Most college students use their studies to prepare for a job in the future. Chris Neidl, a graduate student in Gallatin, is doing the opposite. With courses in environmental policy and museum studies, Chris uses his school projects to supplement his work as Outreach Coordinator at Solar One, an alternative energy education center, and founder of a new solar energy advocacy group called I Heart PV.
Chris started working at Solar One in 2004 when the organization was still fairly small and so he largely defined the position he held there. “I had a lot of room to say, ‘This is what I want to do. This is what I want to do,’” says Chris. However, Chris wanted to take more of an active political role in promoting solar energy that Solar One didn’t have. Last summer, he started I Heart PV (short for photovoltaic, the technical term for solar panels that convert sunlight to electricity). The goals of this group are to petition lawmakers to make policies favorable to the solar industry and to encourage New York citizens to do the same.
“The problem with solar in this city is not that people don’t think it’s a good idea,” Chris says. Rather, most just assume it’s not possible here. Moreover, restrictive government policies keep New York State, and the city, far behind the curve when it comes to solar energy, especially compared to its very solar-friendly neighbor New Jersey.
There is huge potential for solar energy in New York and Chris is working hard to get people to realize this. The biggest hurdle though is getting people’s attention and keeping them interested. “In a post-literate, ADD age you’re not going to get people to read a lot of shit,” says Chris, referring to the numerous academic studies and policy papers available on solar energy. As one idea for his thesis project, Chris envisions an exhibition where artists produce works showing the possibilities of solar.
Ultimately, changes in solar policy need to come from the grassroots level, Chris says. California’s landmark laws on solar energy came about because thousands of people signed petitions and held events promoting the idea. Chris hopes to achieve the same success here in New York City with I Heart PV, but it can be difficult to get people to care when there are far more pressing issues like poverty and homelessness. “We’re talking about something that’s sort of a ‘neato’ thing,” says Chris. The focus has to be more on why solar energy is essential to New York rather than a high-minded philosophy on saving the planet. New York has a long history of innovation and its time the city came up to speed when it comes to solar.