Archive for the 'Ohio' Category

The House that Trash Built – Columbus, OH

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Story submitted by Barbara Revard

Nearly ten years ago the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium realized the need to build a new barn for our goats, sheep, ponies, llamas and chickens. This realization was no small endeavor as these domestic animals are easily one of the biggest attractions to our youngest visitors!


As with most planning projects, we quickly had too many GREAT ideas! What began as a little red barn ended up as a new region of the Zoo, Habitat Hollow, a “place with space for everyone”. The main attraction of Habitat Hollow is My House, an interpretive storybook house where our guests are engaged with the natural beauty of habitats found right in their own backyards. The educational theme for My House highlights the beauty and diversity of North American habitats and the diversity of life found within them.

columbuszoo-2-2.jpg columbuszoo-3.jpg columbuszoo-2.jpg

The Zoo made a commitment early in the planning process to engage community partners in exploring innovative building processes and practices. The Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (they manage our local landfill) assisted us in collecting polystyrene lunch trays from 70 schools in our area. When cleaned, those trays were an ingredient in a manufacturing process, along with concrete, to create building blocks which form the exterior walls of My House. Literally, the trash that built the House. Other green elements are detailed in the illustration below.


Certainly, when talking about living more lightly on the earth, energy consumption is a topic to discuss.

The Zoo was assisted in installing a 1 kilowatt solar system on My House, by:

  • Third Sun Renewable Energy (especially Geoff Greenfield)
  • American Electric Power who donated the solar panels (especially John Hollback and Paul Loeffelman)
  • The Foundation for Environmental Education (especially Glen Kizer)

columbuszoo-9.jpg columbuszoo-10.jpg columbuszoo-11.jpg

The panel is functioning both by producing electricity, and also as serving an educational opportunity for our guests. Inside the kitchen of the house are a meter and an interpretive panel. When visitors exit the kitchen of the house, a solar panel is visible on the roof overhead. One of the main intentions at My House was to highlight actions that our visitors could participate in at their own homes. While some families might be able to invest in a solar system, apartment owners might find container gardening on their patio the best fit. We just hope to provide options and inspiration for various green endeavors!

No home would be complete without a garden shed and ours is illuminated with a light tube, also courtesy of the Foundation for Environmental Education. The small unit fits into a hole in the roof and sheds light throughout the interior display. Guests are always surprised when they realize that the light in the shed is all provided by one small, unobtrusive light tube.

columbuszoo-6.jpg columbuszoo-5.jpg columbuszoo-8.jpg
Don’t think we forgot about the goats and the ponies that started this project! My Barn also contains green building materials including reused timbers from an old barn, recycled content siding, shingles and a rain barrel. Habitat Hollow also uses an old fashioned windmill to power the aeration pump in our farm pond.

You might wonder, “Does the exhibit work?” We have been conducting evaluations for 4 years now and feel good about the overall learning and understanding of our original messages. More to the point though, we received a letter from a mother that really made us smile. Her family had visited the exhibit several times and the young boy always paid attention to the panel in the kitchen which shows the story of the reclaimed polystyrene lunch trays. When his birthday came around the 7 year old asked his mother if they could have party and not use any throwaway goods – no paper plates or polystyrene cups for him! Instead he wanted to have party which would use reusable goods. Message received!

You Can’t Start a Fire Without a Spark – Arlington, OH

Friday, July 6th, 2007

Story submitted by Alex Kizer

“Build a small, sufficient solar array on a man’s house; he saves money and uses clean energy. Build a large, sustaining solar model on the man’s community center; his community saves money and it teaches everyone how to help save the environment.”


Listening to Dave Merrill, the President of SunAir Systems, make this proclamation, while sliding my work gloves up to my wrists, I began to get a little nervous about what I had volunteered to do: Assist in the installation of a 1 kW photovoltaic (PV) system on the roof of Upper Arlington High School. I am Solar Resource Corp’s Corporate Development Coordinator, and while I know everything about the schematics, the logistics, and the productivity of solar arrays—Photovoltaic or Thermal—I didn’t know anything about getting my hand’s dirty or the physical act of installation. I told Dave, “I can help you coordinate the installment, but I’m afraid I’ll screw something up, or attach the wrong wires if I am involved in the actual installation.”

