By day, Norman Nadeau is a financial adviser.
By night, he is a renewable energy revolutionary.
For years, the 43-year-old Willington, Conn., resident spent his free time designing and building the solar photovoltaic system now standing in his front yard, almost fully powering his ranch house. He tells time with a solar-powered watch. When he's not doling out financial advice, he's installing fuel cells in his family's cars.
And if approved for a federal grant, he hopes to start turning the feces of his pet alpacas into fuel for a homemade power generator.
"This is my brainchild," Nadeau said, waving a hand toward his alpaca farm, his converted cars and the solar panels towering over him. "This is my model, a model for everyone to see what renewable energy really means."
To some, Nadeau's pet projects might seem unusual, a long way from the massive power plants and petroleum that most of us still draw our energy from. But with U.S. environmental policies moving rapidly toward stricter pollution controls and "greener" power, offbeat grass-roots activists such as Nadeau who once led the development of renewable energy sources in relative obscurity are now at the vanguard of attracting attention to it.
Nadeau's after-work hobbies mirror those of quirky green-energy advocates throughout Connecticut. There's a man in Killingly who runs cars off electric batteries. A man in Middletown invents wind turbine systems out of his apartment. A family in Norfolk built a farmhouse powered by solar panels and heated with a radiant floor system.
They don't do it for the money. They do it, they say, to show the world it can be done.
Nadeau's introduction to the renewable energy field was a gradual one.
Seven years ago, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He underwent 12 surgeries to remove cancerous tumors.
To keep his muscles from atrophying, Nadeau's doctor recommended regular exercise. He put his body to work in a decidedly nontraditional way — building an alpaca farm, which he had read was therapeutic.
Nadeau fenced off a part of his Willington property, cleared 250 trees off 2.5 acres and, over time, grew a herd of five alpacas and one llama. His favorite of the group is a young alpaca named Jack, who can be both fiercely territorial and surprisingly gentle.
"It's just unconditional love and friendship," he said. "That's what I get from them."
His newfound love for farming sparked a general interest in becoming more self-sustaining. And when the chronic pain that comes with lymphoma made it impossible for him to sleep, Nadeau spent his nights scouring the Internet for every piece of information on renewable energy systems.
He began writing up his plans to build a sustainable energy system on his sprawling property, solely based on his thousands of hours of online research.
"See, I don't need a fancy degree," he said, tapping his head. "It's all in here."
His extensive project proposal, accompanied by a laminated set of diagrams and schematics, includes the solar panels he recently installed, the diesel-hydrogen systems now fueling two of his cars and a yet-to-be-built fuel cell fed by an alpaca manure-methane digester. He's also drawn up plans to eventually install a wind turbine and build a large-scale vegetable farm that would feed off the feces from a Japanese koi pond he has also planned.
Nadeau has paid for most of his projects out of his own pocket. The solar panels alone cost $65,000, but the state paid for half of it and the federal government has given him a loan.
If he is to complete his plan and begin turning his alpacas' pellets into fuel, Nadeau said, he'll need a $15,000 federal grant to fund it fully.
Nadeau plans to build a methane digester that will suck the gas out of his 6-foot-tall pile of alpaca feces. He would then pull hydrogen from the methane to power a stationary fuel cell power generator, feeding electricity into his house and the surplus power into the region's electricity supply.
It's an expensive idea, but he and a consultant he's hired are working on an application for the grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
On a recent afternoon, Nadeau gave a tour of his half-finished energy system. He guided a group of Connecticut environmentalists from his solar panels to his cars to his alpaca farm like a child showing off his toys.
He wasn't after fame. Nadeau is looking to inspire.
He has set up a Web site where he lays out his project and encourages people to come take a tour. He has also reached out to environmental groups throughout the state.
Recently, Nadeau and his 13-year-old son, Alex, began recording YouTube clips that show viewers how to "go green."
In one of the videos, Nadeau is standing in front of his enormous solar panels. He outlines the government funding available for such systems and rattles off figures on air pollution and energy-cost savings.
"If I can do it," he says in the clip, "so can you."
On the cutting edge of renewable energy
By day, Norman Nadeau is a financial adviser.