Solar Panels on the Environmental House
My internship is a project to decrease the environmental impact of the Outhouse by installing solar panels and a solar water heater of the roof of the house. I believe that the value of this internship lies in its potential to serve as a demonstration project that will increase student awareness of alternative energy options on campus. My objectives were to:
1) Increase my own understanding of the process by which solar panels can be installed and used in residences.
2) Write a proposal to Whitman College requesting support and funding for the project.
3) Observe and participate in the actual installation of the solar system.
4) Analyze and publicize the positive effects that solar energy can have on the Whitman campus and in the community.
Part way through the semester, I came to realize that these were extremely lofty goals and that I would likely not complete them all this semester. This is due partly to logistics and complications, and partly to the fact that my initial research was very exciting and I went off on many tangents instead of sticking to my original objectives. However, I think that this was important for me as a student. At this point, I have completed my first and second objectives, and will submit my proposal to the College this week. I plan to continue my project next semester if Whitman agrees to grant me the funding for it.
One of the biggest challenges of this internship has been the lack of guidance I have received. Obviously there are no due dates, no specific requirements, and no examples to follow. This made it hard for me to focus my research efforts, especially since I never knew exactly which direction to go next. Also, the work I did for my internship often got squeezed in between my other commitments. I would find myself making a lot of progress one week and accomplishing nothing the next. This was extremely inefficient; however, I did improve as the semester continued.
Once of my favorite aspects of this internship has been learning about sustainability resources, mainly through Lea Redmond’s research from this summer. My main reason for proposing a solar energy project was that I am interested in alternative energy and sustainable living in general. It has been exciting to see what other campuses have already done in this area. I have been especially inspired by what I have learned about energy efficiency, both in terms of design and daily habits. One of my only complaints about the Outhouse is that I think we focus a little too much on random political activism and not enough on sustainability and reducing our own environmental impact. I think that one of the most effective ways of changing this is to increase the energy efficiency of the house, which can be done in extremely cheap and easy ways.
In order to make this internship more successful and easier on myself, I should have focused on making strong contacts, both in the Whitman community and in surrounding areas such as power companies and solar providers. It is much more effective to receive information from an expert and someone in the area than on the internet. Also, at this point I wish I had been better at dedicating a small amount of time each day to the project, instead of spending one whole afternoon each week on it. This way, if I problem arose, I would have been able to solve it in the next few days instead of getting frustrated by my internship and ignoring it for a week.
I think that my internship will be a large step towards making Whitman
a more environmentally aware and “greener” campus. I realize that having solar
energy at the Outhouse is largely symbolic, and I am glad that people are creating
a large, long-term campaign aimed at making Whitman a truly environmentally
friendly campus. But while this effort is still in the beginning stages, it
is possible to implement smaller changes now that will increase student awareness
and contribute to a more environmentally conscious atmosphere on this campus.