MAILBOX: My Moment with Richard

Intermediate
Richard Perez cleans up the battery cables.
Baking soda neutralizes the acid mess.

My first encounter with Home Power  cofounder Richard Perez was in the summer of 2000 at a SolWest workshop in John Day, Oregon. My son Alex was fresh out of college, so he and I went on a road trip from Tacoma, Washington, to John Day. There was to be a solar fair preceded by a weeklong workshop about solar electricity. The classroom and hands-on workshop took place on the second floor of a building in town, at the office of the SolWest energy fair. Our first day was spent in a classroom with 25 other enthusiasts from different parts of the country. Richard introduced himself and told us how far he had come from the early days before MPPT (which he would explain in-depth later). He had a sort of “mountain man” look, but his smile gave way to his kindness, and his talk showed his intelligence.

Joe Schwartz was there to help facilitate the hands-on instruction. He was well-seasoned in solar technology, and did most of the mechanical work. Together, they were a good team, and I knew from the start that it was going to be a good class. Each morning, Richard explained a different aspect of solar-electric systems, such as batteries, charge controllers, inverters, and solar-electric modules. In the afternoons, we helped Joe build a system for a solar-powered office. Four PV modules were mounted on the roof, and wires were sent through a conduit into a small closet area to a charge controller. Also in the room were six 12 VDC sealed batteries connected to an inverter.

On the third or fourth day, Richard wanted to show us the different inverters’ waveforms—pure, square, and modified sine—on an oscilloscope. We needed a battery for the demonstration, so someone went back to the small closet area and removed a battery from the string of six. After the demonstration, it was time to return to the work area. Someone entered the small closet and we heard a KABOOM! The top of one of the sealed batteries blew off, spewing acid.

Joe hurried to a local store to buy baking soda, which would neutralize the spilled battery acid. Richard seemed pretty calm; he knew right away what had happened. Apparently, when the battery was removed for the classroom demonstration, the positive and negative cables of the remaining string were left dangling. Upon returning to the work area, someone accidentally bumped one of the wires, causing the two leads to contact and short-circuit. After the dust settled and the baking soda was cleaned up, we had all learned something very important about battery safety.

I caught up with Richard as he was cleaning the battery cables in the bathroom sink, and he said with a smile, “Can you believe that? We just talked about battery safety in class…” I told him I would send the pictures I had taken during the workshop. They were lost for many years, but I recently found them. I thought I would share my moment with Richard. I think there should be a column in Home Power: “My Moment with Richard.” It might get a lot of good stories…

Dave Cozine • Tacoma, Washington

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