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Energy Justice & Sustainability PACE Students participate in the Solar Suitecase Project

In Fall 2017, Dr. Thoyre’s Energy Justice & Sustainability (ENVS 460) course participated in a service learning project to reduce poverty, fight climate change, and mentor the next generation of energy justice advocates. After learning about the environmental injustices associated with many non-renewable energy systems, students participated in a lab where they learned to wire together a battery, charge controller, LED light bulb, and solar photovoltaic unit, creating a user-friendly, portable solar energy kit known as a Solar Suitcase. They then mentored K-12 students at Thomas R. Pollicita Middle School (Daly City) and Lincoln High School (San Francisco) in building more of the suitcases. Some of these suitcases will in turn be shipped to hospitals, refugee centers, orphanages, or schools in parts of the world with inadequate electricity, where they will contribute to sustainable development. Students in ENVS 460 also initiated a project to use the solar suitcases to teach kids at Bay Area Boys & Girls Clubs about renewable energy.

The Solar Suitcase project was originally developed out of a partnership between faculty at CSU-East Bay, the NGO We Share Solar, the electric utility PG&E, and others. The purpose was to reduce energy poverty while getting students from historically underrepresented communities involved in STEM. This year, SFSU is one of several CSUs piloting an expansion of the project, and Dr. Thoyre’s course is the first social science course to use the solar suitcases. The project demonstrates that if even a middle schooler can build a solar energy system, the question of why we don’t use more renewable energy is largely a political, economic, and social question, not a narrowly technical one. The project has thus been a key case study for students in ENVS 460 to critically reflect on the relationships between energy, inequalities, and politics.

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