My entire life, I have always wanted to be more blue-collar. I want to be more like my grandfathers and work with my hands, building. I am not sure where this compulsion comes from, but I like the idea of building instead of destroying. Destruction is much easier than building—a wrecking ball takes a button, but erecting a building takes work—and for someone who likes to be in control, there’s nothing more satisfying than hands-on building, creating.

upper-arlington-012.jpg upper-arlington-046.jpg upper-arlington-group-028.jpg

That’s why I got into solar in the first place. Building a renewable resource infrastructure in a society where it’s just too easy to continue on our way, destroying our bodies, our air, and our homes, is the easy way out. Literally, it is pushing the button. It is the way we have always done it because no one wants to do the building. Well, not no one.

They say in politics that it takes years to move stones, and lifetimes to move mountains. Well, it’s a good thing for solar that the sun is high enough and—mountains or no mountains—all we need is a group of devoted individuals, who focus on building instead of destroying, to do great things for our community.

As the group dispersed Dave and I went to the building’s roof for inspection. The day before we had made the same trip onto Upper Arlington High School’s roof, but this time I was there as a participant and not an examiner. The plot Dave had lined out was still there, empty, and awaiting something. Like an empty puzzle spot in the middle of the puzzle’s board; this twenty feet plot was waiting to open up an entire community to a new way to do things.

My first task was to line up the 25 solar panels and strip them of their old electrical wire and replace each with a new one. I found the positive-charge ends of each panel—each panel has one end with a (+) and one end with a (-), just like a battery—and screwed in the appropriate wiring. The job was tedious, but I had no idea my skills of replacing the battery of my guitar pedal would be the only prerequisite needed to build the intra-circuit of the solar panel model.


“Perfect job,” Dave said as he looked over my ‘electrical’ work. “When those are finished we’ll get them to the roof for the display.”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“We’re going to the roof to attach the panels together. We’re building the display,” he said. Taken aback, I went back through my rolodex of knowledge of the various auxiliary power systems, and found Photovoltaic: The circuit is made up of a collector (Panels)—check—of a charge control (a conduit running from the display into the building), and DC/AC inverter (which takes the power from the sun and basically runs it through the wires in the form of usable energy), and the AC load center (turning the DC power into AC which is how the power is used). I guess Dave was right; next stop, putting the collector together in the form of the display. Seems too easy.



While Titan Power Solutions (one half of Solar Resource Corp’s joint-venture) was craning up the materials onto the roof of the High School, I paused for a photo op. I thought the best way to document this construction would be to take pictures of the progress of the build, so I had my camera ready at all times. The only problem I found was the quickness of the job itself. While I was working I forgot to take pictures.

As I became saturated in the melodic instructions given by Jim Groeber, I didn’t realize I was wiring the panels together onto the newly constructed frame. “Hey Dave,” I said, “I’m writing this article about the progress of this display but I forgot to get some more photos before we began installing the panels. Do you think we could take a few panels off, and reapply them so I can get some photos?”

You’re killing me Alex,” he said. “If we really need to.” Even though Dave was unhappy about my request, I found that one of the other gentlemen helping with the construction took a few photos of me, hands dirty, installing the panels. I told Dave those would work. “Never mind Dave, thanks,” I said.

With the display complete I wiped my brow and looked around at the tools and the small group required to complete (what I thought was) such a daunting task. The community of individuals on top of that roof saw past the politics of renewable energy—the name calling, the slander—and were the perfect balance of realism and idealism.

The notion that as an individual one can help the world is, without a doubt, idealistic. However, no one in Solar Resource Corp, Titan Power Solutions, or SunAirSystems wants to “fix” the world’s energy problems. What we want is to help by leading by example. It is like what “The Boss” once said, “You can’t start a fire without a spark.” And our aim is to show communities the plausibility of solar, then the rest will come with the combustion.

Looking past the High School I could see the Upper Arlington community of homes and rooftops; each rooftop representing potential space for energy savings, and each homeowner representing someone who could make a difference. I wanted to scream and say, “Complacency isn’t cool and change is inevitable, can’t you see that?” But I didn’t scream because Solar Resource Corp already had a plan for that community and I was standing on it. The High School was to be a shining example of the feasibility of solar technology and I was beginning to believe it was simple enough for residential construction and use, as well. I admit, before the day began I would be scared to death to tell someone installing solar in their own home is easy because I have a terrible poker-face. But it only takes a confidant teacher like Dave Merrill to share the know-how, and a small group of able individuals, and the rest is sun-baked cake.


