Garrett Fitzgerald and Rob van Haaren aren’t on a typical road trip. The Columbia University engineering students have embarked on what they're calling Solar Journey USA, a mission to bring their portable solar array to different communities across the nation. The most recent stop on their expedition was hurricane-ravaged Rockaway Beach, where they brought their renewable energy source on wheels to power-deprived residents in the area.
Each night of their trip, the doctoral students drive from dusk to dawn in their electric vehicle. Once they arrive at a location, they roll out the solar panels and set them up in a vacant lot to charge up the EV battery. As the panels juice up their car, Fitzgerald and Van Haaren give impromptu talks about solar power to passersby, educating citizens around the United States about the perks of solar energy.
After Hurricane Sandy hit, the pair brought their solar array to the rescue, thanks to a truck with a tank full of gas. They parked the Solar Journey at St. Gertrude Church, where the array provided much needed power for locals, after 90% of the buildings in Rockaway lost electricity. With their help, the solar array was able to power a community center, a youth center and an electric vehicle to carry supplies, since gas was scarce for a week. St. Gertrude was also able to provide a Thanksgiving dinner to 200 people thanks to power supplied by Solar Journey. Local residents also got to see firsthand how they could become independent from the power grid, especially in a time of crisis.
Solar Journey will continue to tour the country, bringing renewable energy education and emergency power wherever it lands!