Volunteer Voices: Sustainable Energy on Native Lands

by Kirstin Moore, TWP Development Intern

It’s saddening to witness America’s Native people living in such poor, inadequate conditions. The Lakota were forced to migrate to the Pine Ridge Reservation, and after decades of oppression many of them are now unemployed, suffering from malnutrition, and unable to meet their basic needs. Some people living on the reservation have little to no access to the electrical grid. For others, electricity is available but the cost of the utility is impractical.

Upon arrival to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC), you are immediately welcomed by a huge mural with the words Hau Kola painted in large letters, which translates to “Greetings Friends.” It is a place where like-minded people who share a similar vision are able to connect. It all began with what Henry Red Cloud calls a “hot-air collector.” He was building his own when his curiosity led him to form a natural relationship with Trees, Water & People (TWP).

Photo by Kirstin Moore

Thanks to the supporters of TWP, a week-long workshop was held to educate Native Americans on how to build and maintain off-grid solar systems. What would have been a thousand-dollar training session was free for those interested in participating. People came from on and off the reservations, including Standing Rock, with the intention of spreading the word of harvesting sunlight as an energy source and job creator.

Professionals from Solar Energy International (SEI) taught us how to generate electricity through the simple task of monitoring the sun. Our team developed off-grid, 12 volt solar light buckets and a small 48 volt trailer with the ability to power lights, computers, pumps, and tools. The most amazing aspect of the training was that no matter your skill level, you were able to gain an understanding of what solar power can do and how the systems operate.

Cedric Goodhouse of the Standing Rock Tribe and Lawrence Richards of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation connect wiring on a donated Magnum inverter.  Photo by Dave Bowden

For example, I learned that the PV panel converts solar energy into electrical energy; the charge controller regulates the amount of charge going in/out of the battery, and the inverter changes DC current to AC current and vice versa. Within a week, I had advanced from stripping wires to wiring components.

One merely has to look around, read some news, and watch a little television to understand there is a dire need for sources of clean energy. This innovative technology is affordable and can be applied as a method to reduce energy consumption from the grid and encourage self-sufficiency through renewable energy.

To learn more about the events and workshops of Trees, Water & People, or how to get involved, please sign up for our monthly newsletter.

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Mobile Power Station Workshop: Creating Energy Independence for Native American Communities

by Art Rave, Mobile Power Station Workshop participant 

I recently attended a mobile solar workshop at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. The amount of information and the training I received at the center was wholeheartedly impressive. During the first few hours of the workshop, I started to learn the basics of solar energy and how solar energy systems work. Within the first few days of hands on training, I began to truly understand how the solar power energy systems operate. On last day of the workshop, I was ready to take all that I learned back to my community on the Cheyenne River Reservation and begin promoting the absolute necessity of solar energy.

Art Rave at Mobile Power Station workshop
Art Rave (left) receives hands-on wiring instruction by instructor Jason (right) of Remote Energy. Photo by Dave Bowden.

As a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, I understand first hand exactly what energy independence can mean to a struggling community. The vast diversity of organizations that partner with RCREC is a testament to the hard work and indomitable spirit of those at the center and the allies supporting it. Everyone was absolutely dedicated to the environment and sustainable energy. I was fortunate enough to have time to meet some awe-inspiring and dedicated individuals from Trees, Water & People. Their dedication to the environment is reflected by the hard work, devotion, and enthusiasm apparent in each of their employees. The solar energy instructors are an amazing group of educators with years of experience in the field. The passion they showed in helping our Native American communities is inspiring to all!

Carol and Art at Mobile Power Station Workshop
Instructor Carol (bottom center) teaches Art (front right) and the other workshop participants to read the labels on the back of a solar panel in order to connect it to the correct electrical system.

The solar energy instructors are an amazing group of educators with years of experience in the field. The passion they showed in helping our Native American communities is inspiring to all! Overall, what a great place to learn and share! The food, lodging, and staff were terrific! I cannot wait to attend another workshop with Henry and his amazing group of partners in renewable and sustainable energy!

To learn more about the events and workshops of Trees, Water & People, please sign up for our monthly newsletter.

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Cante wasteya nape ciyuzapelo (With a Good Heart, I Take Your Hand)

by Kristin Lester, WE SHARE Solar Ambassador 

The sacred ancestral land of the Sioux holds many memories and stories.  Stories, of great warriors and leaders, of wisdom, of culture, and of reverence for the earth.  The land also holds stories of a long history of injustice, genocide, and trauma linked to colonization, and the extraction of non-renewable resources for the purpose of industrialization.

Today, as an unprecedented number of Tribes gather in solidarity in North Dakota, as protectors of the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples, and the earth and waters (our common heritage); a new story is being written. However, we must also make note that the demonstrated leadership of Tribal Nations extends beyond the front lines of non-violent direct action.

