The Solar-Powered Human Christmas Tree
by Cam Mather
Well I’m not sure if it was a heartbreaking work of staggering genius or if I’ve stepped over the edge and “lost it”, but I decided to participate in the Tamworth Santa Claus Parade yesterday. During the Canada Day parade I rode around dressed up as “Super Solar Man” on my electric bike but I decided that I needed a different angle for the Santa Claus Parade. After considering a few ideas I decided on “The Solar Powered Human Christmas Tree.” I thought it would be a way to highlight the efficiency of LED Christmas lights. I used a portable power pack with a battery and inverter built in, and charged it up before I left for town, which meant that it was solar charged. I put my guitar strap on the power pack and slung it over my shoulder. I tucked pine boughs into all of my pockets and into my backpack. Then I wrapped 2 strings of lights with 100 LED bulbs around myself with some green garlands too. A flexible solar panel “cape” on my back completed the outfit.
I’m not trying to blow my own horn but there’s no doubt I was the hit of the parade … well at least for the kids who received the candies that I was handing out. I made the kids work for their candy though. While most of the floats just tossed candy I asked the kids to identify what I was. Some of the younger ones, who often had looks of terror, usually needed some prompting that I was in fact a Christmas tree. The hard part was getting them to identify that the Christmas lights were indeed powered by the solar panel on my back. Parents often had to help. But there was great enthusiasm once they had “Named the strange man covered in pine boughs” who was actually a solar-powered Christmas tree.
As someone who has written a book called “Thriving During Challenging Times” my concern was that people who identified that it was me would assume that I was dressed up as an off-grid peak oil survivalist in camouflage. I’m not there yet and in fact feel it’s important that someone who writes a book like this proves he still has a sense of humor and doesn’t take things too seriously. I believe I proved that today.
What an independently solar powered human Christmas does prove is that LEDs are insanely energy efficient. This was something that was really illustrated to me when William Kemp spoke at the Mississauga Living Arts Center to 1,000 people at the Wind World/Solar World Conference. Bill had two small Christmas trees; one with 120 LED lights and one with a single traditional incandescent Christmas light. Both were on “Kill-o-watt” energy meters. So the question was, how much did each draw? Well it was sort of a trick question and Bill demonstrated that they both draw 2 Watts. He used the LEDs as an example of “energy efficiency” that he talks about in “The Renewable Energy Handbook”. The one incandescent bulb represented “conservation”, which means “doing with less.” People don’t usually embrace conservation because it represents deprivation. Energy efficiency on the other hand represents “doing more with less”. Conservation means having a 5-minute cold-water shower. Energy efficiency means having a 20-minute shower with a low flow showerhead and solar heated water.
This was illustrated to me again as I was getting the costume ready yesterday. I dug out an old Christmas tree star to wear near my head at the top of the tree that had 9 “mini-lights”. These were the very small thin incandescent bulbs. When I plugged it into my energy meter it registered as using 10 Watts, versus the 2 Watts that my 120 LEDs used. I wanted to make sure the power pack didn’t get sucked down before the parade ended, so I didn’t plug them in. I thought I could use them as an example for the kids of inefficient light bulbs. I didn’t really have time to explain that part of my costume though. Even though I started out near the beginning of the parade, the next thing I knew Santa had passed right by me. Maybe I was trying to explain too much but it was also a case of Tamworth having a pretty short parade! Okay, maybe I talk too much.