What Else Can Solar Do?

Given the number of installations we are performing to meet customer demand, it is easy to forget some of the powerful opportunities solar has for many of our customers. Solar is inherently modular, which leads us to think that every system is a slight variation on the same technology, values and long term impacts.

It is refreshing and very exciting when we can demonstrate through effective collaborations and a listen first approach that the integration of solar systems into our built landscape has immediate and latent effects that far exceed the obvious and measurable benefits of clean power, on site power, emission free power and water free power.

A project example illustrates this point clearly.

Several years ago, LighthouseSolar won a commission and ultimately an IREC design award to design and install solar classrooms at 15 middle and high schools in Austin, TX. We collaborated with Austin Energy, Austin Independent School District, and a curriculum developer to deploy a solar classroom at each location for the student and teacher communities to use.

To inform our design approach, we asked the question: What would it look like to have Stonehenge meet the IPhone? We are guided by the fundamental principles that solar is also technology of mythic proportions and eternal time scales, yet we live in a world enabled and pressurized by technologies of instant and distributed connectivity.

For this, our solar classroom needed to serve both real design guidelines.

First, the solar classroom is monumental in aspect. Not that it is so big that is can’t intimately hold the attention of a small class of students, rather it is informed by systems scaled beyond our local experience. The movement of the sun is an experience shared by everyone on earth and while each location on earth has a slightly different experience it is worth remembering that a Greek geographer, Anaximander, calculated very closely the circumference of the globe by looking down a well in Egypt. The global is in the local. This sort of expansive curiosity is available upon casual but pointed interest in a solar system. Our classroom makes this more apparent due to the design elements. The structural supports align with the altitude of the sun at the summer solstice. The depth of the room is defined by the lowest sun angle at the winter solstice. Sun angles are also reflected within the tapered angle of the bench foundations that ring the classroom. The student can feel the shape of the solar ecliptic through their feet.

This brings us back to the power and breadth of the connectivity that the iPhone generation is growing into. The expansive question occurs to us: What will the generation look like and be capable of having experienced the sense of the sun coupled with the tools that hand held computers offer? It is more exciting in what is possible than what is quantifiable.

The solar classroom is also equipped with tools of the modern era. Electronic teaching tools, QR Codes, skype conferencing, weather data monitoring and solar production monitoring set up the ability to run experiments, track results and test hypotheses. These are also tools of sharing, global connectivity all in the context of primary education.

Solar energy is more than a commodity, more than an economic opportunity and more than a switch in the dominant energy paradigm. If culture is where science and imagination meet, then perhaps solar holds a deeper proposition to recast our culture in ways that we are yet to discover.

We continue to ask the simple question: What else can solar do? We invite you to inquire accordingly.