Albuquerque Solar Fiesta

October 1, 2009

Bright Ideas

Last updated: 10/01/09 1:36am

As guest of honor at Albuquerque’s 10th Annual Solar Fiesta last weekend, the sun made a strong enough appearance to power a solar oven over 20 feet tall.

New Mexico is exposed to about 7.5 kilowatts of solar energy per square meter every day, according to a 2004 report from the Center for Electric and Hydrogen Technologies and Systems, and it looks like Albuquerqueans are getting serious about harnessing that power.

Hundreds of people flocked to the fiesta on Sept. 26 and 27 to see about 80 booths with dozens of solar gadgets and informational brochures.

One of the exhibits came from UNM’s electrical and computer engineering department. Lecturer Olga Lavrova said she and a few students went to tell people about their solar car, which they plan to enter in the 2010 North American Solar Challenge.

“These are the future renewable energy engineers,” Lavrova said. “I think for UNM, we have no excuse for not participating in this challenge. All the other competitors are from Minnesota, California, and we have most of the sun so we have no excuse for not being put on the map.”

The challenge has two parts, Lavrova said. The first part is on a racetrack to see which car can drive the most laps.

“And then there’s a road race, which is the endurance race and you go from Tulsa, Okla. to Chicago,” she said.

Another exhibitor at the fiesta was the Colorado-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Renewable Energy and Efficiency Education on Wheels coordinator Rick Shin said the laboratory is one of 16 national labs working for the Department of Energy.

“Of the data that I’ve seen, New Mexico is up in the top for states using renewable (energy),” Shin said. “Solar is big and so is wind. I think you have a governor and a state that is behind renewable energy. Some states have a difficult go because they have a lot of resistance from the administrations in their states, but some states still manage to get through that.”

Shin said he has hope for the renewable energy movement because states that have invested in the oil industry still have renewable energy potential.

“As big as the oil lobby would be in Texas, they still have a lot of wind power they use there,” he said. “I think people now realize that renewable is going to be the way to go and that fossil fuels and nonrenewable energies are not going to be around forever, so we have to do something and it’s better that we start doing it now rather than later.”

One of the on-wheels laboratory’s displays was a thin, foldable solar mat that the military uses in the field. The mat can recharge communication equipment or a laptop, Shin said.

The UNM Sustainability Studies Program also attended the fiesta to demonstrate the use of solar-powered ovens and to dole out some useful information to students.
Lecturer Maggie Seeley said twice as many students have joined UNM’s sustainability program this semester.

“We cover solar and water conservation, genetically modified organisms in your food, industrial agriculture, poverty, why some nations are rich and others are poor, and anything else that you can think of that has to do with sustainability, like green architecture,” Seeley said. “We just went from 30 students to 60 students just this semester.”

Student Gael Whettnall worked for the Sustainability Studies Program’s booth at the fiesta. Whettnall said the program helped him meet a group of like-minded people.

“Another aspect of my life that makes me more sustainable would be the community aspect, going out in the community, doing workshops, meeting different people in the community,” he said. “I have my own vegetable garden, I have my own compost pile, I monitor my electricity use and switched all my light bulbs.”

Published October 1, 2009 in Culture