When Meters Spin Backwards

Thoughts from Abbie Weeks and Jeff Boyce

-Abbie Weeks-

Today we put up the last of the solar panels on Mr. Conquering Bear’s house and finished a project that began as soon as I returned from Uganda last summer.

I can’t help but smile remembering the moment the solar panels were live and began to generate electricity. All of the team was gathered around the meter and, as miraculously as working against gravity, it spun backwards; energy was going back into the grid.

lastday3

Often times, environmental conservation works feels just like that: like working against gravity: as if pursuing sustainability means pushing back at some unstoppable force of economics or some inevitable path for our planet.

But this solar installation on Pine Ridge is another piece of evidence that the protection of our planet and the prosperity of our species are simultaneously attainable. Solar works. Renewable energy is a realistic solution.

This trip to Pine Ridge was full of not only incredible memories and people, but of a sense of community and purpose. Late night campfires and games of Frisbee strengthened friendships and created utter joy. Meetings with the Pine Ridge Housing Authority, lessons from the Solar Corps team at Grid Alternatives, and stories from local tribal members, strengthened my sense of purpose, and created profound awe.

I have graduated high school, and the EcoAction chapter at Cherry Creek High School will be passed on to new student leadership. Yet the experiences I have had working with communities towards affordable and sustainable energy are already writing the next years of my life. How lucky am I to have met so many kindred souls, to have traveled across the world and the United States, and to have the support of my community in this incredible adventure. I want to thank Jeff Boyce: teacher, mentor, and incredible human being for his undying support of my dreams. He helped me make so many of them come true.

There is always a finality to the closing of one chapter and the beginning of the next, but I have no doubt that EcoAction and you, reader, will defy gravity and continue to fulfill our responsibility to our planet and each other. We need action and activists now more than ever.

Best of luck, and my immense gratitude to each and every person I have met so far on this journey.

All my love,

Abbie Weeks

_MG_1885

 

-Jeff Boyce-

I became an environmental scientist because I care about this beautiful planet that we share. I became a teacher because it is future generations that will need to solve the problems that we collectively face.

The PV install in Pine Ridge was complete when the net electricity meter slowed down and reversed direction. This was the moment that the 3 roof arrays consisting of 21 individual panels came online and began producing more electricity than the home was consuming.

This installation of this 7.2 kW system marks a decrease in the amount of carbon dioxide that is released by the combustion of fossil fuels to generate electricity. This system will generate approximately 15,000 kWh of electricity per year. The Nebraska Power Association generates electricity for Pine Ridge and uses coal for almost 65% of that electricity. A single kWh of electricity from coal releases 1.2 pounds of carbon dioxide. This install represents a decrease of just less than 20,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year.

This is real change. We don’t to need to wait for people in Washington to legislate change, we need to educate people and change how we approach our consumptive lifestyles.

I want to thank Grid Alternatives for allowing us to partner with them. This trip changed the lives of my students and opened my eyes to the power of learning outside the classroom. The folks at Grid went out of their way to educate, to engage and empower my students each and every day. They are true “Solar Warriors”!

IMG_1091Riley Weeks and Abbie Weeks Sending up the last of the solar panels_MG_1704

JYWG5557

Robin, Abbie, and Lina

 

Crawlspace Mornings

While the roof team may seem to have all the glory of installation to themselves, the ground team does merit some appreciation. Although the solar panels are placed on the roof, as well as the microinverters in this install, the electricity generated by the panels must be fed into the main service panel (an electric box) located in the back of Mr. Conquering Bear’s house. On the ground this morning I worked with Riley, Allan, and team supervisor Austin, in the crawlspace. We dropped the grounding wire down from the back room into the crawl space but the wire wouldn’t fit into the conduit at first so we had to bend new wires and try and fit it into the awkward space between the wall and insulation. The power is off to the home to prevent electrocution as we handle the wiring, so we were without lights in the crawlspace save a flashlight.

 

 

IMG_1061

Austen wearing an arc flash suit to avoid potential electrocution while working on the main service panel

 

Eventually we got all the wiring in place so that when the panels are active, they will directly power the home!

IMG_1073

In the afternoon we fed wires up to the roof that would connect the arrays and finalize the connections. Tomorrow we will finish the instal!

 

riley sticker

Riley places Caution sticker on electrical box

 

 

 

 

Lakota Solar and Henry Red Cloud

Today we had the honor of visiting Lakota Solar Enterprises, a company started by Henry Red Cloud. Lakota Enterprises is a native-owned solar company that produces solar heating units and provides green job training to help the community attain energy sovereignty.