Community Partners:

  • Jim Groeber: did not charge any fee for the installation
  • Dave Merrill: flew in from Illinois to help with the installation
  • Solar Resources Corp: financed the project and supplied labor for free
  • Titan Power Resources: coordinated the installation and supplied the lift
  • American Electric Power: donated the solar panels through Learning from Light
  • Upper Arlington School District: Paul Craft is the point person
  • Upper Arlington High School Environmental Club
  • Sustainability Roundtable of Central Ohio: Solar for $1.00 per day concept started here
  • Foundation for Environmental Education: coordinated the project

Worthington, Ohio: Bluffsview Elementary-the first “Learning from Light” School

Tuesday, September 5th, 2006

In 1998, American Electric Power (AEP), one of the world’s largest electricity providers, started an initiative called “Learning from Light.” It was a simple idea created by Paul Loeffelman and Dale Heydlauf and John Hollback of AEP. The plan was simple. Small solar electricity systems would be added to schools in a way in which the panels could be visible to the students at those schools. In the past many solar electricity systems had been installed so that the entire system was hidden on the roof. It was efficient, but it wasn’t all that effective.


“Out of sight, out of mind.”Paul Loeffelman had the idea to put the panels down on the ground at the top of poles so that the panels would be visible to the students at all times. The initial installation went in at Bluffsview Elementary in Worthington, Ohio.

They went further by combining a teacher training piece to the initiative and initially AEP personnel visited classrooms to help explain electricity and solar electricity to the students. This aspect of the program has been coordinated by Mary Kay Walsh and Barry Schumann over the last 8 years, but is primarily administered by the NEED program, the National Energy Education Development Project.


It was the Principal of Bluffsview, Donna Kelly, who came up with the idea of a celebration after the installation. Paul Loffelman liked the idea so much he made it part of every Learning from Light project from that day forward. At the first one at Bluffsview, they had US Congressman Ralph Regula and Dan Reicher from the US Dept of Energy, and a long list of presentations and awards by the Worthington School Board members, the Mayor of Worthington, a County Commissioner. Every student at the school wore a T shirt, had a button, and wore sunglasses. It was a huge event attended by more than 700 people and is still the model used today by solar school projects all over the US. The keys according to the rule set down by Paul Loeffelman, “one hour and we are out of there.” And this can be difficult with politicians attending every ribbon cutting because, as we all know, they often have trouble cutting their talks to 5 minutes or less, but to this day we seldom have a problem with it. In fact, at the Washington Lands ribbon cutting in Moundsville, West Virginia, the Governor spoke…and kept his talk to about 7 minutes.

Wheelersburg Middle School – Ohio

Friday, September 1st, 2006

Story submitted from Joe Lester

I am the Grandfather of a little girl at the Wheelersburg Middle School. There is a solar electricity installation system on the school. The panels were installed on poles and they sit outside the science room near the front of the school. Anyone who drops off kids or picks up kids at the school can see the solar panels.

Our community is small so it was important for us to get these solar electricity system or PV system. There is a lot of things that we in a small town don’t get, but we want the best educations for our kids and grandkids that we can get and this PV system will help our kids learn science and math.


The system was donated by American Electric Power and the Ohio Dept of Development’s Office of Energy Efficiency and the Foundation for Environmental Education. The biggest expense of the installation was the panel array and the panels were donated by American Electric Power. We dealt with John Hollback and Paul Loeffelman at AEP.

We raised money for our part of the project cost. I personally donated $1,000. But most of the money was raised in a “Walk-a-thon” in which we had more than 2,000 people donate $1.00. That is pretty good for a community of $5,000 people. Many of the people who donated money were teachers and school staff and parents of the kids at the school.

At the ribbon cutting, Congressman Ted Strickland’s Office (he is from this part of Ohio) sent someone from Washington DC to speak. Sarah Ward from the State of Ohio came and John Hollback spoke from AEP.

The Ohio Energy Project provided teacher training for our school.

I am writing this story because we are so excited about getting a Web based data collection system that will enable our students to see how much electricity is being generated by the solar panels in real time. Our kids will be able to compare how much electricity we are generating with similar systems in Chicago, Illinois, and Oakland, California. They are excited about this new addition to our system.

In the picture I have included Larry Schoff from the US Dept of Energy and Elaine Barnes (then) from the Ohio Office of Energy Efficiency and our previous Superintendent John Eaton.

We are now building a new high school and we had hoped to put a large solar array on the roof of the school, but I am not sure that is going to happen. I will provide an update on this in a few months.

