Update: ENP/Trails Classroom Solar Project – Phase One is Complete!

31 Jan

January 20, 2017.

Today a great milestone was achieved.

It was a celebration of a long and prosperous future for all people and all creatures everywhere on planet Earth.

It was a celebration of the children and the students – the leaders of tomorrow – who will mold and shape our country and our planet’s future into one that supports all of our needs through a strong connection to nature, balanced with and connected to the findings and tools of science.  These peer reviewed tools will need to be wielded carefully and thoughtfully, through the teamwork of dedicated, caring, thinking individuals, organizations, communities, and the like-minded forward thinking future policy makers that work to support them for the betterment of all.

It was a celebration of life, of clean air, clean water, a healthy earth and the support of wild places and wildlife though the protection of our life-giving environment.

It was a celebration of working toward a more stable climate through the promotion and demonstration of the renewable energy innovations and innovators working toward transitioning our society away from a dirty, toxic, fossil fuel based energy and transportation systems, to a clean, sustainable, domestically produced renewable energy and electrically driven transportation system future for us all.

It was a celebration of science, of human ingenuity, and of the countless American and international workers, scientists, innovators, entrepreneurs, laborers, naturalists, educators, artists, activists, business leaders, enlightened individuals, and forward thinking leaders working tirelessly to make positive change happen for us all. A good and lasting change that supports the continued protection of our wild places, the creatures that live there, and the essential environmental, renewable energy, and EV technologies and policies that will form the backbone of a healthy and prosperous future for us all – no matter what your species may be.

Today was 100% AWESOME!

Today, my Environmental Science and Natural Resource Management (NRM) students and I completed the primary construction on our classroom’s 5.3kW off-grid solar array!


The students and I sliding the last solar module into place! 

Watch the video of the array’s construction below!

Now that the classroom array is complete, we only have a few more tasks to complete and a few more components to source* before the array goes online!  At that time we will begin producing a large percentage of the classroom’s electricity needs from on-site produced renewable solar electricity!  *If you are interested in assisting us with the acquisition of the final components please visit our donate page.

Once fully realized and operational, this technological achievement will, above all else, serve to educate and inspire the young minds of today on the possibilities of tomorrow – and that is an accomplishment to be proud of.

On top of that grand achievement this solar power station will-

  1. Dramatically lower our reliance on energy produced by the burning of always toxic and dirty,  life and atmosphere, killing coal and other fossil fuels that generate the majority of the electricity in our area.
  2. It will drastically lower the building’s power costs.
  3. On top of all that awesome it will also solar charge the ENP/Trails Science 100% electric Nissan Leaf EV outreach vehicle making it truly zero emission and free to fuel!


The Leaf charging up at possibly the planet’s only chicken coop EV charging station while the chickens look on.  This station will soon be solar powered making free solar fuel for the vehicle! 

Old Dreams and a New Hope

Today the old dreams of a starry-eyed geeky child of the 70’s and 80’s, and the new hopes of a more seasoned, science minded man of today, took a great leap toward becoming a grand reality.

The grand reality of this project is the manifestation of a childhood dream that I have carried with me since way back in 1981 when I was only 12 years old.  This dream was to one day produce electricity for my home, and fuel for my vehicle – with clean energy from the sun so that my actions (my carbon footprint) would not harm the very earth, environment, and wild creatures that I love so much and rely on for my very existence.

You may ask why a 12 year old was thinking about such things?  Well, to understand that you need some background.  Today I am a self proclaimed and very proud nerd, geek, dweeb, whatever you want to call it but back in 1981 I was anything but proud of my nerdish attributes.  I was the skinny little kid in school that was picked on and harassed by the insecure “jocks” and looked down upon by the popular girls.  My escape from the constant torture was immersion in nature and animals for they were not judgmental and did not care what I looked like – they accepted me as I was.  I soon became the kid that everyone in the neighborhood brought injured bunnies, turtles, and orphaned birds to for care.  I was the kid who would go exploring for hours alone in the forest and fields after school rather than play a sport.  I was most happy in the woods, within my own thoughts, a fishing line in the water, and a frog in my pocket. I could not have cared any less about the ladder climbing status and power junkies and talking heads on the news or in the halls at school. Being surrounded by nature and wild creatures fueled my great curiosity in how nature worked. I was captivated by the amazing things I found in the forests, fields, and creeks, the mysterious biological and ecological connections and interrelationships that made things work, and by the wonderful mysteries of the great cosmic space-time trip that we all exist within and are a part of.

