For Margaret Rathnavalu, harnessing the sun’s energy was an intuitive next step on a lifelong journey of conscientious choices. A now-retired teacher, Margaret is a local activist, involved in initiatives like Blue Dot Camrose and the U of A Augustana Campus Spirit of the Land classes, encouraging stewardship and environmental education. Behind her soft-spoken temperament lies a profound eagerness to protect our planet and enhance our connection to it. 

When her son, Raj, started Newo Global Energy, Margaret had a personal interest in the non-profit solar energy company’s success, but the principles that guide her decision-making existed long before Newo installed her 7.2-kW solar system in 2018.

The Rathnavalus (From left: Maya, Raj, Larry and Margaret), joined by Newo master electrician Adrian Mohammed and other employees, switch on their 7.2-kW solar system in 2018.

When asked if there was a driving force behind the decision to go with solar, Margaret stated without hesitation, “It wasn’t even a question.

 “Solar was just a natural next step ⁠— an extension of the way we’d been thinking.” She went on to explain that the choice was rooted in a concern for how resources are used and a desire to reduce energy consumption for the sake of the environment. 

Margaret and her husband Larry have travelled across the globe and lived in places including Zambia and South Africa. They have seen a diverse range of energy consumption patterns in communities big and small, and have witnessed solar function as the norm in many parts of the world.

“We had a friend visit from Australia, about five years ago, and he said no one talks about solar panels.” It’s like talking to someone in Canada about furnaces, “You know, everyone just has one.” 

So, while Canada has generally been slow to implement solar energy in comparison to other places the Rathnavalus have been, the installation of solar was almost instinctive for them.  

“Just getting to know people who live in different circumstances, I guess it touches you in certain ways. And it’s interesting what you do with that.” Margaret went on, “We want to do our part, and I think that we were hoping that if we did it, others too would do it.” 

The Rathnavalus’ Sense home energy monitoring system.

But solar panels were neither the beginning nor the end of the Rathnavalus’ road to reducing their environmental impact. After installing solar, they decided to also get a Sense home energy monitoring app, which analyzes power consumption of all the appliances in the house. 

With “bubbles” that show appliance usage data as soon as the family turns something on, as well as which appliances use power even when dormant, the app gives Margaret a straightforward picture of how and where power is being used around her house. This app, coupled with her pre-existing desire to be a conscious consumer, has led to small but meaningful changes in the Rathnavalu household.

It shows their power consumption and solar generation.

“It’s very visual, and to me that’s astounding and a huge motivator. I don’t even have to see it more than once or twice.” 

Margaret now knows with certainty that her clothes washer and dryer are two of her home’s “big users,” and has changed up her laundry routine to address her energy usage. Far from reverting back to using a washboard, she is now simply conscious about when she does her laundry, timing it with the sunshine and putting up “a solar and wind clothes dryer” ⁠— also known as a clothesline. 

Mindful of not only what kind of energy she uses, the environmentally conscious homeowner also aims to reduce her overall usage.

“The idea to get solar and then get televisions for every room, that’s just not what it was meant to do.”

In addition to her various uses of solar energy, Margaret is conscious of “the little things,” from gardening in her backyard and being a part of the Camrose Community Garden, to renouncing hair dryers for their excessive use of energy (with some rare exceptions on cold winter days).

The former teacher recalled gathering the school garbage at lunchtime and counting all the apples that had been thrown out to see how much waste was created. 

“It wasn’t to point out deficiencies, but just to encourage a better use of what we have, because we have so much,” she said. “Maybe one’s travels really teach you that you do really have a lot…And I guess you just want to appreciate and be grateful for all you do have.”

Editor’s note: Margaret is also the driving force and caretaker for the Three Sisters plantings outside our offices. See the article for details!

One thought on “Solar and the small things

  1. Agree wholeheartedly with this wonderful article and a special friend. She has always been an inspiration for me since we met when with CUSO in Zambia.

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