Meet our three student interns who are already rising stars in solar
Successfully advocating for solar at one of the largest school districts in the country. Designing a solar-powered light show attended by 14,000 people. Creating an interactive website that estimates the solar potential of schools across the country. These are just a few personal achievements of Generation180’s three distinguished solar research interns.
Lindsay Asmussen, Kahaan Gandhi, and Adam O’Neill are high school and college students who have been contributing to the Solar For All Schools campaign this semester by collecting and analyzing national data about solar adoption by U.S. K-12 schools for Generation180’s 2022 Brighter Future report coming out this fall. These research internships are part of Generation180’s new collaboration with FedEx to help scale solar adoption at schools nationwide.
Read on to learn more about their early experiences with solar and what inspired their interest in clean energy.
Kahaan Gandhi is only a senior in high school, but he has already developed his own solar analysis that estimates and ranks the nation’s K-12 schools by solar potential and published it on the website SchoolsForSolar.org. He did all of this as a side project outside of school.
As a lifelong vegetarian who cares about animals, Kahaan Gandhi felt a natural pull toward environmental issues. At Menlo High School, he joined the climate coalition environmental club. “I had a great biology teacher that did a lot of environmental projects that inspired me,” he said.
“After attending an elementary, middle, and high school that were all solar-powered, solar just felt familiar to me. It felt like something I could make an impact in.” — Kahaan Gandhi
While quarantined during the pandemic last year, Kahaan felt he needed to do something important with his extra free time. He started researching solar on schools and came across publicly available solar data from the Global Solar Atlas, which he initially used to inform his personal research project. After coming across Generation180’s Brighter Future report during his online research, Kahaan reached out to Solar For All Schools Director, Tish Tablan to learn more.
According to Kahaan, “Generation180’s research shows where solar currently resides on schools, and my project shows where solar should be on schools, but isn’t.” He wanted to add context to Generation180’s data on how much solar is installed at schools and show how far we have left to go. Kahaan developed his own methodology to estimate and rank the solar potential of all of the nation’s K-12 schools. He made his research available on a new website SchoolsForSolar.org, where viewers can look up the solar potential of an individual school and find the top ten schools in each state for solar potential. He hopes the research will encourage schools and local governments to consider the benefits of solar. His work is already catching the attention of his community and was featured in a recent profile piece by his local newspaper.
After he published his research project, Generation180 invited Kahaan to apply for a summer internship with the organization and continue researching solar adoption by schools. “I’ve loved the welcoming atmosphere of Generation180. I’m working alongside people with much more experience in the field. I’ve learned so much about data searching and validation,” he said.
Kahaan will be attending Harverford College in Pennsylvania in the fall, but he isn’t sure yet what he wants to study next year. Kahaan said, “I know I want to do something that I can apply to the environmental field. I’m planning to sample a variety of courses and future out what resonates with me.”
Lindsay Asmussen is currently a junior at the University of Virginia, where she is studying global environments and sustainability and foreign affairs. “I think the policy behind renewable energy is really interesting,” she said.
Lindsay Asmussen has always been interested in STEM and the environment. “I grew up next to Frying Pan Farm Park in Reston, Virginia surrounded by woods. Living in and being so connected to nature in my youth has influenced everything about me,” she said.
As a junior at South Lakes High School, Lindsay joined Solar on the Schools–a student-led group working with the Sierra Club to help greenlight solar on Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), the 11th largest district in the country. The student group successfully petitioned the FCPS school board to have all district schools assessed for their solar potential. In December 2019, the county government committed to adding solar to 113 municipal buildings, including 87 schools, as a result of years of student advocacy. This commitment could potentially yield over $60 million in electricity cost avoidance over the terms of the contracts.
Despite this win, the student advocates had more work to do to remove legal hurdles that would prevent the district from being able to access the funding it needed to go solar. So Lindsay and her fellow students met with their state delegate, attended hearings at the Virginia Senate, and urged legislators to pass the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) in early 2020. Lindsay spoke up for a bill that removed the cost barriers for her district and cleared the way for communities across the state to be able to install solar with no upfront costs. Lindsay is looking forward to seeing the first of these solar projects completed in her community.
Lindsay said, “I was incredibly excited to start working for Generation180 so that I could experience the solar industry through the lens of a non-profit company. I had previous work in the federal government at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which allowed me to see all the levels of government that must be involved in order to get anything done. I wanted to have a different experience in the solar industry…outside of the government. I hope that working closely with such a passionate staff will allow me to find my place in the solar industry, wherever it may be.”
“I’m still deciding what I want to do in the future, but I know I want to work in the energy sector in some way. It’s really important to me to be influencing change.” — Lindsay Asmussen
Adam O’Neill grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia in the Tidewater region, an area surrounded by water. “I’ve lived my life between two rivers,” he says. As sea levels rise, more of the region will be underwater, and that has influenced how Adam sees the world.
Adam is a senior studying civil engineering at UVA, where he is currently president of the Charlottesville Solar Club. Last year, Adam took on a challenge that combined his passions for both clean energy and engineering. The club decided to design a solar array to power UVA’s “Lighting of the Lawn” ceremony, an annual 20-minute light show that was started to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11. “It’s a big symbol of hope for the community,” said Adam.
The club met weekly with professional solar installers to learn how to create the solar array. “We had to learn to build the entire thing ourselves, which included many practice runs. It took a long time to get the exact voltage right on the battery, and we spent hours re-configuring it. Finally, the night before the light show, we were able to get it right. We worked with the UVA facilities management department to install it on the Rotunda… I was holding my breath the whole time. It was euphoric to see it work with no hiccups,” he said. The first solar-powered light show at UVA was enjoyed by a crowd of 14,000 attendees from the university and greater Charlottesville community.
Through the solar club, he has also been working with a local teacher to educate students about the benefits of solar. During the pandemic, he led a virtual presentation to middle schoolers about the threat of climate change and the benefits of clean energy.
“I think I’ll get out what I put into this internship with Generation180. I believe the more I apply myself, the more I will learn. I hope to gain a deeper sense of responsibility and respect for the people behind the clean energy movement. As an engineer, it’s easy to put my head down and worry about numbers. But to see the stories of the real lives that solar affects is humbling and exciting,” said Adam.
Last summer, Adam worked on the sales team for a residential solar company, using his knowledge of solar to knock on doors and explain the benefits of rooftop solar to homeowners in Virginia. After graduation, Adam has a job lined up at a civil engineering consulting firm where he will focus on utility-scale solar planning.
“It feels like climate change is a responsibility of my generation. I want to pursue a career in clean energy and sustainable development that will enable me to build and improve things.” — Adam O’Neill