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

Support TWP When You Go Solar!

solar lighting

Trees, Water & People (TWP) and Benny Mosiman, an Energy Consultant with SolarCity (and a former intern at TWP), have joined forces to help homeowners lower their electricity costs with solar and help fund the Solar Energy and Tribal Renewable Energy Programs here at TWP. When you purchase a solar system through SolarCity and you mention Trees, Water & People as your referral, a $250 donation will be made to help fund our renewable energy programs in Central America and on tribal lands of the U.S.

The choice to get your electricity from the sun will not only benefit the environment and your wallet but will also help families in Central America and on Native American Reservations all across this country get their power from clean, renewable resources.

SolarCity installs solar PV systems with no up-front costs and sells the electricity back to the homeowner at a rate comparable to what you pay for electricity now, often times for a lower cost!  If you would like to set up a free site visit or just want to chat about your options for solar and see if it is a right fit for you please contact Benny at 720-387-5482 or bmosiman@solarcity.com. Don’t forget to mentions Trees, Water & People!

solarcity logo

Native American Trainees Install 1 Megawatt Solar Garden in Colorado

by Lacey Gaechter, National Director
Lafayette Colorado solar garden
Using the knowledge and experience gained from their classes at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, three of our Native American trainees are currently employed by Bella Energy to install a 1 megawatt photovoltaic “Solar Garden” in the city of Lafayette, Colorado.

Recently, I went down to support our friends at Bella, see the job site for the first time, and touch base with our students, Landon, Kale, and Jeff. Well, the job site was impressive. A 1 megawatt solar array is huge! The project is called the Lafayette Solar Garden. Funded by Xcel Energy’s Solar*Rewards Community Program, owned by the City of Lafayette, and available for use by residents and business in the town (“subscribers”), this is a tremendous community resource.

Bella Energy, an exceptional Colorado solar company (whose CEO, Jim Welch, helped found TWP’s Tribal Renewable Energy Program in 2002) is charged with the installation of the million watts of the Lafayette Solar Garden and subcontracted Lakota Solar Enterprises to help. So it came to be that Kale Means, Landon Means, and Jeff King were given this ideal opportunity to put their green jobs skills to use.

The City of Lafayette and local businesses will utilize the majority of the electricity generated by this solar garden resulting in annual cost savings and the offset of 1,034 metric tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of planting 27,883 trees and placing 213 zero-emission passenger vehicles on the road.

solar garden Lafayette ColoradoAll from the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, Jeff, Landon, and Kale have been chomping at the bit to start this gig and were excited to experience a new place – living in Erie, CO for the duration of the job. For my part, I was excited to see them after their fourth day on the job and see how things were going.

When I arrived, the guys were nowhere to be found. Jeff text me that they had to go to get haircuts. It was great to see the Bella folks and hear good things about the Lakota Solar Enterprises crew, but what the heck? I drove an hour to attend the dedication ceremony, and all Jeff, Kale, and Landon had to do was not leave. I called Jeff after the festivities were finished to find out what was so important about a haircut. Well, it turns out that it was Kale’s birthday and he wanted a haircut for his own celebration. Happy birthday Kale!

It’s so great to see our friends thriving in this new environment and on the job. Thanks to Bella and the City of Lafayette for this opportunity, and thanks to Landon, Kale, and Jeff for being such hard working, talented, and now well-manicured guys.

1 megawatt Solar Garden Colorado(Photos courtesy of Jon Becker, TWP Board President)

Go Solar and Support TWP!

solar heater southern ute reservation
When you go solar with SolarCity you will also help Native American families heat their homes with solar energy!

Trees, Water & People (TWP) and Benny Mosiman, an Energy Consultant with SolarCity (and a former intern at TWP), are combining forces to help homeowners lower their electricity costs with solar and help fund the Solar Energy and Tribal Renewable Energy Programs.  When you purchase a system through Benny and you mention Trees, Water & People, a $300 donation will be made to help fund these important programs.

The choice to get your electricity from the sun will not only benefit our environment and your wallet but will also help families in Central America and on Native American Reservations all across this country get their power from clean, renewable resources.

SolarCity installs solar systems with no up-front costs and sells the electricity back to the homeowner at a rate comparable to what you pay for electricity now, often times for a lower cost!  If you would like to set up a free site visit or just want to chat about your options for solar and see if it is a right fit for you please contact Benny at 720-387-5482 or bmosiman@solarcity.com. Don’t forget to mentions Trees, Water & People!

solarcity logo

Photo of the Week: Native Students Bring Clean Energy to Pine Ridge

installing solar panels

About this photo

Our Tribal Renewable Energy Program brings Native American students together to learn about clean energy technologies such as solar electric and wind. At a training co-hosted by Trees, Water & People and the National Wildlife Federation’s Tribal Lands Program, students from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe learned how to install a grid-tied solar PV system at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

To learn more about our efforts to bring clean energy and green jobs to Native American tribes please visit our website.

(photo by Alexis Bonogofsky)

Notes from the Field: Solar PV Training Brings More Renewable Energy to Pine Ridge

by Claire Burnett, National Program Assistant

solar PV training at Pine Ridge

Our new solar electric array at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center is now installed! Trainees from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe recently joined local Lakota trainees for three days of in-class instruction at our Solar Electric Training, followed by a hands-on installation, learning the ins and outs of solar electric design and installation.

Jeff Tobe with Solar Energy International (SEI) joined us for a second time as a guest instructor, and we received generous equipment donations from SEI, Advanced Energy, and Bella Energy. The install is an addition to our existing solar array, and a precursor to a larger array that will be installed on our new Red Cloud Training Annex early  this summer.

In addition, the training follows a historical coal mine protest on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation that we attended with our fellow trainees and friends, and we had a film crew on site for a documentary focusing on clean sources of energy on tribal lands.

Thank you to everyone who was involved in this training – what a success!

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