S1 at Large: The Colombia Solar Decathlon
We're proud as can be that Solar One Educator Amy Colorado participated in the most recent Solar Decathlon Latin America & Caribbean in Colombia. Read on to hear all about her experience in her own words:
I was invited to participate in this year’s Solar Decathlon Latin America & Caribbean in Cali, Colombia as a guest judge for the “Communication, Marketing and Social Awareness” competition. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon is a collegiate event of 10 different competitions that challenge university student teams to design and build full-size, functional solar-powered houses. The Decathlon serves as an intensive learning experience for the participating students in areas of sustainability, architecture, engineering, energy efficiency, and water conservation. This year the participating students had the added challenge of designing a climate resilient home that would hypothetically function in the city of Buenaventura - a city plagued by rising sea levels and poverty. Alongside me in the Communications jury were Cristina Cardona, a Bogota-based published author and communications expert, and Stacy Hunt, the sponsorship manager for the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon.
For a week in December, I learned about the 9 different university teams competing in the Decathlon and was able to see their years of work come to fruition as they opened their solar homes to the public. It was striking to see the student’s creativity and initiative come together as they designed and built these homes on their own within 3 weeks time. All the homes incorporated impressive sustainable strategies, from using recycled Tetra-pak as insulation to building their own bricks from recycled paper and cement. The Decathlon was open daily to the public at the Universidad del Valle in Cali. Everyday hundreds of visitors came through to experience the homes of the future and then stayed for the provided nighttime entertainment. Cali, being most well known for its salsa music, did not fail to bring dance and great energy to the Solar Decathlon.
Beyond my two days of active judging as part of the Communications competition, I was able to share some of Solar One’s work with visitors, educators, and children. On December 12th, I led a workshop with some local educators titled “Sustainability Initiatives for the City & State.” During the workshop I shared New York City’s sustainability goals and how Solar One and the Department of Education are working to expand solar energy. Participants experienced what it would be like as a student in a Solar One program by doing various hands-on experiments about solar energy and energy storage from our Green Design Lab curriculum. To ensure that the educators could implement this new knowledge in their classrooms, they were provided with translated copies of the activities reviewed and were able to provide their contact information to receive access to our full online Green Design Lab curriculum.
On December 14th, 50 children from a severely disadvantaged community in Cali were brought to the Solar Decathlon for a private tour and science workshop with me. I guided the children, ages 4-15, through various interactive activities from our Green Design Lab curriculum to learn about electricity, circuits, solar energy, and the importance of energy storage. The children were overjoyed to be able to use solar panels, wires, motors, and lights to build their own circuits. Despite never having learned about circuits before, the children were fast learners and by the end of our workshop they were even able to use a multimeter to measure their electrical output! After harnessing our solar energy, we had a discussion about the importance of energy storage, especially when working with an intermittent source of energy like the sun. The children were each able to design their own aluminum air battery to showcase how we can design and build a more sustainable efficient battery.
Of my entire trip to Colombia, the most rewarding part was the hours I spent with the group of local youth exploring solar energy. The feedback I received from the group, most notably the girls, was profoundly inspiring as they expressed new confidence and interest in science. The children were shocked that everything they learned and the fun experiments they did independently were considered science. Our Solar One activities and approach to learning was so different than what they had experienced in their schools that the youth couldn’t identify it as STEM education. To wrap up our workshop, we donated some circuit materials to the group leaders to ensure that they could take what they learned back to their community and keep exploring solar energy.