Mr. Red Cloud led us around Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC), “where Native Americans from around the country come to receive hands-on training in renewable energy applications from fellow Native American trainers. RCREC’s facilities also include demonstration solar air furnaces, a solar electric system, straw bale home demonstration sites, a wind turbine, green houses and garden, buffalo from the Red Cloud herd, and wind break and shade trees. In addition to educating about the benefits of renewable energy, RCREC’s workshops are creating green jobs for residents of Pine Ridge, as well as visiting trainees from other tribes. As tribal leaders learn how to incorporate sustainable technology into housing plans, employment training, and energy strategies, the impact will increase exponentially.” (from Lakota Enterprises)

We toured his workshop, sustainable farm, a straw bale house, and a portable solar trailer that he brought to the Standing Rock protests. Mr. Red Cloud is a passionate, kindred soul. His deep care for his community and for the land we live on is obvious in how he speaks. He discussed with us current affairs, the rights of Native Americans, and the inherent responsibility of all to take care of our earth. On the day we met Mr. Red Cloud he had spent the day planting thousands of pine seedlings. He is truly a pioneer and icon in his field.

From Lakota Enterprises

“For more than a decade, Henry has devoted himself to developing his expertise with renewable energy applications that are environmentally sound, economically beneficial, and culturally appropriate. Today, Henry is a twenty-first century Lakota Warrior, bringing green technology and employment to Native American communities. He reminds tribes that they can live sustainably and shows them that by embracing clean, renewable energy applications there is a way to get back to a traditional relationship with Mother Earth. As Henry says, “This is a new way to honor the old ways.””

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Nyaka’s One By One Fundraiser on August 12th at 5pm

One-By-One logo

Abbie Weeks and Lauren McMillen will share stories and observations of their recent journey to fundraise for, deliver and install solar panels for the Nyaka Vocational and Secondary School during this evening’s fundraiser for Nyaka in Vail, Colorado.

EcologicalAction club sponsor Jeff Boyce will also be honored!

Tickets may be purchased here.

“Saving Lives One by One.”

What the Future Holds

I have been back in the United States for two weeks now and have had time to reflect upon our whirlwind journey in Uganda.

First, I feel deep gratitude for the hundreds of people who have somehow been involved in this near year long process, from EcologicalAction’s first meeting of the 2015-2016 school year to the moment our plane’s wheels touched back on U.S. soil.

I never would have imagined that the club I started Sophomore year would find its way to Nyakagezi, Uganda. Believe me, I understand that if the universe were a tapestry, our project to install solar panels on two buildings of the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project would be just a single, tiny thread. Yet that thread is interwoven with the lives and experiences and guidance of so many organizations and individuals: Nyaka staff both in Kampala and in the field, every student and teacher at Nyaka Secondary Vocational School, Cherry Creek High School Administration, attendees and musicians at our benefit concert, 7th Grade teachers and students at West Middle School who participated in the Nyaka Walk,  my supportive teacher and mentor Mr. Dufford, our families, 9News, EcoTech Institute, The Villager, and airport personnel as mentioned in a previous blog post. We are just a fragment of life’s greater tapestry, but we span continents.

Environmental Activism has slowly grown to engulf and inform my life. This experience, however, challenged my preconceived notions. My awe and wonder has always lain with the natural world and I deeply feel a desire, no responsibility, as a citizen of Earth, to halt and reverse our species’ degradation of our ecosystems and biodiversity.

Additionally, as a species we have an obligation to each other: to ensure the human rights of all are fulfilled. “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” (UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Sustainability and Human Rights are not disconnected entities.

My two passions, ecological sustainability and human rights advocacy, intersect in beautiful harmony; each has the potential to promote the fulfillment of the other. For instance, as the abundance of natural resources decreases, it is in the benefit of local communities to adopt sustainable practices which will ensure that they may continue to pave a livelihood. In seaside communities this may mean preventing overfishing by interspersing the diet with plants that thrive in the local climate. In Uganda, the introduction of solar panels directly benefits both the planet and people. Solar energy effectively and sustainably harnesses our greatest renewable resource: the sun. Simultaneously, solar panels installed at the Nyaka schools unlock the potential of an education by powering the computers and lights, all at a lower cost than the unreliable hydroelectric grid which runs much of Uganda.

Note:

Access to electricity in 2013 at national level in Uganda is very low with 15% (1991: 5.6%; 2006: 9%; 2010: 10%) but only 7% in rural areas.“)

Also:  http://endev.info/content/Uganda

Uganda and the United States seemingly fall on distant positions on the spectrum of country development. Indeed, driving through the outskirts of Kampala and the rural southwest portions of Uganda, economic disparity and meager living conditions abound. Subsistence farming remains a common occupation and clean water, reliable health care, and public education are elusive “luxuries”.  In contrast, the United States has a highly developed service economy and private sector along with a strong public education system. Every nation faces societal ills: disease, violence and poverty. In Uganda, however, such issues were impossible to overlook or hide. I was overwhelmed and, frankly, initially disheartened when I contemplated the plausibility of a process which would help every single citizen achieve a high quality of life.

How would our photovoltaic system on the roof of one school in one village leave more than a superficial scratch on the epidermis of systematic poverty? What about the family in Mbarara who unwittingly drinks giardia infested water each day, the man I saw outside Kampala who struggles to find food each day, the farmers who toil each day to feed their families?

