New Solar Furnace Design 100% Off Grid

off grid solar furnace

by John Motley, Assistant National Director

In 2003, Trees Water & People (TWP) partnered with Colorado State University to design a solar air heating system that could be manufactured entirely by our tribal partner Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE), a 100% Native-owned and operated company located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  Over these 12 years, TWP and LSE have built and distributed over 900 solar air furnaces, saving Native American families over $6.4 million in heating bills. This year, we are looking to make this system even more affordable, while at the same time taking it completely off the grid.

Over the winter, we invested in research and development of this new system. There were a few hurdles to overcome before we could make this a reality. First, we needed the system to function entirely on direct current (DC), as this is the type of electricity that Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels produce.   Second, we needed to move a comparable amount of air through the system so that we could maintain the same thermal efficiency as our previous system. And finally, we had to achieve all of this while using far less energy, as we would be working with a 35W solar panel as opposed to drawing from the home’s electricity.

To meet these challenges, we worked from two angles. One was using a new direct current (DC) that would power not only the fan but also the thermostat and shutoff mechanisms. Second, we redesigned the duct work to streamline the air flow, lessening the drag and back pressure caused by the serpentine ducting necessary with the old fan’s system. Last, we changed the design of the stand for the panel, as it was no longer necessary to house the cumbersome old fan and its duct work.

Woman and Solar Heater (Dan Bihn)
TWP and LSE have built and installed over 900 solar furnaces for Native American families living on tribal lands.

With the help of a knowledgeable board member with a background in computer cooling systems, we found a DC fan that could move as much air through the Solar Air Furnace as the previous model. This allowed us to begin designing a off grid system that would provide its own energy to bring heat into the home.  By simplifying the ducting, we were able to bring down the overall cost of the system, while improving airflow. We can now insure that this new heating system will be far more efficient and will save the user even more money on their overall energy needs.

Trees Water & People, in collaboration with our partner Lakota Solar Enterprises, is looking forward to implementing this design in all new systems this summer. Our first off grid furnace will be installed in mid-April. Stay tuned for updates!

For questions or to learn more about TWP’s solar furnaces please contact John Motley at john@treeswaterpeople.org.

Tribal Renewable Energy Program

Studies Abroad for Global Education (SAGE) Offsets Student Travel

SAGE logo

Studies Abroad for Global Education (SAGE) is one of those organizations that stands out among the pack!  SAGE not only provides high-quality study abroad programs to youth and educators, they also take great care in running a sustainable travel business that respects Mother Earth.

SAGE and Trees, Water & People (TWP) have partnered in several capacities over the years, including leading a volunteer work trip to Honduras in 2011. Now, as part of SAGE’s commitment to sustainable and responsible travel, all of SAGE’s students have the ability to offset their travel carbon footprint. For every offset made, SAGE matches it dollar-for-dollar through TWP’s Carbon Offset Program!

To date, SAGE has matched 298.5 tons of carbon offsets, supporting the construction of solar air heating systems on Native American reservations of the U.S. that greatly reduce heating bills for families in need while reducing green house gas emissions that lead to climate change. Thanks to SAGE, we are able to help communities reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and make the transition towards clean, renewable alternatives like solar.

To learn more about SAGE and their sustainability initiatives please visit http://www.sageprogram.org/about/sustainability

solar heating system
A solar heating system is installed on a new straw bale home at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home of the Oglala Lakota Tribe.

Notes from the Field: Providing Lakota Families with the Gift of Heat

by Rachel Blomberg, TWP Donor

Rachel Blomberg is a Cornell University student who raised over $2,000 for Trees, Water & People to install solar heaters on the homes of Lakota families living on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Last month, she flew to the reservation to help install the solar heaters. She details her experience below:

“My project could not have unfolded more perfectly.  As soon as I stepped off the plane in Rapid City, South Dakota, Darrell Red Cloud and another volunteer, Rachael Maddox, were there to pick me up and drive me out to Lakota Solar Enterprises on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  On the way, we stopped at the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Home Improvement Program (HIP) office to speak with the inspector administration assistant, Clarence Yellow Hawk Sr., who chose the homes for this installation.

