Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Earthen Energy

Last Friday, The Mountain Institute celebrated the longest day of the year with the installation of a solar panel system on the roof of our office building, the Earth Shelter. Within a matter of hours, rows of photovoltaic cells were unloaded, secured in place, and connected to the grid; suddenly, the Spruce Knob Mountain Center has become capable of producing its own energy.

Mountain View Solar installs solar panels on the Earth Shelter roof
 in conjunction with the Appalachian Stewardship Foundation.
The system is predicted to fulfill much of the energy needs for the Earth Shelter and adjacent cottage building. Aaron Sutch, Energy Program Manager with TMI, reported that the panels’ first weekend produced a surplus of energy. As the system is directly connected into the grid, this surplus can be sold back to our electricity provider, making the production of clean, locally produced energy a reality at the Spruce Knob Mountain Center.

I spent the next morning sitting in the meadow above the Earth Shelter with the sun in my face as I watched light beat down on the opaque panels. Beyond the roof line, the Appalachians stretched outwards, decked in their summer coat of green and also basking in sunlight. What a fantastic thing, I mused, that the sun manages to feed all of these plants, give warmth to all of this land, and bring light to the sunrise every morning, yet still has energy left to power these little black panels and grant us the very human desire for power via electricity. I gazed upon the system almost with mistrust, asking myself irrationally, “What if it is possible to use up this energy and life-giving light?!”

That afternoon, I was in my yurt when a thunderstorm rolled in. As cumulonimbus clouds tumbled and billowed overhead, the sky turned dark and wind stirred the tall grass. Rain began, its first big droplets yielding to a pelting downpour. Suddenly, a blinding flash, a deafening pop, and a simultaneous crack of thunder shook the ground underneath my feet. A lightning strike had hit a spruce in the woods just up slope from me. As the storm moved through, I was left staring from the adjacent meadow amongst a mist, the air still buzzing around me.

During dinner, the summer staff sat on the deck and gazed at the setting sun, discussing the storm and its incredible power. Just after dark as we returned to wash dishes in the kitchen, Mike burst into Ulan Bator, beckoning us to come back outside. As we followed him to the railing, we realized that something amazing was occurring on the high plains. Thousands and thousands – millions? – of lightning bugs had assembled, and as one fantastical orchestra, they had begun a light show. In harmony, in front of us and stretching back across the hills, one flashbulb lit and burned and then the next came afire, each dazzling on and off, as if a stop-action film was rolling in front of our eyes. We gawked with mouths open, staring dumbstruck at the electricity emanating across the plains.

Eventually, my sleepy eyes pulled me back towards bed. As I walked up the driveway, I shook my head in amazement at the events of the day. I thought of the displays I had seen of this place, so imbued with life and vigor, and of the energy that pulses in this summer mountain air. As I pondered, my gaze lifted towards the stars, and I stopped, suddenly. Above me was rising the stunning orb of a just-after-full solstice moon. It shone rays of light straight on through the thickets of hawthorn and onto my face. I staggered backwards, and almost laughed – it seemed to me that the mountain was powering itself quite independently of the sun. 

I thought back to the solar panels, this time without fear of using up daylight, but instead in reverence; these mountains – and this Earth – hold within them so very much energy. What else have we yet to discover about this place? Solar panels are merely a starting point; how else can we use what is already in front of us to meet our needs without taking from those resources that are not limitless? What can we learn about the ways that this mountain is already powering itself?

Summer on the high plains.

The Earth Shelter’s solar panels are currently doing their part in generating energy and inspiring thought among the students of Spruce Knob (myself included). Stay tuned for updates on the Mountain Center’s solar project as we work to integrate the panels into our energy planning and educational programming in coming weeks. For more information on The Mountain Institute’s Energy Program, you can visit http://www.mountain.org/appalachia-sustainable-energy.
 -Andy Notopoulos

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Looks great. Thanks for posting!