The natural sciences and space sciences were most captivating to me, and because I was always at the library checking out books on animals, nature, science, space etc. I quickly became a data junkie and was labeled a “bookworm” “nerd” “geek” etc. by my friends and fellow students.  By age 10 I had read every encyclopedia in the house several times over, every new and old National Geographic, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science magazine I could find and I was fascinated by everything.  My early heroes that inspired me the most were my father – a botanist, who would drop everything to take me into the forest whenever I wanted to go, my mother – a teacher, who let me follow my own path and provided me with great loads of books to digest and learn from, my heroes were David Attenborough, Jacques Cousteau, Capt. James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, Uhura and the others, Charles Darwin, Carl Sagan, Neil and Buzz and any and all Astronauts and Cosmonauts, Isaac Newton, Mark Twain, Spiderman, Rachel Carson, Albert Einstein (even though I despised math), Roger Tory Peterson, Grizzly Adams, Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking…you get the idea.

I soon realized that this thing called science was what had built, and what was was running the modern world.  I also realized that this thing called science, when placed in the wrong hands, had made killing each other, our beloved animals, and even our life-giving mother earth all that much easier. This was a hard lesson to learn but it awakened my mind to the double edged sword that is science. For some, this revelation might cause a distrust and fear of science but for me it was entirely the opposite.  It made me want to learn more about the world, about nature, and about science, because science is the study of nature and what makes it exist, act, and behave the way it does. I wanted to know what makes nature tick and through this curiosity came a great love for all things and for the power of the scientific method.  As I grew and learned I decided that I wanted to do all in my power to share the complex beauty of nature with everyone I met in the hopes that like me, they would come to love nature and science as I do.  Like the saying goes “when you come to understand something, you then come to love it, once you love something you will do anything in your power to protect it.”


During my formative years I was also fortunate to have had several amazing mentors in the form of wonderful elementary school science teachers who offered not only great lessons on these topics but also working examples of these technologies in their classes in the form of small models such as these science experimentation kits.  These hands-on project kits, backed up by inspiring classroom lessons, allowed me to see how these technologies work, and to understand their applications to our future and above all else they had a great and lasting impact on my young mind.

Lessons from good TV

At the same time I was encountering great messages of hope and learning of ways to solve our problems through science and teamwork.  These messages were revealed to me on two of the most influential TV series on at the time: the revolutionary TV documentary series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage written and hosed by the great visionary Carl Sagan, and that most popular “wagon train to the stars” space opera – Star Trek.  While not the same as a good text book and hands-on lessons, the ideas, positive messages, and amazing imagery of these television shows had a great and formative impact on my young mind and laid the groundwork for the course of my life.

Bringing it all together


These facts, revealed to me by my sixth grade teacher, and supported by my heroes in real life and on TV, collided one day in an epiphany moment that I will never forget.

I was standing at the window in my 6th grade classroom, holding a small solar cell that was attached to a small electric motor with an attached fan.  When I moved the solar cell into the sun that was streaming in from the window – the fan started to blow air in my face!  I then and there in that moment that I connected everything and began to realize the great potential of solar electricity and the countless positive benefits it could provide to our species.   This moment was so very powerful and it so greatly influenced the many factors that have shaped and directed the entire course of my life.

Recently, I came full circle and drove my 100% electric-and-soon-to-be-solar-fueled Nissan EV back to my old elementary school and visited the very same spot where it all came together for me and snapped these photos.


In my right hand a solar cell and in my left a matchbox version of my EV!


My EV at my elementary school!

With all of this knowledge and front loading on future possibilities mixing together within my young mind it was soon that I realized the following:

1. Clean, non-polluting electricity can be produced with energy from the sun with a solar panel (module).

2. Highway capable vehicles can be powered by clean electricity.

3. These technologies can help clean up the earth, air, and water and make it safe and healthy for all creatures now and into the future.

Later on in life I experienced two more moments of clarity that have never left my mind and continue to give me focus and drive to this day:

1. These amazing technologies, when coupled with recent advances in photovoltaics, and battery storage, are part of the solution that will give us a 100% renewable powered society free from the addictive grip of toxic fossil fuels and from the downward spiral of dependency and environmental destruction that they represent.

2. This knowledge needs to be shared with the world and most importantly with the next generation, the children, for they are the future.

These powerful realizations have given the dreams of a geeky little 12 year old boy, much more focus and have served to mold my old ideas into a newly modified goals that will have much greater impact and importance on the word of today.  My newly evolved dream is as follows:

While it is an admirable goal to use renewable energy and EV technologies to benefit myself and my family, I feel that for me personally, that goal is a bit selfish and only helps out a small number of people (although I applaud and support anyone who takes the steps to install renewable energy on their rooftop/property – you are the change makers and you are heroes!)

For me a much grander goal would be to share that knowledge with the world just as my elementary school teachers and heroes on TV did for me.  It is for these reasons that I have been so driven and focused to make this project a reality for my classroom and for my students through the construction of our new classroom solar array.  These technologies and knowledge need to be shared with as many people as possible so that together we can all work to change the world for the better in support of all people and all creatures everywhere.