The Haiti Solar School Project: the Haiti Exchange

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Story submitted by Patrick Sherwin from Athens, OH

Our arrival in Haiti is surprisingly smooth due to the help of our interpreters Marie, LaRaque, and Domond. Dinner is great, and the accommodations exceptional when considering the neighborhood we’ve just driven through. The indications of poverty can only be detected by the worn clothing and rough architecture. The people are sturdy, carrying on with colorful style. They carry conviction, and contentment. Many carry large aluminum bowls balanced on their heads full of material necessity: bread, water, wash tubs, fruit, toilet paper, soap, as well as dignity, grace and strength.img_4095.jpg
In the morning, the smell of rich coffee tweaks my nose hairs. I’m greeted by a gleaming white smile and a hot cup of the dark juice. Finally I’ve found a nation that grows coffee and knows how to drink it. As Don points out, “it’s so thick you could almost use a fork.” As the morning progresses the caffeine quickens my blood as I pace the floors of our stop-over house, Matthew 25, waiting for a lift to the unknown mountain town of Belle Riviere. Eight hours later, adrenal glands exhausted, our ride arrives in classic Caribbean style. He’s relaxed and stoic, looks us all in the eye and accepts our hasty handshake. It’s three o’clock and we are in a hurry to get out of the city and up the mountain. If all goes well we will arrive before nightfall.img_4098.jpg

LaRaque, one of our interpreters, is upset. He feels like we’ve been cheated out of a day. LaRaque is totally at ease in normal operational mode. He’s unemployed, as far as I can tell, but he’s a good translator, and knows his way around Haiti with confidence. LaRaque works on his own schedule, but he likes to be “boss” or “Bishop” any chance he gets. “We are leaving those here!” LaRaque demands as I try to load up the two dead chickens and bundle of bananas which our driver bought to take home. LaRaque’s correct in his thinking here; the truck is already full- 8 passengers and 1,500 pounds of gear. And besides, LaRaque probably knows best because the chickens are “stinking.”

Our drive through the bustling city of Port au Prince, hugging the bay, and up the mountain, is an experience that could be discussed in nothing less than a small book. We’re driving into oncoming traffic, dodging wicked potholes, and I’m gripping hard to the side of the bus. “He’s not a very aggressive driver,” Marie whispers to me. Her reaction is testament to her empowered yet sensitive style, but I thought we were going plenty fast. I keep thinking we’re going to knock someone’s teeth out with the side mirror, our tires will crush an ankle, or we’ll trap the vehicle in a perpetual wedge with a passing tap-tap- Haitian taxi pick-up trucks usually containing almost 20 passengers.


Finally getting through Carrefour, and thus leaving the city, we are greatly relieved to catch glimpses of the aquamarine waters in the Gulf of Gonave. We are in the countryside now, but the streets are still riddled with pedestrians, vendors, and traffic. It is a clear sign we will encounter throughout this trip; Haiti is severely populated. We can be motoring, or walking through the most remote, hard-to-get-to place, and see a steady stream of farmers walking cattle, children riding donkeys, and women carrying water.

The landscape is a patch work of over-farmed, over-cultivated tropical forest- much of which rises no higher than myself. Tiny foot paths create endless loops spinning through the countryside while “roads,” as we are forced to call them by Fred, tumble and twist over mountainous terrain. The final leg of the trip takes us up and down steep, rocky grades, across rivers, and through giant mud puddles. It’s the ultimate commercial opportunity for the 4-wheel-drive Toyota workhorse owned by the Belle Riviere Parish. But rather than a novelty excursion of five happy men on their way to the fishing hole, this is a necessity excursion of eight rather tired individuals on their way to work some “light.”

“Oohs” and “Ahhs” come frequently from Doris in the backseat. Fred and Hank seem too dumbfounded to speak. Don’s wisdom puts him in the back of the truck bed so none of us can ask, “what the?.. where the?… and when will we be there?…” Nighttime is upon us and the headlights reveal another stream crossing. “Belle Riviere,” is announced by all those returning to this magical little nook.We are greeted like long lost friends by Father, Pare Lutian. After being showed to our rooms- which are very nice- it is time for a feast. Most of us were ready for bed, but we could not pass up the wonderfully prepared food- boiled red snapper, fried goat and chicken, beet salad, cole slaw, bread, dried pig’s blood, banana soup, slick bean gravy on rice, spaghetti and spam, avocados, mangoes, etc..

The forces of nature are alive and well in Haiti. I’m especially drawn to the simplicity and responsibility carried by the brilliant, strong, and friendly people we’ve met. Food, shelter, family, community, water, transportation, and God- if only my life could be that easy. But that’s not to say life is easy for anyone in Haiti; because it’s not. Famine, thieves, hurricanes, drought, corruption; you can read about it all you want in National Geographic. The depth of the struggle and its competing strength of joy, faith, and friendship must be witnessed first hand. It is then, for example, you will see no one is exempt from the task of hauling water. This constant chore can involve 40 lbs, balanced on your head, hiking miles up and down difficult terrain without shoes. The children start carrying water as soon as they can easily walk.