Tribal Nations are deeply engaged at the community-based level to address the perils of climate change. Tribal governments, community-based organizations, schools, and individuals are committed to exemplary solutions-based innovation, and policies related to housing, food sovereignty, education, and renewable energy. Examples of this community-based leadership can be found in tribal communities across the United States. Most recently it was demonstrated at a small teacher workshop at the Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

In Aug of 2016 the Red Cloud Indian School in collaboration with Trees, Water & People, We Share Solar, and Lakota Solar Enterprises held a teacher curriculum workshop as part of their paid continuing education and 2016-17 school year preparation.  The We Share Solar Education Program curriculum developed by WE CARE Solar is centered around the hands on construction of a small portable solar electric system to provide basic lighting and charging for small electronics. The curriculum has four major components: 1) innovative solar energy technology 2) integrated mathematics for application of energy systems 3) engineering and 4) global energy use.

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The science teachers of the Red Cloud Indian School assembling a Solar Suitcase from WE SHARE Solar’s curriculum.

The curriculum is designed to help educators engage middle, and high school students in project based Solar Energy curriculum to improve STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills, solar energy knowledge, and awareness of sustainable development.

Katie Montez, a science teacher at the Red Cloud Indian School, says, “Solar suitcases not only mesh smoothly with existing science curriculum but also invite the incorporation of other subjects, it is innately interdisciplinary. This curriculum is made with the student, educator, and community in mind.  I feel very supported by this curriculum and its accessibility, as well as its dynamic nature.”

Indeed, the beauty of this curriculum is that it a guide for teachers, to not only introduce basic principles and components of solar electricity but to serve as a platform to develop and layer other subjects within the curriculum.  The hope is that teachers and communities will take the curriculum and make it their own by incorporating history, art, language and story that provides relevance, and guides students toward the best use of technology at the community-based level.

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Red Cloud Indian School teachers (From Left: Katie Montez, Michael Baranek, Ana Conover, and We Share Solar Ambassadors (Linda Gaffney, and Kristin Lester) with a completed solar suitcase.

The We Share Solar Suitcase will undoubtedly prepare students with a foundation of knowledge and skills to prepare them for careers in Solar Energy. However, it is ultimately about inspiring youth with a sense of empowerment to help their own communities develop and meet their goals related to renewable energy and regenerative communities.

Workshop participant and Red Cloud Indian School physics teacher, Anne Conover, reflected,  “An influx of youth who are knowledgeable and excited about solar energy has the potential to change the energy landscape during a time when tribal lands and sovereignty are threatened by non-renewable energy development.”

By virtue of being human, we are all stewards of the earth. We cannot protect the beauty and ecological diversity of the planet without honoring, and protecting the wisdom and cultural diversity to which is inextricably linked. The time is now for acknowledgment and healing of the United States’ long history of ecological destruction and cultural genocide related to non-renewable energy development, and failed educational policy.

In service to ecological and cultural prosperity, we must root deeply in community, and inspire innovation and empowerment for future generations.  Together in solidarity, we have the fortitude, perseverance, and wisdom to create a new story of a regenerative and just world.

 

With a good heart, I take your hand (Cante wasteya nape ciyuzapelo).   

 

~Kristin Lester

 

To learn more about how the We Share Solar curriculum can help meet your tribe’s goals related to education and renewable energy, please contact Trees Water People’s Director of Tribal Programs; Richard Fox at Richard@treeswaterpeople.org

If you are interested in supporting tribal community-based efforts toward renewable energy education, please support Trees Water People and our work with tribal leaders, youth, and community-based organization. Donations can be directed to:
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The views expressed here do not represent that of any one organization. They are solely those of Kristin Lester, a renewable energy professional, and advocate for social justice and ecological stewardship. 

Special thanks to the following collaborators for their shared vision and support of the We Share Solar workshop at the Red Cloud Indian School: Richard Fox (Trees Water People), Hal Aronson, Gigi Goldman, and Linda Gaffney (We Share Solar), Clare Heurter (Red Cloud Indian School), Henry Red Cloud (Lakota Solar Enterprises), Johnny Weiss (Johnny Weiss Solar Consulting LLC) and the Wellemeyer family (Louise, John, James and Douglas).

Notes from the Field: Summer Update from Tribal Lands

Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE) and Trees, Water & People (TWP) are continuing our efforts to help Native American communities move towards energy independence. This week we are conducting a solar air heater workshop and installing ten solar air heating systems for the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe in northeast South Dakota. The training is teaching twelve tribal members about the uses of solar energy and how to install the energy saving solar heating systems. These solar heaters push the number of total systems the LSE/TWP team has built and installed for tribal families to more than 1,000 systems. Additionally, the vast majority of these systems made at the LSE manufacturing facility at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

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Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe members installing a solar air heater during a training with Lakota Solar Enterprises and Trees, Water & People.

