When Gordon Fraser and his wife Susan discussed energy reliability for their 1920s Riverdale home, she recalled the large blackout in August of 2003.
“What if something like that happens in the winter? We would freeze to death,” Susan Fraser said. “I wanted some kind of alternative power source in case something happened to the grid.”
Susan Fraser never wanted to live without power again, so Gordon Fraser, a retired Microsoft developer, wrote a proposal to solar companies to install solar panels on their roof for energy generation.
With a few small changes in his proposal, Gordon Fraser changed the project into a science project, which is “kind of exciting.”
In November 2006, the solar array on their roof, the Frasers began the Ravina Project. The research project tests the efficiency of solar panels and will run for at least five years.
Information gathered about the energy generated (daily, monthly and yearly) is available online for free. It gives people interested in solar energy an unbiased source of information. Currently, most of the information comes from the solar panel companies or in studies.
“If you ask a salesman, how good is this car? ‘Ohhhh, it was driven by a little old lady twice a week when she went to the liquor store.’ If you go to the guy who installs solar panels, ‘Ohhhh, these solar panels. Put 500 watts (W) up there, you’ll run your whole house,'” he said. “Our data is legit data and for anyone considering installing solar panels, we should be the first stop.”
The Frasers’ home uses about 350 W per hour and 8-9 kilowatt hour (kWh) over a 24-hour period. On a sunny day, the panels can generate up to 9 kWh, allowing them to send up to 1000 W back onto the grid. The daily records include meter readings, kWhs and peak power generated and a weather report.
While the information provided is useful, the Ravina Project ventures one step beyond the average roof-top solar panel array. Fraser and Ben Rodgers of Solera designed a solar stand that tilts and follows the sun across the sky.
“I’ve been 40 years an amateur radio operator. So what I did was a rethink of aiming solar arrays. I made the conceptual leap between thinking of a solar array as collecting solar radiation to a radio antenna receiving a radio signal. And the sun is the transmitter,” Fraser explained.
For this idea to work Fraser attached the solar panel on his roof to a tetrahedral stand and extendable arm and uses a 1995 version of a satellite integrated receiver and descrambler (IRD). The dishes turn to face the satellites to receive the signal.
Fraser hooked up the panel to the IRD and it moves to keep receiving sunlight at a 90-degree angle, “the sweet spot” for solar generation. The IRD thinks it’s moving a TV dish and changes the angle of the solar array to maximize energy generation, Fraser said.
The Frasers hope the people who download and view their information will use it for further development of solar panels. By having it available on the Internet it becomes a group effort for scientists.
“Science is so serendipitous, you just never know when you’re going to stumble across a new idea or some treasure in the data,” Gordon Fraser said. “If there’s anything of value in that data, it will be other people who will find it. (They) are the statistical whizzes or looking for buried things or some anomaly.”
The Frasers say they will leave The Ravina Project as a “digital legacy” so the information will be available in the future. The important or significant piece of data could be discovered years from now, he said.
“We’re in our 60s now and 50 years from now …(people) will look back and say that was a very, very important time (for solar energy). Where’s the data?” Fraser said. “And they can have ours for free…. People working out of their basement can take our information for free and get a snapshot (of that time).”