On August 8-12, from 9 am until noon, close to a dozen youth attended the Just-B-Solar Camp at Shiloh Temple International Ministries (STIM), located at 1201 West Broadway Ave. North in Minneapolis. Sponsors for the solar camp were STIM, Innovative Power Systems (IPS) and Just-B-Solar (JBS).
Throughout the week, youth campers were introduced to the various aspects and possibilities of solar energy from local guest experts in the solar industry. The campers learned how to build solar lanterns, how to design solar ovens to bake a cake, how to work in teams to design their very own solar-powered devices, and how to work together as a group on a mini solar town project that was completed by the last day of camp.
Participants also took a field trip to tour a solar factory (Ten K Solar) where solar panels are manufactured. Campers first toured Shiloh International Ministries, where the first community solar garden project in North Minneapolis will be built. Each morning before the 9 am camp start time, campers and counselors gathered for a nutritious breakfast.
The Just-B-Solar (JBS) concept and curriculum is the brainchild of Keith Dent, who is the president and CEO of Just-B-Solar, Inc., a Minnesota company based in North Minneapolis. Dent grew up in North Minneapolis, currently installs solar panels for Innovative Power Systems, and also serves as the camp’s project director and lead instructor.
MSR spoke with Dent (KD) and a few of the youth campers about their week of solar education, innovation, experimentation and fun.
MSR: How did you come up with the idea for the Just-B-Solar Camp?
KD: I came up with the concept of the camp while attending a local solar conference. [I] listened to a few politicians, policymakers and innovators talk about solar solutions. Their presentations actually took the fun out of solar. I said to myself, who better to put the fun back into solar than kids.
My thought was, how can I bring back information about solar to share with the youth from my community, not just for those unable to attend the conference, but to deliver it on a regular bases. The answer was to merge entertaining solar education with a fun approach, and Just-B-Solar Camp was born. In my observation, fun is how we keep them engaged and one of the reasons why they learn so much in a short period of time.
MSR: What did you anticipate taking away from attending the solar conference?
KD: I was in search of my place in the solar revolution that’s taking place now.
MSR: How did the partnership with Shiloh Ministries come about?
KD: The partnership…happened because of working for Innovative Power Systems [IPS] as a solar panel installer and IPS has been contracted to do the installation of the solar community garden at Shiloh. In fact, I’m the installer scheduled for that project. I was looking for a place to host the camp and they obviously saw our camp as something that complements their current efforts to educate the North Minneapolis community about solar energy.
MSR: What is the main focus of your camp?
KD: We’re focused on the Photovoltaic [PV] aspect. PV gets its name from the process of converting light or photons to electricity or voltage. This is basically photosynthesis or simply converting sunlight into energy. We focus on how solar energy is harnessed and transferred into electricity.
Let’s say you have a solar panel on your home. When the sun hits that, it’s considered direct current or DC and the inverter turns it into an alternating current or AC. It’s then distributed through the loads in your home, loads meaning anything that uses electricity, like your washing machine.
MSR: Can you always store some of the power?
KD: Yes, you can store the electricity and use it at your discretion or sell it back to the utility company.
MSR: What was one of your main goals?
KD: One of my main goals was to make everything as fun as possible, with hands-on learning in real time.
MSR: What lesson did you want campers to get from creating their own mini solar community?
KD: For me, it was the best way to bring all of the lessons during the week full circle. By creating a small solar town, they can realize the big possibilities of an actual solar community.
The MSR spoke with two campers: 12-year-old Dequay Koumalasy-Dent (DKD), who is the oldest son of Keith Dent, and nine-year-old Maniya Dorsey (MD) about lessons learned from solar camp.
MSR: What did you learn after making the mini solar town?
DKD: The best lesson I learned was how much we depend on the sun for many things. I learned that we can light up our houses and other things with solar energy and save money. Another fun lesson was when we had a guest speaker who invented a solar oven and we started cooking hot dogs, carrots and other food. It was fun and a good learning experience.
MSR: (to Maniya Dorsey) What was the most fun you had while in solar camp?
MD: Building a solar motor boat.
MSR: How did you get it to move in the water?
MD: We put the motor under the cork. Then you connect it to a solar panel. You put the negative with the negative and the positive with the positive. You have to glue the solar panel to the cork so it stays together.
MSR: How did it run?
MD: As long as you have light hitting the solar panel, it will run. I want to build a solar powered car now. You can save money by using the sun instead of gas with a solar car.
MSR: (to Dent) It must make you proud to hear how much they learned about solar energy.
KD: Yes, I think all of the things that they did during the week helped to open their minds. For example, they toured an actual solar manufacturing plant called Ten K Solar, in Bloomington, MN. They were very excited about that. It was a first for both Ten K Solar and for the campers. The campers were able to see all of the different aspects of being involved with solar.
They were introduced to designers, sales reps and installers. We just introduced them to their future. There are many opportunities because of the sun or solar energy. I think it’s my responsibility to be a conduit.
MSR: Where do you see JBS in the next five years?
KD: I see endless possibilities, and the solar information is needed everywhere. It’s going to take more than one individual willing; it’s going to take groups of individuals to become the change they want to see with solar energy. So you can hopefully look for Just-B-Solar continuing to educate young people and adults in every state if possible.
For more information about the Just-B-Solar Camps, contact Keith Dent at 651-313-1793.
James L. Stroud Jr. is a contributing writer and photographer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.