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Engineering students partner with nonprofit to bring solar power to area homes

Engineering students partner with nonprofit to bring solar power to area homes

A Durango-based nonprofit uses both a social system from the past and student talents from the present to make it affordable for Four Corners-area homeowners to add solar power systems to their homes. 

Solar Barn Raising is a community organization that brings together people who want to solarize their residences in La Plata County, Montezuma County, and Archuleta County,  to pool their labor to install each other’s solar systems. The group has coordinated photovoltaic system installations ranging from 1.2 kilowatts to 48 kilowatts on more than 160 homes and small businesses in the past four years.

“Solar Barn Raising provides technical design guidance and support as well as ordering solar parts, materials, and organizing solar installation activities,” says, adding the warning, “You must be an experienced do-it-yourselfer, willing to learn and promote solar, and you must be an active participant in your project. The group does not install solar power for you.”

While Solar Barn Raising coordinates the projects and installation teams, student interns from the FLC Physics & Engineering Department tackle the planning, technical design, permitting, budgeting, material acquisition, and implementation. 

“This partnership between Solar Barn Raising and Fort Lewis College aligns with the college’s dedication to preparing students for engaged citizenship, to changing social and economic inequalities, and to contributing to their communities,” explains Professor of Engineering Laurie Williams. “These future engineers experience first-hand real-world problems and gain valuable and applicable experience in problem solving, creativity, analytical thinking, collaboration, and communication.”

Senior Engineering major Eli Dickinson spent the summer of 2019 working a paid internship with Solar Barn Raising and is thankful for the opportunity. 

“It's just awesome being part of such a force for good," he says, “But the cool thing was that we were given a pretty wide range of responsibilities. As an intern, I was involved in every step of the design process, from initially contacting the homeowner and figuring out what they want from their system, all the way to designing it, material procurement, and then even supervising the installation.”

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