By Hannah Capshaw, CU Boulder MENV Candidate / Chief of Staff and Energy Fellow, Dream Tank
As I started my graduate career at CU Boulder’s Masters of the Environment (MENV) program this past fall, I had a broad, yet shallow, range of experiences under my belt as the youngest person to ever be enrolled in the program. However, in the past few months, my journey has allowed me to develop my knowledge, skills, and dreams in ways I never thought were possible.
Within the Masters of the Environment Program, I am specializing in Renewable Energy. Why renewables? In undergrad, I majored in Environmental Studies. I took a few classes in energy, but never really developed a passion for it until I participated in a short-term study abroad program in Iceland and studied at the Iceland School of Energy.
This is where my journey began.
Iceland introduced me to renewable energy technology in hands-on and applicable ways I never could have gotten in a classroom. I was exposed to how renewables changed this remote island and provided it with economic viability and resiliency. It was too late for me to shift gears and become an engineer, so I decided to learn all that I could about the technology and fuse it with my studies in policy, economics, social justice, international development, and environmental issues to bridge the gap between the often-contradictory worlds of science and humanities.
The Masters of the Environment Program provided just the right interdisciplinary work that I was looking for in order for me to learn how to be the liaison for the renewable energy sector and, well, everyone else. The second component that drew me to the program was the Capstone Project.
The Capstone Project is the centerpiece of the MENV program. It is a year-long team project, focused on a subject of our choosing, completed in partnership with a public, private, or nonprofit institution. The goal is to get real-world, hands-on, applications-based experiences embedded within the context of an organization’s need and capacities.
With a very abstract vision of my career goals and The Capstone Project looming in front of me, I dove into how I could link my interests with a Capstone Project topic and eventually a career. I decided to choose a project that covered international development and disaster relief through clean energy. This topic essentially touched everything I was really passionate about. Additionally, two of my best friends in the program and the smartest people I know, Paige Rutten and Reed Crossley, were looking for exactly the same kind of project.
However, I had no idea how it would manifest.
I had a topic, I had a team, but no Capstone Partner…until the day I met Chris Bentley from Independent Power Systems.
While at a networking event for our program, my team and I had little hope for finding a partner who was willing to work on a project as ambitious as ours. We are three students in their twenties, I was straight out of undergrad, and we dreamed of saving disaster-stricken areas and the developing world with renewable energy? Good luck with that one.
But in spite of our fears of being shut down, we decided to approach prospective partners with complete honesty and fearlessness.
Chris Bentley was the first prospective partner that we approached. We expressed our interests and goals and he immediately started pulling out brochures and flyers! Independent Power Systems had a product that was perfect for rural and disaster areas called the Power Tower. Not only was this product impressive, Chris and his team were extremely enthusiastic about working with us!
Independent Power Systems has been the perfect partner for us. Established in 1996, they are a locally owned renewable energy technology company and values integrity at all levels, safety, efficiency, and longevity of systems. They envision energy independence for Colorado and a world free from the expense and environmental impact of fossil fuels. We’ve been working extensively with Tony Boniface, Owner, CEO, and Founder; Chris Bentley, Renewable Energy Consultant; Yolanda Duperret, Director of Finance; and Ben Valley, Senior Technical Design Consultant to develop and launch this project.
The Power Tower is a unique, all-in-one clean energy solution that combines wind, solar, and energy storage components to provide a resilient and reliable means of electricity generation. It is an off-grid 40-foot tall, 6ftx6ft foundation 5kW wind turbine/5 kW SunPower solar array/battery bank. It is the perfect solution for constant power, as there is virtually always wind or sunlight with backup battery power if needed. The tower tilts down for maintenance and resistance against high winds, hurricanes, and storms. Its transportability and synergy of design offer solutions to disaster relief, as well as issues in the developing world by allowing students to connect to the internet, hospitals to treat more patients in better conditions, refrigeration for preserving food, and clean power for homes, community centers, and businesses.
In October, Hurricane Maria’s disastrous effects on Puerto Rico were flooding the media and our project felt more relevant and urgent than ever. It was obvious that Puerto Rico would be where we would deploy the Power Tower and we went full speed ahead into discussions about the scope of our project and our goals.
Also around this time, I began working at Dream Tank as Chief of Staff, SDG Marketplace Liaison, and Coordinator Fellow. I never intended to have a job while completing my Masters degree or even do anything else except study. However, when I met Heidi Cuppari, our CEO, I was immediately captivated by her mission to ignite the creative genius in kids to solve the world’s biggest problems and there was no looking back.
I immediately thought back with nostalgia to how much my heart and soul was filled with joy and purpose when I worked as a mentor for underprivileged youth while I was in college. I worked with kids who had never had the resources to dream. Most of them had never even been believed in.
I began to imagine what it would be like if every kid that I had the joy of mentoring was told they could dream. What if every kid all over the world was empowered to dream? What if they were given the resources and told that they could not only rise above their own worlds, but save the world for every single one of us?
This was the moment that I decided that I would do whatever it took to be a part of Dream Tank.
As our Capstone Project developed, I completed my first job as a liaison for renewable energy and the rest of the world. While talking with Heidi about my project for the first time, she had just spoken with our new board member, Elena Hernandez, who grew up in Puerto Rico and had presented Heidi with the idea of bringing Dream Tank to Puerto Rico to help innovate the redesign of the island. It was then that we realized that magic was happening with the alignment of our projects at precisely the same time, and we jointly wrote up a plan to incorporate Dream Tank as a collaborator by launching a Dream Tank Sister City in Puerto Rico.
