Solar Spring Break 2018

October 17, 2018

by: Sam Laveson

spring break hark
After countless hours spent coordinating logistics, educating myself on solar energy and environmental justice, and fundraising, my big opportunity finally came! For a week in May, I flew to Sacramento, California, where I joined some other college students from across the country for “Solar Spring Break”. This is a program run through GRID Alternatives, an organization dedicated to making “renewable energy technology and job training accessible to underserved communities”. In this specific program, students spend a week around one of GRID’s offices going to low-income households and installing solar arrays rooftops.

Traditionally, colleges and universities form teams to participate in Solar Spring Break. However, because I was rather late finding out about this incredible opportunity and didn’t have enough time to organize a William & Mary team, I decided to join their inaugural Intercollegiate Team. There were only five of us, but we were a strong team, with presence from William & Mary, Texas Christian University, University of Nevada Reno, and a technical school in Colorado.

The solar-related portions of our week involved climbing up onto rooftops and starting from scratch to install solar arrays. There were professionals who guided us along through every step – from putting up flashings to connecting wires to prying up shingles to bending conduits. It was a great workout, and I did not need any prior experience to do a great job (which I did not have).

The technical and scientific components were complemented by further education on social and environmental justice. Before our program began, we all met through Skype a few times to discuss equality vs. equity; racial and ethnic diversity; and career paths in solar, among other things. During the program, the time that we were not on rooftops was spent learning about campaigning; putting together promotional materials to mail out; and touring ArchNexus, one of the world’s few LEED double platinum certified buildings.

Beyond all of this, there was ample time for us to bond as the inaugural Intercollegiate Team and make some awesome memories. While in Sacramento, we all lived together at a campsite and cooked all our meals collaboratively. We thoroughly enjoyed nightly campfires, cooking projects, a petting zoo, and some natural beauty at our housing site. We also enjoyed having Wednesday afternoon free to explore an art museum, the capitol building, and other attractions in Downtown Sacramento. Furthermore, we all kept miniature notebooks that we used to write notes to each other during daily reflections.

Should I participate in Solar Spring Break again, I would love to organize a William & Mary team to go to GRID’s office in DC and perform some more installations. Or, if not enough people from William & Mary are interested in / available to participate, I have also considered combining forces with other Virginia institutions to form a team. Alternatively, if I find myself too busy or unavailable to organize a team, then I will hopefully join an already existing team. Whatever ends up happening, I would love to be part of another Solar Spring Break to relive these experiences and have new ones.

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