plants need to be built,” said John Parrish, who works for Honeywell Smart Grid Solutions, the company that administers Dominion’s program. “Things like holes and other leakage in air ducts can mean as much as 20 percent of the air in your house is going to cool or heat the outside.”

OUTSIDE, members of Sustainable Reston had several displays up showing ways to put solar power to use. Diane Blust, president of Sustainable Reston, brought a solar oven, which is a well insulated metal box, with solar panels attached.

During the day, the oven, which got up to around 300 degrees on a 90-degree day, made a batch of rhubarb bread and devil’s food cake.

“The bread took us about 90 minutes to make at around 290 degrees, and it would normally take about 45 minutes to make, but we didn’t use a bit of electricity,” Blust said. “These are especially important in places like third world countries, where they would usually be burning wood indoors for cooking fires, but with this oven, water can be pasteurized.”

More information on Dominion’s energy conservation program can be found at www.dom.com/savenowVA, and more information on the Local Energy Alliance Program at www.leap-va.org.