“When we are hungry, we cannot hear anyone,” Lu Bere says with urgency and emotion. He is the father of four children and a pillar in the Belle Riviere community. Lu Bere is involved in all aspects of community development. As far as I can tell, he receives very little compensation for a full schedule of teaching, education administration, and church services. His meager statue is of a humble leader like Gandhi. He’s just returned from a six hour, unsuccessful motorcycle trip to take a teenage woman to the hospital for x-rays- the x-ray machines were broken. He answers that he has not eaten, and says, “My stomach is full with God.” Lu Bere is a mighty man of positive energy. In his engagements, he is currently teaching three generations of the same family- child, mother and grandmother. Lu Bere has posted signs throughout the place we stay as well as the church, and school. They read, “We love you.” “We need you.” “Alone, we are weak. Together we are strong.” His presence is easy and warm. His smile and the example he sets are contagious. “Thank you for coming. We are brothers,” Lu Bere tells me. Now that is spirituality that I can understand! The hard work and dedication of Lu Bere and all those associated with the Haiti Exchange is very evident in Belle Riviere. We are very appreciated and well-received by every community member. But I begin to find out that it is a difficult relationship which requires steady maintenance, a large dose of tolerance, and prayer. Our desires to help are quickly turned into fits of frustration when ideas turn to action. For example, I see a woman and I ask myself “Who’s going to help that women with three children who will wake up hungry, searching for food?” How do we help her? For me, God has given a gift, I can install solar energy systems, and it is just natural to want to share. I have never felt so needed, and so appreciated, in all of my life’s labors. We get a chance to see where Lu Bere’s sustenance is derived from when we come across his parents hovering around their mountainside home. They stop what they are doing and give a warm smile revealing the one tooth they’ve both managed to keep. He’s 89 and she’s 85- must be the equivalent of 115 in the U.S.. They stand in silence like spirits while white doves fly from their attic. These are two of the toughest, all-weathered, and memorable people I may ever meet. Grandfather Lexen reminds us that he won’t be around much longer, as he points to the freshly built grave for two. The grave site overlooks a sweeping valley where their spirit and souls fly into the mystic. I may not be a religious man but this is a great place to “renew your faith.”
In Haiti, once basic needs are met one has great freedom and presence in the moment- time stands still. Children are constantly playing games and teasing each other. Impromptu musical gatherings, pray sessions, and front porch discussions are a part of everyday. Sunday is special day for many who dedicate several hours to song and praise in church with family. However, for the poorest of the poor- much of Haiti- there is absolutely no break from the suffering. They may look clean and well dressed in church, but the children come storming down the isle when the free chunk of bread is passed out by Pare Lutian. I’m very thankful to be a part of the Haiti Exchange. Everyone involved works selflessly, guided by a higher purpose. I’m seriously impressed with the effective, and positive progress in Belle Riviere. I greatly look forward to helping in the future. In our final chat, Lu Bere made a metaphor that sums up the incredible amount of love and devotion that the Haiti Exchange has shared, “We are like a truck, and you are the engine.” Thank you for helping in the creation of this experience. It has been the greatest adventure in my life.img_4065.jpg
In my next posting I will talk about how we put the solar panels that Don picked up in Columbus, Ohio from American Electric Power and the Foundation for Environmental Education on the roof of the school to provide light for these wonderful people. How funny that a man from Athens, Ohio is installing solar panels donated by American Electric Power, my electric company as I was growing up, on a school in Haiti. The world really can be a wonderful place.

Racing Solar Cars at Worthingway

Monday, August 28th, 2006

Things just got a little brighter for the Wothington City School system (Ohio) and eighth grade science teacher Kevin Swabb. Not only did Worthingway just complete another year of successful solar car races, but now students will be able to view data on the internet showing how much electricity the one kW solar panel array is producing everyday. As part of the solar car project, students receive two solar panels, 1 motor, wheels, and a selection of building materials for the competition. How they use the materials is the key to having a successful racecar. Everybody starts with the same basic equipment, but in the end each car is an original piece. Student interest remains as high as ever in the car building project as another year of races approaches!


As part of the solar car project, students learn about how the one kW solar panel array installed at Worthingway produces electricity for our school. The Fat Spaniel monitoring system was installed last year at Wortingway with the help of AEP, and will give students feedback about how the panels are operating. The panels are now connected to a new monitoring system that can be viewed on the web site: Check us out on the web for yourself and see how well our system is working! Eventually, our school will be connected via a new portal that connects our projects with those around the country and world.