If you’ve spotted a man with a signature mustache, bow tie and hat walking around a solar show floor, you’ve seen this month’s vet Marvin Hamon, principal and founder of Hamon Engineering. Besides his signature look, Marvin is known for being an expert electrical engineer, writer and supporter of the green energy movement. Read excerpts from the interview below and get to know the man behind the mustache by listening to the full podcast.
How did your love of electrical and power engineering develop?
When I turned 18, I joined the Navy. Other people in my family have been in the Navy and I saw some John Wayne movies and thought it looked pretty cool. So I volunteered to go into submarines and did six years of that. My main work was keeping electronic and power systems up and running. That encouraged me to develop a greater interest in electricity. When I got out of the military, I decided to go back to college for engineering and picked electrical engineering because the idea of not being able to see anything that’s going on but having to understand and describe it interested me. I went into power engineering specifically.
I also worked in the software development “dot-com” industry for a number of years. That appealed to me because programming was very technical and procedure-driven and tickles that part of the engineer’s brain that likes to see things highly structured and formatted.
Given your work in codes and standards, what are some things you’re seeing coming to the industry?
We just completed the first pass of the 2020 NEC. All those proposals are sent in and we’re waiting for the code-making panel to churn through those and put out a preliminary 2020 NEC. Then we can come back and put in comments.
There’s a new code coming out that’s specifically for storage. The NEC is going to handle the electrical side, but this code is going to pick up more on the physical installation side: Can you install storage inside a residential building, or do you have to install it outside? If you install it inside, what kind of enclosure are you going to need?
There’s a lot of UL code development going on too. If you look in the current rapid-shutdown requirements, one of the three is a UL-listed PV array designed to limit the energy someone would be exposed to. That’s just getting off the ground. That’s hopefully going to provide alternative and perhaps less expensive ways of satisfying rapid shutdown, rather than the two ways that are listed in the NEC now.
Tell me about your volunteer work.
I do a lot of volunteering; it’s a lot of fun and really rewarding. These people really appreciate these off-grid systems. The code development stuff is volunteering, but I also started volunteering doing projects in developing countries years ago when I was working with rotary. We used to do power projects in Latin America. Then I got involved with Power to the People, which was a non-profit that was eventually acquired by Grid Alternatives, serving as their international arm.
One thing that sets Grid Alternatives apart is the follow up. They don’t just go in and install something and walk away. There’s a high failure rate when groups do that. Typically six months to a year, the systems are non functional. You have to have follow up and set up a contract with a local PV contractor to provide O&M support. I’ve also been involved with Engineers Without Borders doing some systems and I’ve gone back and seen installations after a couple of years and modules are being used as cutting boards. These systems are supposed to last, but they don’t if people don’t follow up with them.
Check back monthly for a new episode of Ask a Solar Vet, in which editor Kathie Zipp brings you the unique perspectives and insights of those who have spent more than a decade in solar.