Driving back to Entebbe after our time at Nyaka, I dug through my mind for the root of poverty and brainstormed fundamental solutions. Uganda is a developing nation. The basic and most effective ways of improving quality of life are healthcare and education. Health care increases body strength and lifespan. Equally importantly, education gives people a tool with which to understand and solve any challenges their communities face. An educated populace is well-equipped to elect representatives and officials and fundamentally alter the economic and social system through political channels. An educated populace may communicate and reflect the needs of the country. Furthermore, education is one path to self-discovery and internal contentment. My education has allowed me to uncover who I am. What a luxury it is for me to have the time, the resources, to chase my passions when for many education is out of reach.

Change trudges along through movements. I will not preach that this experience in Uganda will completely revolutionize Uganda’s education system or stop climate change. Fundamental forces such as capitalism, government and the will to survive will drag this country of 37 million into the upcoming decades. Yet now our solar panels are threads, too, woven into life’s tapestry. May the lights and computers spark a child’s fervor and add kindling to a greater movement of uninhibited joy and freedom in this world.

I learned a lot about myself this trip. I thrive in situations requiring problem solving and under intense stress. I like matooke but not nearly as much as g-nut sauce. But more importantly, adopting a defeatist attitude because a problem seems too overwhelming is direct neglect of our responsibility to nurture our neighbors, no matter how many time zones stand between us. Through environmental and humanitarian action, each of us can improve our piece of the world.

Reader, I cannot thank you enough. May you have found or keeping searching to find a purpose you dare to follow. The world needs more of you.

All the best wishes and all my gratitude,

Abigail Weeks

DSC03119

Amy Weeks, Abigail Weeks, Lauren McMillen, Jeff Boyce and Amy Boyce

Rainstorms in the Dry Season (Abbie Weeks)

Last night the rain, thunder, and lightning besieged the house like nothing I had never experienced before. One lightning bolt flashed with such intensity the entirety of the living room turned a soft pink. All I could think of as I listened to the storm was of the solar panels and the school roof they were mounted upon. I prayed that against all logic this storm wouldn’t reach the school 2km away. In order to mount the solar panels, we wove metal bailing wire around the mounting brackets and through the roof into the attic. Thus, small holes the diameter of a screwdriver are in the roof underneath the panels. We have not yet caulked them to form a waterproof seal.

This morning we held our breath as we anticipated the severity of the water damage. Luckily, however, minimal water got into the roof. We opened the windows in the science lab and by lunch, any residual water had evaporated. As an extra precaution, Lauren, Albert (the student) and I duct taped over the brackets and placed leftover shipping box cardboard scraps (thank you Deline Box and Display) above the holes. After lunch we placed a tarp over the entire array.

Amy Weeks and Amy Boyce created a mounting platform out of the cardboard shipping boxes (thank you, AGAIN! Deline Box and Display) for the solar array batteries to keep them up and off of the conductive cement. Lauren and I wired the charge controllers while Jeff connected the batteries.

Here’s to another successful day!

Thank you for your support!

Abbie Weeks

DSC02717

 

 

 

The Attic (Abbie Weeks)

Although  our beautifully mounted panels seem to testify the completion of our project, in reality we have several days’ worth of wiring still ahead of us.

This morning Lauren and I wove the each of the positive wires from the solar panels through the gap in the roof ridgeline into the attic. Our next step was to run additional wire from each of these 6 positive wires to the junction boxes we had recently mounted on an attic support beam. As soon as the sun rises, our solar panels become “live”: they begin to  generate a current; however, as long as the positive and negative wire terminals do not touch each other or something else conductive (such as metal), the solar panels (and our bodies) are safe. To ensure the wires would remain insulated while we measured the necessary length of wire, Lauren climbed up into the rafters to duct tape the terminals of the wires. Meanwhile Jeff mounted the inverters and charge controllers to the wall in the  storage room just below the attic opening.

DSC02834

Lauren  temporarily duct tapes the positive terminals of the wires in the attic.

We are configuring the panels into two systems. Each system includes three panels and a junction box to join three positive wires into one. We will run those two wires into the storage room where the rest of the equipment for the system is to be mounted.

DSC02888

Wiring the third wire into the junction box

After a lunch break at the library, we headed back up into the attic to continue wiring. We used wire nuts to join the wires and ensure a reliable connection.  By the time we finished, we were covered in sweat and suspicious black sooty dust, but proud of our progress.

We had barely enough wire to run from the positive terminals to the junction box. Tomorrow, Albert, our new friend and local electrician, will travel by bus to the closest town to purchase the necessary wire to connect the negative wires from the solar panels to the junction box. The town of Mbarara is four hours away!

My mom Amy, Jeff and Amy Boyce headed back to the guest house after a long day of work. Lauren and I stayed later to play volleyball and we tried millet porridge!  I was certainly my team’s weakest link but their skills more than compensated for my lack thereof. Even the teachers were good sports and played in the games. On the sidelines I spoke with more students who were interested in my life back in the States.

Glorious, the English teacher at the secondary school, invited us to attend class tomorrow morning. We gladly accepted and look forward to learning along with our new Ugandan peers!

Abbie Weeks