 

It is also the first major installation of our new Off-Grid Solar Heaters, which now operate solely on solar power! Heat is provided even if the grid goes off, as it is apt to do all across Native American Reservations. After this training is completed, the tribe has discussed getting 21 more systems and will use their trained workforce to get them installed.

Next, LSE will be taking down the old defunct wind turbine tower at the Kili Radio Station on Pine Ridge. Friends will install a new 10 kW Bergey wind turbine there in September, and a bit later Henry and the LSE crew will install another 6 kW solar electric array. A few years ago LSE installed a 5 kW solar electric array there, as well as one of their solar air heaters. Together, this should reduce the Radio stationed huge electric and heating bills by more than half.

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Henry Red Cloud (left) leads a solar panel installation training at the Kili Radio Station in 2013.

Training and demonstrations like these are possible because of you, our supporters! Your contribution helps build job skills for Native Americans while also reducing CO2 emissions. Please donate today to keep programs like these going into the future.

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Guest Blog: The Five Worst Things You Can Do for the Planet

by Jessica Reynolds, Community Manager at Solar Action Alliance

The bottom line is that the worst thing an individual can do is to increase – or not reduce – his or her carbon footprint. In other words, each of us needs to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants our activities produce as much as possible.

There are a number of things an individual can do that are truly bad for the planet, but perhaps the five that are the most common are:

Wasting energy, especially fossil fuel-based energy

bulbThere is a lot we do that wastes energy. Given that most energy is still generated by fossil fuels such as coal and oil, energy production still results in massive amounts of greenhouse gasses. The worst thing an individual can do, therefore, is to waste energy.

For example: leaving unnecessary lights on; allowing unused appliances, including computer monitors, to continue to run; using incandescent light bulbs; washing your laundry in hot water, not monitoring your energy usage, not installing thermostats and timers, and not replacing old appliances with ‘green’ versions. The US Department of Energy provides a great deal of information about what items and activities waste energy.

Wasting Water

Water is an increasingly valuable resource, especially in some parts of the world. Wasting or overusing water is a serious way to negatively impact our planet.

As stated on the Oxford Brookes University website, “Water scarcity has knock on effects not just for drinking water supplies. Food production can be affected, while landscapes can be altered and degrade without sufficient water [and] both the pumping and cleaning of water requires energy. As the majority of energy used in water sanitation comes from fossil fuels, these resources are also depleted, while additional greenhouse gases are emitted”.

Not Recycling

trashNot recycling negatively impacts the planet in several ways. Firstly, by sending all our household waste to landfills we introduce items that release toxins into the soil, groundwater, and air. A huge amount of our  junk, especially plastic of various kinds, finds its way into the oceans and seas where it kills marine creatures. Secondly, if you don’t “recycle” wasted food by composting it, it ends up in a landfill and rots and produces methane gas, which is a big greenhouse gas culprit.

Engaging in greenhouse gas and other pollutant generating activities

There are a lot of things we do each day that are bad for our planet because they generate pollutants of various kinds. One of the many things that has a negative impact is using your private motor vehicle on daily commutes. You could also buy a vehicle that guzzle fossil fuels and produces high levels of emissions. Instead use public transport, cycle, carpool, or even walk.

Additionally, you could eat a great deal of meat because as author and journalist Adria Vasil points out, “51 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs, and poultry”.

Buying products that are resource greedy or toxic

waterMany products we use often are bad for our planet. For instance, indulging our passion for denim and taste for bottled water is not good for the planet. Both products involve production processes that use vast amounts of both fossil fuel energy and water. This means both manufacturing processes use a scarce resource and belch CO2 into the air.

A lot of products we purchase and use daily like soap, detergent, cleaning agents, and other personal care products contain chemicals, toxins and, in some cases, hormones. These find their way into the air, soil, and water through landfill seepage etc. Buying products in non-biodegradable packaging such as plastic and styrofoam also harms the planet.

However…

… If you want to work to heal the planet there are numerous websites, such as One Green Planet, and organizations that provide really helpful practical tools and tips.

Given many of these five are linked either directly or indirectly to the use of fossil fuels and their negative impact, isn’t it time to consider moving to clean, sustainable energy? Solar energy ticks all the right environmental boxes, and so many others too. For information on solar and related topics, visit the Solar Action Alliance.

If you want to help underprivileged communities in Central America and on Tribal Lands in the United States have access to renewable energy, please consider making a donation.

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Jessica Reynolds is a Community Manager at Solar Action Alliance. She loves her Brittany spaniel named Frankie, traveling, Michigan summers, and helping promote sustainable energy.

Solar Action Alliance is a group of environmentalists who want to spread the word about the cleanest, most reliable and abundant source of renewable energy: the sun.

