Go green. It’s a phrase that Yale students see all over campus everyday: under paper towel dispensers, on washing machines, and in every dining hall. But few students take the slogan as seriously as Maddy Yozwiak and her team at Project Bright—a solar panel initiative she founded as a freshman.
In 2011, the Yale Office of Sustainability organized a micro-loan competition for students interested in creating organizations that would both save the university money and make it more environmentally friendly. They offered micro-loan amounts equal to the savings generated by the implementation of the ideas. The young Yozwiak had limited experience working with solar panels, but that didn’t stop her from trying something new. She decided to apply on a whim to the Yale competition with a revolving-door funds idea; installations of solar panels would generate capital, and that capital would be used for more installations. In an innovative twist, students would be trained to design solar panels themselves. After going through many departments to obtain approval, Yozwiak ended up being one of only two people to win a grant.
In true entrepreneurial fashion, her idea didn’t quite go as planned. Training students to be contractors required a level of expertise that Yozwiak could not fully provide. And so, she decided Project Bright would have to change course. The organization focused instead on a more specific form of training that would be more manageable for Yale’s perennially overcommitted students.
While doing research with the Yale Student Environmental Coalition and Energy Club, Yozwiak and her team found a way for eager students to contribute to the solar energy movement. Interest in solar power was growing quickly, but people often didn’t know how to get involved. Information that should have been easily available to those interested in solar panels was instead hard to find. Project Bright was started in order to bridge this gap between excitement and accessibility.
Students in Project Bright sign up for training sessions in which they are taught how to install solar panels: how much energy certain panels can produce, what size to use, how to assess the quality of roofs, etc. Students are also taught the economics of the issue—what makes money and what doesn’t. In the 2012-2013 school year, over 50 students completed “Solar 101” training.
Project Bright has been successful so far because its core mission is so practical and it has the singular goal of bringing solar to Yale. While they are currently working on a single installation atop the Geology Lab, Yozwiak said, “This is more of an outlier. Our greater goal is education and training.”
Project Bright is the first undergraduate movement of its kind. The group’s ten-person board looks at solar not only from an environmental perspective, but from an economic one as well. They work with a Yale School of Management student who is helping them as they explore entering this still very new market. In the future, they hope their success will be a model for students at other campuses.
There’s no doubt that climate change is a huge deal, but Project Bright is attacking the problem one small solar panel at a time. “It’s a beautiful thing,” said Yozwiak. “I don’t have to rely on anyone else if I have the roof for the installation. It’s accessible for everyone.”