“I believe in this technology and have been very pleased with its reliable, trouble-free performance,” Wilbanks says. “The nice thing about it is that you can start small, with just a few panels, as I’ve done, and keep adding modules to increase your electricity output.”

While the TVA has been actively encouraging the adoption of solar technology, Wilbanks says the economics may not be as attractive in areas served by private electric companies, and that some private companies “have not been exactly enthusiastic or cooperative” about solar installations.

Safety concerns are always foremost, he says. “The utility company doesn’t want somebody putting up a mail-order solar system and expect them to tie it into their grid. They want to be certain systems are properly designed and installed and that there are no potential safety hazards.”

Other solar demonstrations on the tour included one by Don Stokes, representing Dr. John Guyton and the Adams 2XP School at Mississippi State University, featuring a “simple, efficient” solar hot water heater and a solar-powered Stirling engine.

“The Stirling technology has been around for almost 200 years,” he notes. “Using a solar collector to supply the heat to operate it makes very efficient use of what can be a very powerful engine.”

The Rev. Dr. Robert Stirling applied for the first patent on his engine in 1816. The modern Stirling engine, in addition to being efficient and very quiet, is also environmentally clean, because the heat that drives the pistons is supplied from outside the engine and transferred through heat exchangers to the pistons.

“This allows the engine to operate on many types of fuel — propane, natural gas, gasoline, diesel, ethanol 85, biodiesel, or heat from the sun, as we’re doing here,” Stokes says.