Eight students from Duke University arrived at Havasu Landing on Monday, and have worked eight hours per day to erect solar panels for residents of the Chemehuevi reservation.

California-based Grid Alternatives has partnered with students from Duke University and nine other colleges throughout the country to erect solar panels for communities throughout the country.

The students in Havasu Landing are members of Duke’s Energy Club, and accepted the opportunity to provide solar power to two Chemehuevi reservation families as part of a “solar spring break.”

“When we found out about Grid Alternatives’ Solar Spring Break, it seemed like a unique experience,” said Duke sophomore Tyler Wakefield. “We’re all in the Duke Energy Club, and a lot of our team are environmentally-minded.”

One team of students laid tracks for the panels, then the panels themselves on the roof of one home, while another team set up the electrical systems and wiring to accompany those panels. The work took about eight hours, Wakefield said. The team received its share of gratitude when they were finished.

“The family made us lunch yesterday, and thanked us as we left,” Wakefield said. “A lot of families here hesitate to turn on their air

conditioning when it’s hot, afraid of how much money it would cost. These panels should eliminate their fear of high energy prices.”

Team member Aashna Aggarwal, a Duke freshman, says that the opportunity to reach out to the community, and having an impact, is an extraordinary experience.

“We come from a lot of different backgrounds,” Aggarwal said. “Everyone here has an inclination toward energy, and we’re environmentally-minded in general. We’ve learned a lot about design, and the process of solar energy usage.”

The solar energy industry is increasing by an average of 20 percent per year, according to Cliff Le Blanc, of Grid Alternatives. The organization’s inland office has provided $3.4 million in solar energy over the past year, and has invested over $20 million into communities over the past four years.

Building solar panels will not be the extent of the students’ experience, however. The students are expected to participate in several days of cultural activities, and met with tribal elders on Wednesday to learn about the tribe’s arts and languages.

Duke’s students raised $5,000 to support the project in Havasu Landing, and Tribal Chairman Charles Wood believes that the project is a step in the right direction for the tribe. “We believe it is important to learn and share our culture, which creates a closer, more informed world,” he said.

In Havasu Landing, the solar electric systems are expected to reduce families’ electricity bills by at least 75 percent. Each system has a lifespan of 25 years, during which time homeowners may save about $21,500. The systems will also prevent 181 tons of greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere, Grid Alternatives says.

Grid Alternatives is a state-funded 501c3 non-profit organization that offers environmental education and job training to students while helping low-income families with their energy bills.

Duke students expect to visit Lake Havasu City on Friday for sight-seeing and a little relaxation of their own.

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