Decorating the solar panels on Nov. 3. Photo: Matt Harris

Western Solar Society (WSS) held their third in a series of Solar for Ukraine events this past Thursday, Nov. 3. 

At Thursday’s event, around 15 students prepared and decorated seven high-grade, weather-resistant solar panel modules — fully equipped with accompanying charging ports — which will soon be shipped off to areas of greatest need in Ukraine via the Lakewood-based Ukrainians of Colorado nonprofit.

Two previous Solar for Ukraine events were held earlier this year, including in early March, just a few weeks after the conflict broke out, and later in May, right before graduation. 

The modules will assist Ukrainians with charging phones and other small devices as they continue to weather the impacts of a brutal, prolonged Russian invasion that is now in its ninth month.

Ukrainians of Colorado is currently accepting donations to facilitate the shipping of medical supplies and other forms of material aid, which carry significant costs, particularly in an era of global shipping upheaval.

“We’ve done two of these before and have had really good turnout, good enough that this nonprofit [Ukrainians of Colorado] was like ‘Hey, can you do this again?,” says Taylor Schultz, the president of WSS.

Critical in making the Solar for Ukraine events possible is Western adjunct professor Rich Stromberg, WSS’s faculty advisor and a co-founder of Equitable Solar Solutions, a program of Coldharbour Institute, a local environmental nonprofit, that has provided the solar panels. Stromberg has also served as the primary point of contact with Ukrainians of Colorado.

“The need for [these events] is because all of these towns in Ukraine are getting bombed, and Russia is specifically bombing [power] grid areas, so they’re losing the majority of their power,” Schultz explains. “So to provide grid independence for these people is really cool.”

Western Solar Society’s vice president Matt Harris works on a panel to send to Ukraine. Photo: Rich Stromberg

For the participating Western students, assembling and decorating the solar panels has also carried a deeper meaning in a time of profound uncertainty and devastating news. 

“We’re so far away from the conflict and we don’t really know what it’s like to be in a war — but personally it’s just really nice to have that feedback [from Ukrainians of Colorado] that this is needed and this is necessary…[and that] we can provide something that helps tangibly, taking time out of our daily lives to do something that will make a tremendous impact,” relays Schultz. 

“To us, it doesn’t take a lot of time, honestly — we spent two hours on Thursday putting these together…but it’s something that could mean the world to someone else,” she adds. “It’s nice to know that we can provide hope.”

Schultz says that WSS would be interested in hosting more Solar for Ukraine events if the group continues to receive positive feedback from Ukrainians of Colorado. “As long as they request them, we’ll keep doing them,” Schultz says. 

Students interested in becoming involved with Western Solar Society can typically catch their meetings on Thursday’s at 5:30 p.m. on the upper floor of the Rady Building — although Schultz notes that the group tries their best to keep busy, and opts to host working meetings whenever feasible.

Currently, WSS is assisting one student with renovating their converted solar ambulance, and eyeing plans to complete a solar install in Chipeta Gardens. 

“Don’t be afraid to try new things — we’re really accepting,” Schultz advises students interested in joining WSS. “If [students] have no prior experience with [solar energy] it’s totally okay to just come hang out with us and see what’s going on. That’s how I was when this started, and now here I am.”

With questions about the club, you can email WSS at WesternSolarSociety@western.edu.

Photo: Matt Harris