Sandia LabNews

Mexican indigenous group views Labs' solar work

Members of Mexican institute visit Sandia, US Indian reservations to see solar energy installations

In a visit coordinated by Michael Ross (6218), four people from the National Indigenous Institute in Mexico recently toured solar energy installations at homes and businesses on the Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservation.

"They came to see what they might be able to do for electrification projects in remote areas of Mexico, which are much like part of the Navajo reservation in the US," says Michael, program manager for Sandia’s Renewable Energy Program in Mexico. "The tours of photovoltaic installations were important so that the group might decide whether renewable energy as a source of electricity could be integrated into their future projects."

Prior to touring Indian country, the visitors saw distributed energy, photovoltaic, and solar thermal test facilities at Sandia and the renewable energy installations at the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque. They also visited the home of Miriam (14172) and Duane Hilborn on Laguna Pueblo lands. Their home is totally powered by a combined photovoltaics/wind power system (Lab News, Nov. 17, 2000).

Sandia provides technical assistance to tribes in the US using photovoltaic and other renewable energy technologies and is a partner with the US Agency for International Development in numerous renewable energy activities internationally, including Mexico.

The visitors went to the Navajo Nation where they saw a slide presentation outlining a program in which the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) leases photovoltaic systems to tribal members whose homes are off the electric grid. They toured homes on the Navajo Nation — mostly in the Kayenta District — where the NTUA, with the help of Sandia, has installed photovoltaic systems at private residences to furnish electrical power (Lab News, June 30, 2000).

Individual photovoltaic systems, which harvest the energy from the sun and convert it into electricity, are the only way many of the people in Indian county can have electricity because the cost of stringing wire over parts of the reservation’s rural terrain is prohibitive. To date the NTUA has installed more than 200 640-watt photovoltaic systems at remote homes on the Navajo nation.

"The staff from the National Indigenous Institute visited several of these installations and had the opportunity to talk with homeowners, as well as with NTUA electricians and management," Michael says. Installations made by NativeSUN, the Hopi solar enterprise, were also highlighted on the tour.

Michael adds that they were particularly interested in the fact that the photovoltaic systems provided by the NTUA and NativeSUN allowed people to do crafts at night — an economic benefit that can be promoted in Mexico. Solar allows both lighting for a longer creative work day, plus electrical power for tools used for some crafts.

Michael says he anticipates a partnership to grow from the visit of the staff of the institute. Other Sandians who facilitated parts of the tour included Sandra Begay-Campbell (6219),

Debby Tewa (6219), and Connie Brooks (6218). Sandra and Debby are Navajo and Hopi, respectively.

"Feedback from the group was favorable, and they left New Mexico and Arizona with a full complement of information for making decisions about the integration of solar electricity into an energy mix for their programs," Michael says.