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CCU student team searching for solar energy

by Lewis

During the past nine months, I have been part of a team of Coastal Carolina University students working diligently with Re-Volv, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, Calif., to help a nonprofit organization in our area obtain solar energy. This Coastal Carolina Solar Ambassador Team strives to educate the campus and local communities about solar energy, develop a deep understanding of the energy sector and build a national network of environmental stewards. My colleagues on the team are Derek Bussey (co-lead), Gabriella Dudley, Peg Howell, Maria Karahalios, Cassandra Ratliff, Kelly Shelton, Catherine Sweeney and Kathryn Vandy, and faculty adviser Pamela Martin –

During the fall semester, the team studied national and local solar policy as a class to develop a better understanding of cultural and eonomic influences that affect those solar policies. This gave us a direction that best enabled us to act as true solar ambassadors for our region. One of our goals is to bring awareness to our community about the viability of solar power as an energy source by providing educationally based community outreach events and by providing a nonprofit in our community with solar energy at a reduced rate.

To connect the research completed in the fall semester with the community outreach in the spring, the group headed to the premier place in the U.S. to view effective solar policy and energy storage – Kauai, Hawaii. After a grand total of three flights, 4,867 miles and 24 continuous hours of travel time, the team arrived in Kauai on Dec. 10, 2016. During our 10-day visit, we explored one of the most advanced places in the United States for solar energy. We were on the hunt for inspiration, knowledge and insight on solar energy.

We wanted to understand the economic feasibility and policies that contributed to the success of Kauai’s solar energy investments. On average, solar generates 15 percent of the island’s total energy needs; some days, as much as 77 percent of the electrical generation is from solar energy. We met with the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) to learn more about its solar energy investments and gain a better understanding of the energy resource from the perspective of a public utility company. We also visited the Koloa solar array and battery storage location, the largest array on the island. It produces nearly 6 percent of the island’s energy needs.

In addition to visiting KIUC, we met with Mayor Bernard Carvalho, who was more than happy to talk with us about the sustainable initiatives on the island. He even sang “Mele Kalikimaka” for us, the Hawaiian version of “Merry Christmas.”

It was nearly impossible not to smile when speaking with Mayor Carvalho because of his passion for the environment and his constituents. We all felt invigorated by his vision for the island and his dynamic personality. His director of sustainability, Ben Sullivan, sat with students to discuss new policies of electric cars and climate change adaptation for the island. 

The team had an educational and inspirational experience in Kauai. We are equipped with new knowledge, perseverance and dedication to bring sustainable solar energy to our local community. Our next step is to produce an intensive case-study that analyzes the solar policy in our community. Additionally, we plan to host multiple community outreach events this semester at various locations around the Grand Strand.

To stay updated with what our team is doing, please like us on Facebook at “Solar Ambassadors of Coastal Carolina,” or contact Bussey at or Lewis at

Lainey Lewis is a marine science major at CCU.

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