April 17, 2017

Duke students spend spring break installing solar panels in Fresno

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

Fresno isn't the most obvious spring break destination, but it's where seven Duke students chose to spend their vacation this March. The team took part in Solar Spring Break, a program that engages university students in installing no-cost solar for low-income families.

Duke students captured their experience in this mini-documentary (created by senior Samuel Corwin with editing support from junior Dillon Fernando): 

This is the fourth year that GRID Alternatives, the nation's largest nonprofit solar installer, has organized Solar Spring Break. This year nearly 200 students from 15 universities participated in the program, which includes solar installations, neighborhood outreach, and renewable energy educational activities in low-income and tribal communities across the country. The Duke team was recruited and sponsored by the Duke University Energy Initiative in coordination with the university's Undergraduate Energy Club.

Students installed solar panels for a low-income household, a project that should reduce the Fresno homeowner's energy bill by at least 80%. (Watch local media coverage of the Duke team's project here and here.)

The students on this year's team are particularly interested in how food, water, and energy issues are interrelated—which is why they wanted to spend time in the agricultural hub of Fresno. They toured Fresno State's Water and Energy Technology Incubator, California's testing ground for innovative water irrigation efficiency solutions. They also met with Sarge Green, a project director at the California Water Institute, learning more about how California manages its agricultural water resources and the resulting energy demand.

The team included six Duke undergraduates and one graduate student:

  • Team leader: Shomik Verma - sophomore, mechanical engineering (Pratt School of Engineering)
  • Samuel Corwin -  senior, environmental science and policy and Asian and Middle Eastern studies (Nicholas School of the Environment; Trinity College of Arts & Sciences)
  • Amaree Gardner - sophomore, environmental science (Nicholas School of the Environment) 
  • Jenna Poplausky - senior, mechanical engineering (Pratt School of Engineering)
  • Harshvardhan Sanghi - freshman, mechanical engineering (Pratt School of Engineering)
  • Rui Shan - second-year, master's of environmental management (Nicholas School of the Environment)
  • Anuj Thakkar -  freshman, engineering (Pratt School of Engineering)

The Duke University Energy Initiative, which organized and sponsored the team, is an interdisciplinary hub for energy education, research and engagement at Duke, with the mission of advancing an accessible, affordable, reliable, and clean energy system. Each year, the Initiative supports dozens of outside-of-class opportunities to enrich the learning and career development of energy-interested students across Duke.

"We're developing the energy innovators of the future," notes Dr. Brian Murray, interim director of the Energy Initiative and director of the environmental economics program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. "This sector is rapidly changing. We want to position Duke students to step into impactful energy careers with a strong base of knowledge and experience—having engaged firsthand with professionals from across the industry."  

This is the second year that Duke students have taken part in the program with the Energy Initiative's support. Last year's team installed solar panels on the Chemehuevi reservation near Lake Havasu in California's Inland Empire region: 

Want to stay informed of energy events, opportunities, and news at Duke? Sign up for the Energy Initiative's email list.

Want to share your professional expertise with Duke students interested in energy? Contact Stacy Peterson.

Interested in other partnerships or in giving opportunities related to the Energy Initiative's education efforts? Contact Suellen Aldina.