Real Goods’ Solar Living Sourcebook 11th Edition

By Paul Gipe

September 24, 2001

A review by Paul Gipe

When the 11th edition of Real Goods’ Solar Living Sourcebook landed with a thud on my doorstep, I knew I was in for a treat. Like other renewable energy aficionados, I like nothing better than to curl up with a catalog and dream about solar systems I’d like to someday assemble.

The now classic three pound tome is part catalog, and part textbook. I’ve long been an admirer of Doug Pratt’s no-nonsense, down-home writing style and the 11th edition is filled with his wit and wisdom from years living with renewable energy. “People need an explanation of how things work,” says Real Goods’ Pratt. “The narrative just kept growing.”

The Solar Living Sourcebook started life as the Alternative Energy Sourcebook and some 400,000 copies are in circulation. (Wish I could say that about my own books!)

The Sourcebook is encyclopedic in scope, covering ten chapters from Land & Shelter to Mobility. There are 14 pages on small wind turbines alone. I simply don’t know how Pratt does it.


Disclosure: Real Goods co-publishes two of my books and paid for an article on wind energy in the 11th edition.

As in several previous editions, the new Sourcebook includes John Wiles’ welcome Photovoltaic Power Systems and the National Electrical Code: Suggested Practices. The 55 page-text should be required reading for anyone installing a PV or small wind system. The report is available separately, but including it in the Sourcebook is a valuable service and encourages users to comply with building codes when using solar and wind energy. Wiles, a regular contributor to Home Power’s “Code Corner,” pulls together the relevant sections of the NEC and explains what they mean in plain English.

Real Goods’ Sourcebook is the only renewable energy catalog that clearly identifies a product’s country of origin. This is important to many conscientious buyers. For example, the Sourcebook notes that Bergey Windpower‘s new XL.1 is made both in China and the USA. The Source Book doesn’t explain which parts are made where, but it does alert buyers that the small Bergey turbine is not built entirely in this country. “I think everyone wants to know where these products come from,” says Pratt. “A lot of people like that feature.” Another service is the Sourcebook’s emphasis on conservation and eliminating phantom loads. Pratt considers this message so important that he repeats the theme several times.

This is also the first of the big renewables catalogs to offer Sunny Boy inverters. These string inverters have been highly successful in Germany and their innovative manufacturer, SMA, has finally broken into the North American market where the competition is sorely needed.

The massive work contains nearly 600 pages of solid advice from the pros at Real Goods, like Pratt. The Sourcebook, in a large 8-1/2 by 11 format, offers an extremely good value for $30. I keep mine within easy reach.

Real Goods’ Solar Living Sourcebook: The complete Guide to Renewable Energy Technologies & Sustainable Living. Executive editor, John Schaeffer; Technical editor, Doug Pratt. Distributed by Chelsea Green Publishing Co, White River Junction, Vermont. 2001. US$30. ISBN 0-916571-04-1. To order in the USA call 800 762 7325 or 800 508 2342.