To that end this project is the realization of my evolved childhood dream has become the goal I have worked toward for the last three years – to power my classroom and EV on clean, site produced, renewable solar electricity that will allow my students and visitors to experience the first hand functioning of real world, off-the-shelf and off-the-lot renewable energy applications such as solar-electric power, and electric vehicles.


The ENP Outreach vehicle at a local solar farm that provides clean solar electricity to around 400 homes!  I regularly take my students on field trips to visit this facility – so cool!!

In our solar powered science classroom my students bust through the negative myths often associated with solar power, renewable energy, and electric vehicles by assisting with the maintenance and operation of working examples of renewable energy and EV technologies in class.  After leaving my classroom my students will be more informed, up to date, connected, and ready to accept the reality of, and make use of, sustainable clean energy and transportation technologies and applications to power their lives and their futures for the benefit of themselves and for the environment that supports them.



As stated before, and I cannot stress enough – these projects will be wonderful and inspiring, mind opening STEM teaching tools for my science class students, for all who visit the ENP/Trails Science and Nature Center, and for the participants of my ENP outreach programs for many, many years to come!

It is the students and children of today that will run the country and the planet tomorrow so it is up to us to present them with working examples of the best ethics, best practices and best technologies that will lead us all into a clean, safe, prosperous, shared future for all people and all creatures everywhere.

This grand accomplishment will always be there for my students and visitors to experience as it demonstrates “The New Normal*” in showing the next generation that – YES this is possible and YES it works and YES we can! We can make a  better future through the application of clean, renewable energy and Electric Vehicle (EV) technologies!  We can work together to clean up and protect the earth, the atmosphere, the waters, and the lands, and we can make life better for ourselves and for the wild creatures with which we share this planet by applying the findings of science, technology, engineering and math and a good dose of common sense to fix the problems of today and make a better tomorrow for us all. *Thank you Bob Harris for the inspiring words of wisdom.

Even More Awesome!

On top of the amazing achievement made today I later watched as my Leaf’s odometer turned over to 45,000 miles of petroleum free driving!  Shortly thereafter I was honored to charge alongside another Leaf at a local EV charging station that was made possible by many of the same individuals and organizations that have helped us make this wonderful solar array possible.


All of these amazing advancements have been made possible with the support and teamwork of my wonderful students and the staff of Trails Carolina and The Academy at Trails Carolina, my volunteer interns, great friends and project supporters Bob Harris and Jim Hardy, Black Bear Solar Institute, Siemens Corporation, members of the Blue Ridge EV Club,  and many local and regional EV owners, forward thinkers, businesses, individuals, nonprofits, and educational institutions teaming up to make this project and others like it possible.


Together we are all working to change the world for the better, great things are happening and it is we the people that are making these things happen.


A note from Steve

I am passionate about sharing my love, curiosity, and respect for nature, wildlife and wild places, and the methods and tools of science with everyone I meet – especially my classroom and outreach programming students and participants and readers of this blog.  

I truly feel that it is the open minded students and lifelong learners of today that will make the most important wildlife, nature, and energy conservation decisions of the future.  It is my goal to give them the best possible exposure to the realities of these disciplines by demonstrating what is possible for today and for tomorrow so they will be better informed and ready to change the world for the better as they mature. 

Toward that end I am working very hard to complete all of these upgrades and enhancements to my programming under my very small wildlife, nature and science conservation, education and outreach organization Earthshine Nature Programs (501c3) which is supported primarily through monetary, resource, and time donations from concerned individuals just like you. 

To cover the remaining materials and costs associated with this solar project, and the other upgrades to the Science and Nature Center, I am working on acquiring donations from any and all sources that would like to support us. Every little bit helps get us closer to our grand goals that will serve to upgrade our education animal habitats, classroom, education, and citizen science research equipment, and to power our classroom facility and outreach vehicle via the endless energy from the sun and most importantly – educate and inspire our students on the proper respect, understanding and value of wildlife and wild places, and the wise and responsible application of clean energy sources that we can all use to provide for, and empower our shared futures. 

I feel that by demonstrating what is possible, and working together toward the common goal of creating and maintaining a better world for all living things today and into the future, we will be able to make all of our dreams come true for the betterment and health of us all and in support of the planet and the complex life systems that in turn, supports us. 

Please consider supporting us in any way you are able.   

Thank you.   Sincerely, 

Steve O’Neil 

Executive Director of Earthshine Nature Programs (501c3)


Naturalist with Trails Carolina and The Academy at Trails Carolina


Email: earthshine.nature@gmail.com

If you would like to support this project in its final hour of need please consider making a donation today.

Follow this blog for updates on this project and more!


5 Responses to “Update: ENP/Trails Classroom Solar Project – Phase One is Complete!”


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