By: Jackie Boat
During my three months as a solar heat outreach specialist, I have worked to make connections with community resources while figuring out exactly how my job works. Lately, I feel a lot more like I know what I am doing. I performed my solar furnace presentation for a crowd at an event called Solar Day, which I had devoted much of my work time to since starting. Despite my newness, everything went well. I managed to start a couple of relationships with groups interested in using solar furnaces for themselves and had fun sharing with various others. I even got to be on the local news! It was satisfying to see the payoff of jumping right in. That day is definitely a highlight of my service so far.
Though I felt pretty invincible after pulling off Solar Day, I am by no means an unstoppable force. Now I have to focus on other duties with logistics that I do not have much control over. Funding is a major obstacle for any project, and I am just learning the ropes. The biggest problem with funding is the timeline. Solar Assistance works largely off of grant money, and each grant has its own deadlines to consider which may not match up with your own project timeline. Another problem with getting grant funding is that you need resources to fulfill grant stipulations. You have to have a solid plan in place. For me this means I need to find the right people to go in on a large project with me and build that relationship with them, but they usually want to know that there is money to do it! Each side wants something that I cannot definitively give without the other party or may not satisfy the other party. It is a lot of back and forth motion.
Beyond the funding, there is the question of how to get a solar furnace into the hands of someone who both wants it and has ability to support it. They need a sunny southern wall to mount the furnace on and weatherization done on their home. It is a harder task than you might imagine. While free solar heat generates a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of people simply are not eligible. The technology is most likely to work well and payoff quickly in a rural setting where there is a lot of open space. Most rural families use propane, and its cost alone can drive them into poverty. This makes solar a great fit; however, this ideal group can be difficult to coordinate with. It requires a lot of time and resources to maintain contact as well as move back and forth between their site and your work base.
While there are plenty of obstacles to my work, I try to see them as a opportunities to temper myself. They teach me patience, flexibility and organization. I have had a taste of the payoff from perseverance, and it is well worth the struggle. I will not allow myself to get discouraged or stuck. Instead I will get inspired and creative to keep things moving in a good direction. Where there is a way there are obstacles, and where there are obstacles there is a new way. This makes my job dynamic and exciting. I think I would get bored if it was more monotonous work, so I shall persevere and embrace the chaos that ensues!