All of a sudden, our Capstone Project became so much bigger, influential, and impactful. Another layer of resiliency, community engagement, and sustainable development was added when we decided to engage the youth of Puerto Rico. Dream Tank is all about empowering youth, and here are three millennials launching their first venture to empower youth in Puerto Rico!
We are now ready to ignite our millennial power
Our project spans multiple areas of impact: disaster relief, social resilience, community resilience, climate change solutions, & sustainability at every level of deployment and establishment. At this time, we have defined our project goals and determined the impact that it could have. We are ready to move forward with Phase One as soon as funding is secured.
As we begin to choose a site for the Power Tower, we have determined preliminary impact numbers based on specific locations and potential school partnerships. With this project, we have the ability to impact up to 99,370 Puerto Ricans with a single Power Tower and potentially up to 197,278 Puerto Ricans through our Phase 3 of building a microgrid.
- Identify an area most appropriate and in need of resiliency and clean energy. Specific siting is to be determined based on need and impact, but we are anticipating deployment near and in partnership with a school in Puerto Rico.
- Deploy and assemble a single Power Tower (an all-in-one wind plus solar solution) in Puerto Rico with the potential to deploy more, establishing a microgrid. This component will lead the initiative to provide Puerto Rico with more resilient energy solutions in a space that is now ideal for distributed generation using clean energy sources. Being that it is an island, Puerto Rico is more likely to experience the brunt of the detrimental effects of the global climate crisis, particularly with the increasingly severe storms that frequent the region. This further emphasizes the need for greater resiliency in Puerto Rico, especially at the local level. The Power Tower is a one-time cost for a lifetime of clean energy as it requires low operation and maintenance costs and minimal manpower for upkeep.
- The first Power Tower will be sent to Puerto Rico in a shipping container which will then be remodeled into a space powered by clean energy that can be utilized by the local community.
- Launch Dream Tank Puerto Rico in the Power Tower’s remodeled shipping container for local citizens to create their own disaster relief solutions. The center, powered by the state-of-the-art Power Tower, offers educational opportunities for local children and the community at large to get hands-on experience with an off-grid system.
- Partner with local schools and identify our first Puerto Rican DreamMakers who will most benefit from Dream Tank programs and be empowered to launch their dreams and design their future.
- Co-create a customized program with a heavier focus on Think Tank aspects with design challenges to help local kids come up with their own solutions for sustainable disaster recovery so they can dream and design a community that addresses the Sustainable Development Goals and a system for all to thrive. Given the design challenges around distributed generation and the use of microgrids, we anticipate the center will also provide an interactive means to communicate the need for improved energy efficiency measures and responsible resource management. This also offers an opportunity for new Puerto Rican jobs and local economic resiliency.
- Invite Boulder kids and teens, along with other students in the Dream Tank community and beyond, to connect with the new Dream Tank in Puerto Rico and learn, problem-solve, and collaborate together to help each other in their communities. We feel this will result in empowerment, leadership, and positively impact both communities through building confidence in youth and breeding a new generation of globally minded youth leaders.
- Have the data to be able to power more locations, in Puerto Rico and beyond, with the Power Tower and Power Tower microgrids for entities such as schools, hospitals, homes, industrial buildings, offices, etc. A microgrid community of Power Towers is key for resiliency and energy security as it would be independent of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), customizable to a community’s specific grid needs, and unaffected by the loss of power to the island’s primary grid resultant from future disasters. This off-grid and renewable source of energy is not simply a source of power, it is the key to energy security, community & climate change resilience, and unlocking the genius of kids in low socioeconomic communities.
- Have a scalable model for all future outreach, humanitarian, and disaster relief efforts that will transform communities through the success of this project.
Paige Rutten is in the Renewable & Sustainable Energy specialization at CU Boulder’s Masters of the Environment program. Paige received her undergraduate degree from the University of California – Santa Barbara, majoring in Biological Sciences. She worked for many years in an academic laboratory researching the environmental implications of nanotechnology, focusing on aquatic ecosystems, and her work has been published in Environmental Science and Technology.
Reed Crossley is in the Renewable & Sustainable Energy specialization at CU Boulder’s Masters of the Environment program. Reed received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in Astronomy and minoring in Mathematics and Aerospace Engineering. Reed has worked in a marketing capacity for a number of solar companies in Texas and has done marketing consultation with a number of other Solar Installers/Manufacturers across the U.S. Currently, he is working part-time at LOHAS Capital, an agency specializing in alternative financing and marketing strategies for health, sustainability, and social impact ventures. He also volunteers his time as the Marketing Coordinator for the Boulder Chapter of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society (BCRES).
Hannah Capshaw is in the Renewable & Sustainable Energy specialization at CU Boulder’s Masters of the Environment program and is the Chief of Staff, SDG Marketplace Liaison, and Coordinator Fellow at Dream Tank in Boulder, Colorado. Hannah received her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies with a focus on Environment and Human Behavior & Policy from Baylor University. After studying abroad at the Iceland School of Energy, she chose to pursue a career in renewable energy and act as a liaison for the various disciplines involved in transitioning to a world that is powered by 100% renewables.
Dream Tank, in the past 12 months, has launched 50 youth-led ventures, partnered with six local schools, connected students to 30+ organizations & local companies, and educated 600+ young people about social entrepreneurship. Now we are ready to go global. Starting with this pilot project, Dream Tank wants to ignite the entrepreneurial spirit in disaster and poverty-stricken areas all over the world by bringing in new and unheard voices. Puerto Rico will be Dream Tank’s very first Sister City and international location for programs, Think Tanks, and accelerators. Those involved include Heidi Cuppari, CEO; Elena Hernandez-Rosenblum, Board Member; Hannah Capshaw, Chief of Staff; and Nick Titus, Lucid Program Director.