Two families in San Bernardino are now harnessing the power of the sun to reduce their electric bills, thanks to a team of Cal Poly Pomona engineering students.
During spring break, the families’ homes were wired with solar panels by Cal Poly Pomona’s GRID Team, which is largely composed of electrical and computer engineering students, and members of three campus engineering clubs. The families were chosen based on financial need; the panels can reduce their electric bills by as much as 80 percent.
“The homeowners were really excited,” says Elizabeth Romo, an electronics and computer engineering technology student who helped install the panels. “The homeowner was a Korean War vet, and it was his wife’s birthday. She received a nice birthday present.”
The project was sponsored by GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit that aims to bring solar power to low-income households.
To install the panels in a single day, the 24-member team split into two groups. One group climbed atop the houses and prepared the roofs. The other stayed on the ground and prepared the panels. When each was ready, they passed the panels up top and attached them.
Nicole Diaz, an electrical and computer engineering student and GRID team member, said she not only learned the technical aspects of installing solar panels, she gained experience working as part of a team and saw the value of giving back to the community.
“This was my first time doing GRID Alternatives, so I didn’t know anything about solar panels,” Diaz says. “It was a really great accomplishment. To see a family so happy over their new solar panels made it worth it.”
Romo said she’s now in discussions with representatives from GRID Alternatives to create an “empowering women solar day” that will get more female engineering students involved in the GRID Team.
Carlos Cordova, who was on the GRID Team last year and served as the student contact with GRID Alternatives this year, says he sees a much bigger future ahead for the GRID Team. Last year, the team members were drawn almost exclusively from the Southern California’s Engineering Technologists Association (SCETA), a campus engineering club. This year, two more clubs had members participating.
“I think it went pretty great because we got the program outside of SCETA, and we got other clubs coming in,” says Cordova, who is also SCETA president. “This program has a lot of potential. We’re probably going to see a lot more clubs getting involved, maybe even further than the College of Engineering.”
It’s getting bigger in another way as well. Last year, Cal Poly Pomona students pioneered the “solar spring break.” It was so successful that GRID Alternatives is expanding the program.
“GRID is now taking it national, and it started here,” Cordova says.