Plowboy Interview: Harold R. Hay Talks About Solar Energy

Hay shares his thoughts on solar energy, passive cooling, movable insulation and much more in this Plowboy Interview.

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    The Hay Sky-Therm house in Atascadero, California. Its innovative solar design includes rooftop insulating panels and bags of water used for passive cooling.
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    Harold R. Hay, solar energy pioneer.

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Steve Baer (developer of the drum wall, beadwall, skylid, and other solar hardware that works) often tells about some of the first meetings he attended of the International Solar Energy Society and other "official "solar organizations.  

"Everybody there would be talking about sophisticated collectors and tracking systems and very exotic and expensive surfaces that were marginally more efficient absorbers of the suns rays and multi-million-dollar research projects," says Steve. " And, usually, the guys doing all the talking didn't have a working prototype of anything they were spouting off about.  

"And then Harold Hay would get up and he'd have some actual test data taken from some incredibly simple and low cost experiment he'd just ran. And everybody would say, 'You mean that's all you're doing? You're just moving some insulation back and fourth? And they'd all go back to their discussion of some idiotic idea that would probably neverwork—but which was sure to cost the taxpayers of, this country several million dollars. They just couldn't appreciate the genius of the man."  

Genius indeed. And in far more than the field of solar energy For during his life Harold R. Hay has been—at various times—a political reformer, the developer of what is probably, the world's most widely used wood preservative, the originator of an internationally recognized municipal water purification treatment, the head of several private research projects, a U.S. Government agency's official International Building Materials Advisor, and many other things. And always—and above all—Hay has been His Own Man... which is a rather forgotten skill in this age of conformity.  

Still, it's Mr. Hay's work with solar energy for which he is currently best known. As well he should be. For the Hay Sky-Therm system of heating and cooling a house works the way a solar heating/cooling system should work: with no pumps, no fans, no circulating liquids, no freezeups, no boil-overs, no trouble, no noise, no dirt.  

And this is no mere theory. Harold Hay built his first passive solar heating/cooling system into a house in India 20 years ago. Ten years later—on Arizona property owned by another solar pioneer (John Yellott)—he constructed and exhaustively tested a much improved version of the original idea. In 1973, yet another experimental Hay solar house was built and evaluated in Atascadero, California. And, at last count, at least 21 other Sky-Therm houses were under construction in various parts of the United States.  



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