 

 

 

 

Access to Clean Energy: From Pilot Project to Sustainable Enterprise

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In 2011, armed with a grant awarded under the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA), nonprofit organization Trees, Water & People launched an initiative to increase the use of clean technologies in several Latin American countries. That pilot project has since spawned a social enterprise that is making solar lighting products accessible to customers in rural areas of Central America.

It all began with a three-year, $1.2 million ECPA grant awarded by the U.S. State Department to Colorado-based Trees, Water & People (TWP) for an initiative called “Improving Access to Clean Energy in Latin America.” The goal was to develop effective ways to reach off-grid markets with climate-friendly products such as clean cookstoves, solar lanterns, and small solar home systems.

While such products provide tangible benefits—cleaner indoor air, reduced expenditures on conventional energy, and higher-quality lighting and cooking—a major challenge is how to create a sustainable supply chain to reach markets with the greatest need. Last-mile distribution is complex, unpredictable, and expensive. Roads are sometimes impassable, mobile communications are often unreliable, and many rural households have no access to financing.

TWP worked hand in hand with a social enterprise called PowerMundo—which had tackled some of these problems in Peru—and with partners in Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador to develop a sustainable commercial model for hard-to-reach areas in Central America.

After trying several different approaches, TWP found that existing rural institutions such as agricultural cooperatives, nongovernmental organizations, and rural savings and loans groups could be effective distributors and retailers of the clean-technology products. Since such groups often already have a credit relationship with small-scale farmers for agricultural investments, they can provide these same farmers with the payment terms they need to invest in products that have a true impact on their lives.

solar light Honduras

Last year, TWP took a step toward making the initiative sustainable by establishing a social enterprise called Luciérnaga LLC (the name means “firefly”) to serve Central America with solar lighting products. “We wanted to create a vehicle through which the project could continue to grow,” explained TWP International Director Sebastián Africano.

Luciérnaga fills a business niche by providing a link between manufacturers and small local distributors. It imports solar lighting products in bulk to a central location in El Salvador, handling logistical details and ordering in large enough quantities to keep the price per unit low. The items can then be distributed over land to partners and clients throughout the region, in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala. Any profits would be reinvested in the company.

The growth of this business model and the birth of Luciérnaga as an independent company with an international presence show how short-term grant funding can be leveraged toward longer-term sustainable development objectives, according to Africano.

Today, TWP is working to standardize its methods in each country and implement a mobile phone-based monitoring system where distributors can keep track of their sales, collections, and warranty processes through a common online database. The goal is to keep costs low and provide a new source of income for rural individuals and institutions while potentially reaching millions of households in Central America that don’t have access to electricity.

Since launching this program, Luciérnaga and PowerMundo have sold close to 10,000 solar lighting products through their networks, providing illumination, device-charging capabilities, healthier households, and over $200 in cash savings per year, per product, to more than 50,000 people in Latin America.

This post was originally published by the Energy and Climate Partnership of Americas. To view the original blog post click here.

Project Update: Lighting homes in rural Honduras

solar light Honduras

Nearly 50% of the 600 solar household lighting systems we sent to Honduras have been installed. We’re providing 1,200 new LED light points, 600 USB charging ports for cell phones and other small devices, and a new level of dignity for rural families that have lived their entire nocturnal lives by the light of candles, low quality flashlights, and contaminating kerosene lamps. Donors to our Catapult project helped to fund 125 of the lights in this shipment, allowing us to reach many more families in need of clean energy solutions for their homes.

Get personal

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Miriam Leonel Bonilla

“Many of our customers used to use ocote (a local pine that is used as a candle), and the smoke really bothered them. Or else they would buy candles and flashlights, and that was really expensive. They are very happy with their plantitas – solar lights!” -Miriam Leonel Bonilla, solar light user and distributor, Las Marías, Honduras

Risks and challenges

Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and our vendors and promoters live with risk every day. We are lucky to have a dedicated team of people across the country that see the opportunities that exist in solar energy. They believe that the benefits that solar energy brings to their families and communities who buy the systems outweigh the challenges in getting them into the field.

What we’ve learned

solar light HondurasThis order of Barefoot Power solar household systems were our first test of a new international supply chain that has us ordering product in bulk to a central warehouse in El Salvador, from which the products are distributed by land to four different countries. Every step of that process contained a lesson in how to be more efficient in getting these products to the families that need them most. On a macro level, we have learned that we have one of the most innovative approaches to getting products to several Central American countries at once. In Honduras, we have learned that whoever can provide households with the best customer experience will be the one to succeed in expanding the great opportunities in renewable energy for the developing world.

Next steps

Working with social impact technology company Dimagi, we will be piloting a new mobile data collection app called CommSell. This app will allow our field staff to complete surveys on an Android phone, in the field, and automatically populate a database that tells us where our products are, how long they’ve been there, and how much money they are saving users. We can also use this information to conduct follow-up visits and maintenance as needed.