When woven strategically, sustainability can be the thread that runs through all facets of a just society. That’s what chemical engineering major Emily Clements ’18 has concluded over the course of her studies at Notre Dame. With her sustainability / CST capstone, Emily hopes to tie a piece of that thread into the South Bend community by designing and implementing a solar array on Our Lady of the Road (OLR), a drop-in laundromat and cafe run by St. Peter Claver Catholic Worker in downtown South Bend.
After taking an Urban Plunge seminar offered by the Center for Social Concerns, Emily added a Catholic Social Tradition (CST) minor. During the seminar, Emily spent several days of immersion in Columbus, OH, learning about the causes of poverty and its various dimensions. “It allows you to build relationships with people you don’t normally get to talk to and communicate with. [It’s a] refreshing way to see society more as a community instead of groups of people who are completely independent of each other,” Emily says. During her CST courses Emily began studying Laudato Si, which prompted her to think about how sustainability fit into CST themes and eventually led her to adopt the minor.
The roots of Emily’s thesis project can be traced back to the summer after her sophomore year when she did a Summer Service Learning Project at OLR. She lived and worked in the community – cooking meals, gardening and spending time with the guests. “It’s unlike a normal soup kitchen because it’s not just a line.” Emily says that this element really allowed her to get to know the community, which she loved. During her time at OLR, the staff were discussing how they’d like to have solar panels. This idea traveled with Emily for the next few years and is now ready to come to fruition in her thesis.
A project built on connections, Emily’s thesis has the support of solar companies Jordan Energy and Inovateous Solar. Notre Dame alumnus William Jordan founded Jordan Energy, which donates 10% of its profits to Let’s Share the Sun Foundation. William is excited about Emily’s project and eager to offer advice. Likewise, the CEO of Inovateous Solar is supportive of the project and will provide a helioscope, which is the typical pre-installation assessment for solar arrays. While she doesn’t yet know exactly how much the companies are willing to donate, Emily is encouraged by the general vibe of positivity.
Dr. Svetlana Neretina, associate professor in the college of engineering, is Emily’s thesis advisor and is teaching a course on designing solar arrays. While Emily didn’t have room in her schedule for the course, Dr. Neretina’s expertise has been invaluable for Emily, who began this project without any knowledge of solar. She says that one of the biggest challenges of her project has been all of the learning: “Not only about how photovoltaics work but also what a solar company does and what are challenges to solar energy and how different policies affect that.”
Our Lady of the Road
Emily has embraced this research and already drafted the solar array, estimating that there will be 157 panels that are tilted at 10 degrees. From tackling the logistics of installing solar panels to finding the funding, Emily has a lot ahead of her. “…the largest difficulty is that I feel like a lot of it’s not necessarily in my control,” she says. Yet the support she’s received and the need sees, keep her moving forward. While OLR, with its large electricity bills, would benefit financially from the solar array, the community also has a chapel that looks out onto the roof. To Emily, this makes the project all the more important as it would bring solar panels to those who don’t usually encounter them. Emily says, “Sustainability and especially solar energy is seen as upper class or upper middle class and just allowing everyone in the community to participate in that is really cool.”
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