NU HEAT proposes solar charging initiative


Photo courtesy Emily Wallace and Madison McDermott

Husky Environmental Action Team, or HEAT, is launching an initiative with the goal of creating solar-powered charging stations on campus.

Jessica Silverman, news staff

As the weather warms up and more students opt to take their remote classes outside, the Husky Environmental Action Team, or HEAT, noticed an issue — the lack of phone and laptop chargers located outside. 

To fix the problem, second-years Madison McDermott and Emily Wallace teamed up on a project that would be both effective and environmentally friendly; they launched an initiative aimed at creating solar-powered charging stations.

“We realized there should be a way to charge your phone when you’re sitting outside at Centennial or one of the other green spaces on campus,” said McDermott, a politics, philosophy and economics major. “Northeastern lacks a lot of renewable energy, and we have little to no solar on campus, so we thought the solar panel picnic tables would be a great way to bring that renewable energy focus and make the campus more aware that this is something that we really need.”

McDermott and Wallace identified the lack of innovative approaches to charging on other campuses nationwide as well, so it was important that their proposal utilized renewable energy sources. 

“When we were touring other universities two years ago, they had forms of outdoor charging in terms of large extension cords from the buildings. We wanted to provide a more sustainable and clean energy option that didn’t rely on extension cords or power from the buildings,” said Wallace, an environmental and sustainability sciences major.

The chargers convert energy from the sun into electrical energy. From there, as opposed to charging the battery within the device, this energy is used to charge an internal rechargeable battery. This energy then charges the device so that an external power source isn’t required. Extension cords that come from buildings require more energy, which is ultimately more costly and less sustainable.

Their project consists of four recommendations to the university for solar-powered charging stations, including two solar benches, one picnic table with an umbrella and one without. McDermott and Wallace started research on the project during the first week of the spring semester. They found comparable setups on campuses nationwide, communicated with sales representatives regarding prices and met with the university’s Office of Sustainability.

HEAT is collaborating with the Student Government Association’s, or SGA’s, Sustainability Board to finalize details before the proposal is presented to Northeastern’s administration. Wallace and McDermott are hoping to utilize SGA’s Renewable Energy Fund as a source of funding for the project. SGA’s Vice President of Sustainability Frank Mastroianni is excited to support the project by helping to secure funding.

“When it comes to SGA, people should know that we’re here to guide student ingenuity,” said Mastroianni, a second-year criminal justice and political science combined major. “I think our campus is a really creative, really passionate group of people, and I think that the purpose of this fund in my head is a grassroots fund for sustainable projects. … I think this is one of the best projects that can happen on our end.”

Currently, the Renewable Energy Fund is powered by student donations through NUPay on the myNortheastern portal, but SGA is looking to change that so that donations can come from anyone, including those outside the Northeastern student body. The board that dictates the allocation of funding cannot approve spending more than 20% of its budget on any one project, so McDermott and Wallace must ask for additional university funding.

McDermott and Wallace have struggled to find sources to fund the expensive machinery, and they are hoping the university grants them money for the project. McDermott and Wallace estimate the project will cost about $10,000 for each bench. 

“I think one of the challenges we faced is that there isn’t a formal process for student projects to undergo. We’ve definitely had to reach out to different sources and see who would meet with us to get the word out there,” McDermott said. “We also are having challenges with funding. This is going to be an extensive project. Although it will be super useful and beneficial for the campus, it also costs lots of money to get this extensive machinery.”

While the proposal is still in its draft stages, it is endorsed by numerous on-campus organizations including NU Cruelty Free, NU Impact, NU College Democrats and the Roosevelt Network. These groups are helping McDermott and Wallace spread the word to students while also providing feedback on which of the solar chargers should be purchased. 

Mastroianni believes the university would be receptive to following through on this project.

“I think if [McDermott and Wallace] can demonstrate that there is student interest in it — which I know there is, we’ve demonstrated this through numbers — that’ll be a huge plus,” he said. “I also think it’s a really cool project. … For example, if the school showed off, ‘Oh we have a solar powered bench here because some students thought of it and we built it,’ it shows a good relationship between the school and its students.”

Northeastern’s campus has this huge commitment to sustainability, which they complete through many different endeavors, but they have so far not really committed to renewable energy. This will be a start and a talking piece for the Northeastern community to start talking about why we need renewable energy on campus.”

— Madison McDermott

Wallace and McDermott hope to finalize their proposal soon so the benches can be purchased over the summer and ready for use by the fall semester. They believe their project will help the university meet its sustainability goals.

“I think something that’s really important to us is that everyone realizes how important renewable energy is,” McDermott said. “Northeastern’s campus has this huge commitment to sustainability, which they complete through many different endeavors, but they have so far not really committed to renewable energy. This will be a start and a talking piece for the Northeastern community to start talking about why we need renewable energy on campus.”

Once they finish this project, Wallace and McDermott are looking to further expand Northeastern’s sustainability efforts.

“It’s important to note that this is only phase one of what we want to do,” Wallace said. “There’s been a lot of proposals to Northeastern for solar panels on top of our buildings, and they haven’t been approved or denied yet, so there’s definitely a need for student push on that angle. … This is only phase one and we’re excited to keep going with this.”