Chapel Hill: Opinion

Charging toward the future on Rogers Road – Vincent Xia and Cuyler McCoy

As teenagers, we understand how important solar energy is to our future. Climate change is an ever-growing threat as excess greenhouse gases from non-renewable energy sources continue to warm the planet and damage ecosystems.

So, we were excited about the opportunity teach about solar energy to a group of kids at the Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association summer camp at the Rogers Road Community Center in Chapel Hill.

Over the past two years, a group of organizations, including the Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA), NextClimate, Carrboro Solar Works, United Solar Initiative and Clean Air Carolina, has been working with Orange County to get solar panels on the roof the community center, which the county built as part of an effort to try to rectify 40 years of environmental injustice that began when the county landfill was placed in this historically black neighborhood in the 1970s.

The solar panel effort has stalled due to bureaucracy, but since neighborhood kids had raised funds for it, with the help of Mama Dip’s Country Kitchen, Weaver Street Market, Calavera Tequila and Empanadas, and Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen (see Rogers Road Community Solar on Facebook) the organizers decided to use the funds to directly educate neighborhood youth about solar energy.

We got involved because we are interested in helping us transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy like solar energy. The job market continues to expand in these fields, and they provide a more sustainable future.

With help from Rob Pinder of NextClimate, we worked with six elementary-school kids to build personal cell phone solar chargers, using kits These kits can be used to charge any device with a USB cable. The kits contained a solar panel, diode, wires, three rechargeable AA batteries, a USB charging circuit, a switch, and a case to put the components in. The instructions included images to guide the process of building the kits.

We started out by creating sparks on a sheet of aluminum foil with battery-charged graphite leads, which was an example of a completed circuit. The next step was learning to build circuits and the basics of soldering. The kids really got into stripping and soldering wires, and we had to watch out for the soldering irons as they got extremely hot! The kids also put together the box that encased the materials. The hardest part was when we were soldering the wires in the kit – it took a lot of time and patience for them to get it right. Finally, at the end, all of the kids had solar chargers to take home.

Meanwhile, on the community center’s basketball court, Ed Witkin of United Solar Initiative set up a solar playground, where the younger kids played with a solar-powered water pump, drove around a solar-powered toy horse, and produced their own energy while keeping cool with a bicycle-powered fan.

The kids who built the chargers were pretty proud of them, being some of the only people in their neighborhood who will be able to charge up their phones and tablets when the power goes out after a hurricane or ice storm. We hope RENA and the other organizations that have been working on this project continue to encourage neighborhood residents to develop sustainable energy practices and to teach kids about them at next year’s camp.

Vincent Xia is a junior at the N.C. School for Science and Mathematics in Durham. Cuyler McCoy is a recent graduate of the Hawbridge School in Saxapahaw.