A Sunnyside of Texas: The Solar Dog House Project

A Sunnyside of Texas: The Solar Dog House Project

By Samantha Perkins

Thanks to a generous contribution from the Texas Solar Energy Society and its local chapter, the Houston Renewable Energy Group, after school programs are going to the dogs. TXSES, along with HREG, has donated 1000 bones, as in dollars, to support green initiatives in Houston schools in an unconventional way - they’re funding the design and construction of solar-powered dog houses.
“Why not have fun with renewable energy and green building, present it in a manner that captures the imagination?” asked Lucy Stolzenburg of TXSES. Innovative programs that incorporate green components are emerging across the nation, even within Houston, Energy Capital of the World. 
LEFT- Deandre Watson and Darius Thomas. give a tour of their Sunnyside Solar Powered Dog House during the auction.
Middle School students design, build and sell their solar-powered dog houses

On a hot May day, when many kids were playing video games or watching cartoons, young men from the Solar Dog House Program were auctioning off their first homes. Deandre, an 8th grader at Houston’s Pro-Vision Charter School, stood in front of a small group of adults representing the City of Houston’s Residential Energy Efficiency Program, PMG Energy, administrators and teachers from local schools, and Gulf Coast Community Services Association. The student gave them a tour, pointing to each part of the house and elaborating on each part’s function and design.

“These are the solar panels that convert energy from the sun. It then gets stored in this 6-volt rechargeable battery. The battery then powers two lights that are controlled by this switch. The battery also powers this thermostat-controlled motorized fan. The fan blows the hot air through the ridge vent right here. When it gets cool the thermostat turns the fan off. That way we can save energy,” he said with pride. “Oh yeah, our houses were built with as much recycled material as possible. We used wood scraps from new home construction sites.” The group of adults beamed, seemingly astonished at what the future held within this 12 year old. Especially heart-warming is the fact that these students hailed from Sunnyside, an underprivileged Houston suburb.
Taking an active interest in youth

Deandre and other Sunnyside youth experience hardships uncommon to others, but it seems they only make some of the neighborhood’s young ones work that much harder. A few well-known figures, including Texas Senator Rodney Ellis and pro-football Hall of Famer and current San Francisco 49ers’ head coach Michael Singletary, were raised in Sunnyside. The students in the Solar Dog House Program hope to rise to such heights. Throughout the journey to reach their dreams, students in the program will recall these childhood memories of integrating renewable energy and green concepts into their work.

While some have chosen not to invest in communities like Sunnyside. TXSES and HREG consciously chose to support this work. These types of programs “place today’s technology in the hands and minds of our youth as we all move forward with solar and geothermal technologies,” says Jim Hudson, HREG Board Member. This paradigm shift of thought, energy and conscious decisions for America’s next generation is a step that HREG is eager to take, Hudson said. “The impossible only takes a little bit longer; young minds seem to make it happen a little faster,” he said.

Building a green initiative from the ground up

No one shares the sentiment more than University of Houston adjunct professor Larry Hill, creator and director of the Solar Dog House Program. The project emerged after blending ideas from Sunnyside residents with an interdisciplinary class of UH students during Hill’s six-week community development course last summer. These ideas then moved forward into the “grant writing process,” said Hill, who is successfully incubating the larger Green For Sunnyside Program. Hill, a doctoral candidate, says the priority is the students. “It’s really not about the dogs,” Hill says. “The program is about getting our youth, their families and the community interested in green jobs, renewable technologies, and the new 3Rs – Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.”

Pro-Vision Inc., an all male charter school dedicated to developing Houston’s underserved students into leaders of tomorrow, were the first to partner with UH to implement this program. There is no other after-school program like this in the nation. It will be scaled up to more schools, churches, community centers, and businesses during the summer months.
Professionals in business know how exciting and fun the green movement can be, but it’s our job to pass it along to the next generation as well. For more information contact Larry Hill at 713-743-8097 or lehill@uh.edu.

Samantha Perkins is a senior majoring in Advertising at the University of Houston