Lakota Solar Enterprises Volunteering Day 1: 4/21/2016


      Today begins my second day volunteering at Lakota Solar Enterprises and the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center.  Yesterday, I had the opportunity to start my first day of work at Henry Red Cloud’s center.  Henry put me in charge of working on sanding the drywall and placing sheetrock on the compressed earth.  I ended up talking about the reservation and started to learn quite about the nature of living “on the rez.”  I went into town and got a book of Lakota stories in transliterated Lakota and some peppers for scrambled eggs that Henry gave me from the hens on the Solar Warrior farmland.  On the drive over to the job site, Henry and I talked about stuff.  He asked me what my name meant and I told him that Kaya means “rock” and Erbil is the hometown of the Kurds.  I said I got William when I was three years old and never really used it.  I explained how my father was from Turkey and how my mother was American.  We talked about the Black Hills, showing them to me in the distance as we drove to the site.  He said he had worked all around the country from New York to Los Angeles as a steel worker for years, and then came back about twenty years ago to start his work on the reservation with residential solar heating. 


     So far, there are 400 of his passive solar heater units on the Pine Ridge reservation and another 600 around other places.  In total, Lakota Solar Enterprises has built about 1000 passive solar heaters.  When we got to the job site, he explained how he wants to get into building houses on the reservation that are both affordable and from local materials.  The compressed earth block house that we are working on is a design from Henry’s friend on Fifth Avenue in New York and costs about the same to make as a mobile home.  It is much more sturdy and resistant to the high winds that storms can bring in the summer.  In the winter, the compressed earth blocks insulate the house keeping warmth from solar and other forms of heating inside.  In the summer, the compressed earth blocks keep the heat outside and the cool air inside.  The house will have solar panels on top and will have a passive solar heater and a hot water heating system that is installed in the floors.  I explained to Henry how I was interested in green building and renewables in cities, particularly in urban spaces that are subjected to rapid gentrification. 


Compressed earth block:


     I told him about Tyler Sit’s eco-church in Minneapolis and the work that New City Church is doing in the Powderhorn neighborhood.  I also told him about what my eventual dream for Atlanta is about finding urban zones that the African-American church can help in greenifying like Vine City (aka Tha Bluff).  Lindsay Street Baptist Church recently built the English Avenue Urban Garden, and I would like to see their efforts expand into other parts of the neighborhood.  Overall, the day was quite successful and was a wonderful way to get introduced to the work of Lakota Solar Enterprises.  As the work started, two Lakota volunteers from Re-member volunteers came to help out sanding the drywall and installing mud on the joints.  They brought with them two women from Vermont, a professor of evolutionary biology and her high school aged daughter.  We sanded for much of the morning, but their part of the work had to stop because the young woman was sick with a cold.  We ate lunch graciously provided by Re-member and they went back to take the young woman back to rest and heal.  I spent the rest of the day in the afternoon working on mudding. 


     Around lunchtime, Henry took me back to his solar workshop, the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center.  There he showed me a lot of the materials in the shop, including the passive solar heaters that they locally manufacture and some recently designed photovoltaic systems (PV).  The PV panel he showed me he said cost $10 to make in terms of material costs.  I was shocked at how affordable to panel was to make. 


I then showed him my dream of making solar powered computers.  I showed him the box of materials for that I had brought.  I introduced Henry to the Arduino, Beaglebone, and Raspberry Pi microcomputers, that cost $10, $35, and $35, respectively. 


He seemed really interested in them.  I had the idea that I could make and sell solar powered Raspberry Pi cases that are decorated by local Lakota artists and designs to raise money for the reservation. 

IMG_1434 IMG_1443

I was thinking of doing a Kickstarter where donors would get a custom made Lakota Solar Computer.  Donations could be put into making a solar compressed earth block computer laboratory with many Raspberry Pi’s.  They computer laboratory could be a place where Lakota youth come to use computers and design sustainable solutions to problems on the reservation, like hot water heaters.  The idea would be for youth to be able to got out and find solutions to problems on the reservation on their own and create local solutions in the same way Henry did.  I would be happy to teach programming and other more intensive computer skills if that is something that is deemed good.  For the little kids, we could load computer games like Foldit! to introduce science in a fun way.  This is a long term goal, but something that I would like to do with my life.  

IMG_1448 In the news today, are some articles on sustainable lifestyles.  There is one in the Guardian about a near zero waste blogger.  This one in Science is more of a theory paper about the same idea.  On a side note, this paper also showed up in Science about a hybrid enzyme semi-conductor way to make ammonia from nitrogen, kind of like an artificial photosynthesis.  Zika virus is a climate change caused problem, there is a cryo-EM structure of it today in Science here.  There was also a technical comment on a paper on global warming and fisheries.          

About kayaerbil

I am a Berkeley educated chemistry Ph.D. who is moving into the area of working on developing appropriate technology for communities that are subjected to socio-economic oppression. The goal is to use simple and effective designs to empower people to live better lives. Currently, I am working with Native Americans on Pine Ridge, the Lakota reservation in South Dakota. I am working with a Native owned and run solar energy company. We are currently working on building a compressed earth block (CEB) house that showcases many of the technologies that the company has developed. The CEB house is made of locally derived resources, earth from the reservation. The blocks are naturally thermally insulating, keeping the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Eventually, a solar air heater and photovoltaic panels will be installed into the house to power the home and keep it warm, while preserving the house off the grid. A side project while in Pine Ridge is a solar computer. I hope to learn about blockchain encryption software for building microgrids. In addition, it is an immediate interest of mine to involve local youth in technology education.
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