Remy C's Pitch to Gaiam's Real Goods via John Schaeffer

I nicked the pix for this white van after a Google image search landed me on this page: (now defunct) illustrating an article called:
"There's something women like about a White Ford Van."
I knew I was on to something... but I never imagined.
(I apologize for the real sorry ass Photoshop paste-up job. But you get the idea.)

1981 Ford E-150
120,000 Miles And Running Great 
Asking price: $1500 firm 

Updated 1/1/08

Ok, so it's a clunker, but in 1994 when I proposed this idea to John Schaeffer, Real Goods founder, at the EcoTech conference that was pretty much how I envisioned it. It would have been cheap, easy and to the point. But today, the PV market has changed. It's fast becoming an upscale business for affluent home owners who want bragging rights to keep up with the Jones. So it would have to be a much classier act, in a spanking brand new van, or you'd get a less than a warm reception from increasingly paranoid wealthy suburbanites.

The idea came to me when I was selling Electrolux vacuum cleaners door to door in the 80's. I made salesman of the month if you care to know. But I started feeling guilty about selling $650 Silverado machines to folks who simply needed a broom, so I quit to take VoxPop magazine, a local music weekly, from a 10.000 to 40.000 circulation in less than a year. Then I co-founded Wetlands in TriBeCa, which closed in September after a terrific 12 year run. 

PVs were born to be a door to door business. Fairfield County, where I live, has the highest per capita income in the country. Nowhere else in America is there such a high concentration of $800.000+ homes. 23 towns, each with 20,000 or more houses on two acre zoning. If anyone can afford PVs and could be made to embrace an early adopter philosophy, it's Fairfield County. 

The plan is simple. Do as Cablevision did once they realized print advertising in wealth porn publications is a waste of marketing resources. So they did like Greenpeace, hired college kids and canvassed all the neighborhoods, and once they had enough people sign up on one street, they stretched the cable.

CL&P should have been selling PVs door to door a long time ago. Instead they are now deeply entrenched into a dead end battle with local residents trying to grab people's land by eminent domain to put up monster power towers that would destroy the forest site lines of the entire county. Don't ask... Just go to

So it's up to someone like me to get the ball rolling with PVs in Fairfield County. PV companies in New England are happy installing one or two systems a month. They don't have what it takes to go out there and even contemplate trying to change the face of the entire electrical grid. 

I would train college kids to give PV demos to home owners, right there, on their front lawn. Who is going to refuse a cute kid with a cool van and a splashy Home Power Guerilla Solar fried cat T-shirt the opportunity to give his schpeel?

- Home Power magazine -

The van (or now Scion xB) would be rigged with two 100w roof panels on a swivel to orient towards the sun when parked. Inside, a few batteries, a portable TV, lots of LEDs, and a PC and a blender for power shakes. Everything you need to make your point.

- Mobile Solar Power -

We would create canvassing route with Google aerial maps, also available at all the town halls to pin-point home owners who have roofs with southern orientation. 

The pitch:

PVs are ideal for security systems... to run your PC so it never goes down. (Fairfield County experiences constant power brown outs, black outs, sometimes lasting days.)

The chances of selling a system right then and there are slim to none. But that's OK. The idea is to put the bug in their ear and leave a beautiful glossy Real Goods catalog behind... Follow up and build relationships (it helps to know the neighborhood so you can make social connections.) 

This will eventually sell suburbanites on buying a system, starting at 1000 watts with storage for security systems and PCs, and then later going for the full fledge 2000 watts net metered grid hook-up.

The Real Goods Van sales force simply makes the pitch, educates the community, makes solar smoothies at picnics... The van keeps a percentage of any sales it makes. The van works with local certified electricians to assure a 100% green seal of approval on the final installations. 

Real Goods has allowed us the use of their company name and will supply the van with all the catalogs and demonstration gear necessary to do the job.

I am currently seeking financial assistance to buy or fix up an appropriate vehicle, provide adequate insurance and fuel money. I'm banking on the youthful enthusiasm of the local young people I hire to do the rest... 

So please don't tell me this is a great idea: "let's do it in Santa Barbara." That leaves me in a lurch. I don't live in Santa Barbara. I live in Weston, Connecticut, and this is where I want to get started. I'll eat my PV hat if we don't end up selling at least 3 or 4 complete PV home systems a week within the first few months of canvassing!

Sunplugged Power once was a web site dedicated to solar education vans and buses in New England. Yet, none of them wanted to tackle suburbia the way I just described. They were also a little bit too hippie to appeal to the Westport ethos. 

The Gaiam Real Goods van would be a first. It would be a class act!

Remy C.

(I'm Editor-at-large (print edition) and Editor (web edition) of Electrifying Times, the best and still the only magazine on newsstands in America dedicated to electric vehicles.)

PS: People are going to ask me why this isn't an EV van and put me on the spot. The second best thing would be fueling it with ethanol or bio-diesel. But you need a diesel engine to run bio-diesel. Another alternative is to install a NOX (Nitrous Oxide) injection system, the stuff rice rockets use in street racing, but substitute the NOX for H2 (hydrogen) which instead of better performance will give you better mileage, some claim as much as 150%. It's a technology BMW has been investing into. So it's a good idea for me to look into an eventual retro-fit of some kind for the engine, though that would also void the warranty. It would cost a bit more money but it would not limit the radius of operation of the van since the engine would still run without added H2. The physics are that a steady trickle of H2 gas in the carburetor sprayed while the gasoline is in vapor, assist in the gasoline reaching a much higher rate of combustion. Two welding supply companies I know are currently working on custom kits for automobilists.  Going through all this trouble and expense would be worth the extra bonus green PR brownie points.

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