5 questions with Vishu - our top volunteer and master of all things tech

What is your current job?

I am the Director of Engineering at SunEdison. I lead design and engineering for large ground mount solar farms as well as roof top PV installations. I cover the permitting, auditing, and construction activities, and ensure that design is properly implemented on site.

The fun part about my job is that no matter how well prepared we are, each project presents totally unexpected challenges – so we are always on our toes. No day is ever “routine” !

How did you get into solar?

I started my career over 25 years ago in the primary aluminum industry, where I saw truly massive energy requirements. From there I went to Schneider Electric to work on switch gear manufacturing, to Ford working on automobiles, to Nestle where I continued honing my skills in automation technology.

While at Nestle, Ontario announced the “Green Energy Act,” and I was immediately intrigued by how an intermittent resource like solar energy could be integrated into the electric grid. I wanted to apply the skills I learned from my other job experiences and contribute to the very technical challenge of developing automation and “smart control” technology to enable renewables to work on our electric grid. I am also excited to help SunFarmer create the smarter controls needed to make “off-grid” and remote energy systems work.

Do you have any hidden talents? What are your hobbies?

I enjoy cooking, and like to experiment with recipes and spices combining a bit of East and West. I make a variety of Indian curries using Mediterranean spices, and also enjoy making savory muffins using unexpected combinations.

You’ve told us a bit about your weekend programming projects – can you tell us more?

I like to tinker with various pieces of equipment – including single board computers and microcontrollers. They are low cost, and the possibilities are endless.

I’ve tried to apply a bit of engineering to cooking. Here’s an example: an electric griddle for cooking pancakes is very imprecise - the griddle heats until it hits a certain temperature, then it shuts off. When the griddle cools off to a certain temperature, the heat turns back on; as a result, the griddle fluctuates by about 15 degrees Celsius.

I hooked the griddle up to a PID controller, which can much more precisely control the temperate, maybe to 0.5 degrees Celsius – so my pancakes turn out perfectly every time!

What makes you excited about SunFarmer?

I personally believe that solar has the potential to create a “paradigm shift,” similar to what happened with cellphones. Now even the poorest of the poor can have access to a cellphone, without the need to build expensive telephone lines.

Similarly, large scale conventional energy needs hundreds of thousands of dollars to get going. So, people end up relying on diesel, which is a poor and expensive alternative. Solar has the opportunity to really change people’s lives at the community level.

I used to wonder “What can I do? How can I apply my skills to help people?” SunFarmer is a great outlet and I look forward to seeing the impact that we can create with solar energy!