Upon booking my flights to return to Pine Ridge, I was unsure if we would be able to accomplish more than one installation.  However, once I got to the home of Henry Red Cloud at Lakota Solar Enterprises, I became aware that we would be doing not just one, but three solar panel installations that week. This was possible because of the generosity of donors to Trees, Water & People’s Global Giving and carbon offset fundraisers.

The very next day after I arrived, Henry Red Cloud, me, and six other crew members associated with this solar air heater installation project loaded up the Solar Warrior Wagon with all our supplies and drove to the home of Gillard Good Voice Flute, who lives with three other elderly men.  Gillard and his family, or “tiospaye”, are one of the lucky ones to receive a new HIP home from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Oglala Sioux Tribe, one of only about 10-14 homes built per year for families in need of housing.  This made his home ideal for a solar air heater installation, as these homes are moderately insulated and powered by electricity, not propane.

While Henry instructed everyone on how to properly install the heating system, we all worked together to get the solar panel in place, the duct work run below the floors of the home, the air vents positioned in the floors, and the thermostat installed in the inside of the home.  After a full day of work, we accomplished our goal of giving the gift of heat.  However, we like to tell the home owners, “You just got solared!” instead.

After working on the home of Gillard, the next day we accomplished another installation at the home of Wanda and Darrell Walking, and the following day we installed one more at the home of Mike Merrival.  All three of these solar air heaters will heat homes for families with elderly and children, and will help a family’s heating and electricity bill decline by 30% a month.  As long as the sun is shining, as it does for 300 days a year out at Pine Ridge, these families will have free heat running through their homes, even when the temperatures drop below -40 degrees Fahrenheit.  These solar air heating systems not only provide some relief for families living at life-or-death poverty rates, they also reduce negative environmental impacts caused by heating a home with electricity or propane while helping this nation’s Native peoples become energy independent.

One of the most important things that happened this week was spreading the word about my project to others.  The first day I was there, a separate group from Massachusetts was helping build straw bale homes at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center.  When they heard about what I had accomplished with my project, they decided that they would also try to complete the same goals and bring more solar air heaters to Pine Ridge.”

Thank you to Rachel for all her hard work and dedication to the Lakota people! You can have the same impact that Rachel did by donating to this project, directly supporting Trees, Water & People’s Tribal Renewable Energy Program.

 

 

 

YES! Magazine Honors Henry Red Cloud—One of the “YES! Breakthrough 15″

Henry Red Cloud
Henry Red Cloud- One of YES! Magazine's "Breakthrough 15"
Henry Red Cloud, TWP’s Tribal Program partner and founder of Lakota Solar Enterprises, has been named one of the “YES! Breakthrough 15”—a group of people who are “tuned in to the deepest needs of our time,” says YES! Magazine executive editor Sarah van Gelder. YES! asked heroes from the grassroots—such as Pete Seeger, Naomi Klein, Wendell Berry, and Eve Ensler—to name 15 people whose work is creating the most important solutions and transforming the way we live.

YES! recognizes Red Cloud’s leadership in bringing renewable energy, sustainable development, and cultural renewal to some of the lowest-income communities in the nation, on reservations.

“Tribes are under intense pressure to allow their lands to be punctured by fossil fuel development. Red Cloud is showing that there is another path out of poverty,” says award-winning journalist Naomi Klein, who selected Red Cloud for the issue.

The newly released winter issue of YES! Magazine marks the publication’s 15th anniversary as an ad-free, independent magazine. To read the full article please visit http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/the-yes-breakthrough-15/henry-red-cloud-solar-warrior-for-native-america

Congrats to Henry! We are honored to work with such an inspirational, forward-thinking person. Was-te!

Notes from the Field: Colorado Homeless Families’ Housing Goes Solar

A resident of Colorado Homeless Families' housing stands next to her newly installed solar heating system.

By Jon Becker, TWP Board President

I knew this day (September 22) was going to be special, even before I showed up.  I’ve been on the crew for several solar heating sytsem installations with Henry Red Cloud and Lakota Solar Enterprises – so I was familiar with the technology, the process, even the warm and appreciative response from the beneficiaries.  In the past, the recipients have always been Native Americans on reservations, which means I get to interact with wonderful people who live with a deep connection to culture and spirit and this land.

