When the young students of Domingo Massol Ramos School in the mountain town of Adjuntas, Puerto Rico saw tiny solar cars scoot along the ground powered only by light energy, they were amazed. Sparking more excitement and curiosity, students then shot elastic toys across the room, cranked flashlights, and created pinwheels to produce light from motion and experience the power of wind energy. This energy workshop, sponsored by the Center for Sustainable Energy at Notre Dame (ND Energy) in collaboration with its community partner, Casa Pueblo, was held during an open house on February 20 to celebrate the installation of solar panels on the school.
Representing ND Energy, Anne Berges Pillai, education and outreach associate program director, led the energy workshop. “The electricity in this region is so inconsistent that classes need to be canceled and food for lunches spoils. Renewable energy is life changing in situations like this, and educating the community about their options off the grid is an important component to making that transition,” said Pillai. Sixteen solar panels, donated by Resilient Power Puerto Rico, were installed on the school, and with new energy efficient refrigeration, the newly christened “solar school” will serve as a community energy oasis during the next power outage.
As part of its mission to influence global sustainable development, ND Energy connected the Let’s Share the Sun Foundation with Arturo Massol-Deyá, executive director of Casa Pueblo. The Foundation, a nonprofit organization, was formed by Notre Dame alumni Nancy Brennan-Jordan (’85) and William Jordan (’85) to facilitate the use of solar energy to enhance quality of life. Knowing that Adjuntas is striving to become the first solar town in Puerto Rico, the connection seemed to make sense and resulted in two families with medical needs having solar panels installed on their homes by a group of volunteers representing the Foundation at the same time the school was celebrating theirs.
Later in the afternoon, Casa Pueblo showcased another energy initiative led by José Alfaro, assistant professor of environmental practice at the University of Michigan. Alfaro and his team installed a biomass gasifier to convert waste materials into electricity as backup to solar. “Since coffee is an abundant agricultural product on the island, the waste from harvesting beans could be a major material for gasification,” said Pillai. Aflaro is among other experts who will share his research during ND Energy’s annual research symposium focused on waste-to-energy this spring.
Celebrating its fortieth year, Casa Pueblo has brought people together around community pride, sustainability, and resiliency. Having fought against open pit mining and the installation of oil pipelines through nearby forests, their efforts have resulted in Puerto Rico’s first community-managed forest reserve, Bopsque del Pueblo (the People’s Forest). In 2002, Casa Pueblo’s founder, Alexis Massol-González, won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for his work. After Hurricane Maria devastated the island’s electric grid in 2017, the solar panels that had been on the roof of Casa Pueblo for years enabled them to provide communication and medical assistance to those in the area. Since that time, they have added over 150 panels to homes with medical needs and are currently organizing a solar cooperative among the businesses in the central plaza in Adjuntas.
ND Energy first interacted with Casa Pueblo during Energy Week of 2018 when Massol-Deyá spoke on campus. The following fall, ND Energy led a group of twelve undergraduates to the island as part of a new capstone course, Puerto Rico: Road Map to a Renewable Future. During the weeklong immersion over fall break, the group learned about the complexities of the energy landscape from college students, politicians, business executives, and a think tank in San Juan before heading out to Casa Pueblo and experiencing rural life for themselves. Class participants are still actively engaged in learning and working with people they met on the trip. The seminar course will be offered again in the spring semester of 2021.
ND Energy is coordinating more opportunities for students to connect with Casa Pueblo and other professionals in San Juan for internships and research opportunities. Members of ND Energy’s Student Energy Board are also working on more renewable energy curriculum to share with the Domingo Massol Ramos School and Casa Pueblo. Additionally, undergraduate students from the Universidad del Sagrado Corazon and Universitario de Puerto Rico- Mayagüez have participated in summer research at Notre Dame through ND Energy’s Vincent P. Slatt Fellowship Program.
Anne Berges Pillai
Education and Outreach Associate Program Director
Center for Sustainable Energy at Notre Dame (ND Energy)
firstname.lastname@example.org / 574-631-9106
About ND Energy:
ND Energy is a University Research Center whose mission is to build a better world by creating new energy technologies and systems and educating individuals to help solve the most critical energy challenges facing our world today. For more information, visit the ND Energy website at energy.nd.edu or contact Barbara Villarosa, Business and Communications Program Director, at email@example.com or 574-631-4776.