Those experiments led the Vietnam War veteran and former IBM electrical technician to build a solar-powered, off-grid home in upstate New York in 1995 and helped spur his latest venture: solar generators.
Jones and his sister, Debra, formed Spirit of the Sun Solar Systems last summer in Cornville in hopes of selling custom-built solar generators to construction companies, recreational-vehicle enthusiasts and others who rely on gas-powered units. They built one model now being used for demonstrations around metropolitan Phoenix.
But the units aren't cheap.
To build a 3,500-watt unit with two solar panels and eight 6-volt batteries, they are asking $15,000 or more.
That compares with about $450 to $700 for a similarly rated gas-fired generator from Sears that burns a half-gallon or so of fuel per hour.
"They aren't cheap to build, but you never have to mess with anything," Jones said. "This is just like plugging into a wall socket."
Jones wanted to launch the company in a sunnier place than New York.
The batteries store power from the solar panels so the generator can run overnight.
The solar panels are guaranteed, and Jones expects eight years or more of life from the batteries. He mounts the panels on a small trailer that can be towed by a vehicle, with the batteries locked inside.
Jones loans his prototype to Kristopher Shane, owner of High Res Media, and other photography businesses, who use it for lighting work.
"We shoot a lot of multimillion-dollar homes, and a lot of communities won't let us in if we are running generators," Shane said.
The solar generator not only powers the bright lights used to illuminate the big houses in twilight, but also the boom that raises the cameras overhead for scenic shots.
"The Realtors and homeowners love it because we are not using their electricity," Shane said, confessing that sometimes the electrical demand from his equipment would trip breakers on clients' houses.
"They eliminate air pollution and noise pollution from generators, too," Debra Jones said. The duo doesn't have any orders yet.
"We've got a few in the pipeline," Debra said.
It takes six to eight weeks for delivery because the parts must be custom-ordered, they said, adding that they'll build a generator as large as a customer wishes.