Today, for the first time, we’re off the Rez.  Instead of the Dakotas or Montana, we’re in the Arvada suburb of Denver, and instead of an esteemed member of the Oglala Lakota or the Northern Cheyenne, today’s installation will go on the home of a recently immigrated family from the Ukraine, that’s owned by the wonderful non-profit Colorado Homeless Families.  They’ve developed 45 properties in Arvada to serve as transitional housing to help keep newly poor families from falling into the deeper trap of chronic homelessness and poverty.  We started with coffee and conversation with CHF’s board and volunteers, including dynamic Executive Director Connie Zimmerman.  It was remarkable to learn about the very impressive program they have developed.  Then we walked across the street to start work on our installation – a solar heating system for the 100 year old building that was the original farm house for the property.  Henry’s crew, which included two of his sons, got to work scouting out the site, identifying where to mount the collector and locate the connections into the house.  Connie’s team dove right in too.

Colorado Homeless Families goes solar!

The changing face of homelessness, as well as the global nature of our efforts, was demonstrated by a gentleman from the Congo, with a PhD in engineering and now a resident in Colorado Homeless Families’ housing, who jumped in and helped dig postholes with us.  Lakota mingled with Ukrainian and African, TWP volunteers and CHF staff, board, family and friends.  The rain, always threatening, never did more than lightly sprinkle.  We dug, drilled, lifted, caulked, wired, lunched, talked – and had that amazing experience that the Lakota Solar Enterprises system delivers:  in the same day you go from scratch to an installed working heating system.

I asked our new Ukrainian friend if she had ever heard of a solar heating system, back in the old country.  “No!” she laughed, so I figured that I didn’t need to follow up with the question of whether she could ever imagine that one day in America she would have such a system installed on her home by a crew of Native Americans.  What a great day!

The next day Henry and his crew returned to Arvada and installed a second system on CHF’s office/community building in the same neighborhood.  This installation will serve as a great demonstration of the technology, and will benefit the staff and the local residents who use the space.  Trees, Water & People, Lakota Solar Enterprises, and Colorado Homeless Families are in discussions to explore possibilities of bringing more heating systems to their properties.  Opportunities to conduct installation trainings are also being considered.  At TWP, we could hardly be more excited and pleasantly surprised to see this relationship unfolding.  We didn’t really plan to expand our program to bring jobs and clean energy to the Reservations in this way, but once gain, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.  Stay tuned to hear how this project progresses.

Yellow Hair Family to Receive Solar Air Heater and New Pallet Home

Solar Air Heater
TWP’s Solar Air Heaters, like the one pictured here at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, reduce a family’s monthly utility bill by 20-30% for up to 25 years.

Thanks to TWP’s supporters on Causes.com, we far surpassed our $2,800 fundraising goal to provide solar air heaters to Native American families. To date, we have raised nearly $7,000 from 322 donors!  With these funds we will provide three different Native American families with solar air heating systems, giving them free, clean heat for years and years to come.

Walter and Alison Yellow Hair
Walter and Alison Yellow Hair watch the construction of their new house on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

The Yellow Hairs are one of these families.  Right now, our partner organization, Earth Tipi, in partnership with Texas Natural Builders, is constructing Walter and Alison Yellow Hair a new pallet home from reclaimed materials.  This new, sustainable house will provide much better protection from, and insulation against, the harsh South Dakota winters than their current mobile home, which was originally headed for the dump when they inherited it.  With huge holes in its walls, such a poor structure can be deadly in the extreme weather of the Great Plains.  We believe that every family is deserving of dignified and comfortable housing that is properly heated and we are so lucky to have supporters who feel the same way.

Now, Walter and Alison will enjoy a new home and a new source of clean, free heat with a TWP solar air heater.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the fundraiser and helped make a significant improvement in Walter and Alison’s lives!  Your contributions mean so much to the Native American families who are struggling each day to survive. Stay tuned to learn more about the other families who will receive solar heaters.

Interested in contributing to the building of Walter and Alison’s new home? Please click here to learn more about how you can help!

Click here to join the Solar Energy for Lakota Families cause on Facebook and help us spread the word about solar energy for Native American families living on tribal lands.