HorizonsDec 18, 2017

Vivian ’18 brings solar energy to MHS

For her senior Horizons project, Vivian Hou ’18 planned and installed a solar array that supplies power — and opportunities for learning — to Linn Hall

For her senior Horizons project, Vivian Hou ’18 wanted to make a difference on the Miss Hall’s School campus and in the wider world. Her effort, a year in the making, came to in December 2017 — and does both.

Spurred by an interest in solar energy and environmental protection, Vivian spearheaded a solar panel installation on the Miss Hall’s campus. The Panda Solar Project was installed near the tennis courts and Linn Hall, which was also outfitted with a weather station as part of the effort. “The main purpose was to introduce solar to campus and to educate my peers about the benefits of solar energy, clean energy, and environmental protection” said Vivian, whose Horizons internship in 2017-18 was on the MHS campus. “I also wanted to show others what environmental protection could look like.”

Vivian had a vision, was inspired to take action, and had the gumption to advocate steadily for this project.

Head of School

The 3.96-kilowatt installation, which measures about 216 square feet, or 20 square meters, provides power to Linn Hall, the interdisciplinary building between the Main Building and the Elizabeth Gatchell Klein Arts Center. The project, which Vivian proposed in 2016, also included a curricular component through which students can learn more about the science and math involved in solar energy. Vivian’s parents, Ms. Zheng Qin and Mr. Jinlong Hou, generously underwrote the cost of the installation.

“At first, my motivation was personal,” explained Vivian, noting that while on a family outing in China, she visited an area with heavy air pollution. “My mother was sick, and I was really worried about her and the severity of that situation.” Conversations with her father, who works in the solar industry, started Vivian thinking about clean energy alternatives. Then, in June 2016, she attended The Climate Reality Project summit, which was held shortly after the Paris Agreement on climate change and was attended by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

Vivian with the installed solar panel

“He talked about how young students could stand up and be leaders in ameliorating climate change,” recalled Vivian, who decided to take action. In November 2016, she and her family proposed the Panda Solar Project. That the MHS campus was also undergoing the addition of two new buildings further convinced Vivian that the time was right for action. Conversations with Head of School Julia Heaton, Director of Development and Alumnae Relations Diane Wortis, Director of Campus Services Robert Aldrich, and Director of Horizons Alison Basdekis followed, as did meetings with potential vendors. Berkshire Photovoltaic Services, of nearby Adams, was ultimately chosen to install the array.

“Vivian had a vision, was inspired to take action, and had the gumption to advocate steadily for this project,” noted Head of School Julia Heaton. “This is but one of the many ways MHS students advocate for initiatives that benefit the common good and demonstrate that our mission is more than words on paper. We thank Vivian and her family for their generous support of the Panda Solar Project, which not only benefits the environment, but also benefits Vivian’s classmates, future students, and the School.”

Much of Vivan’s Horizons work in 2017-18 was monitoring the project’s progress, including sitting in on meetings about how best to introduce elements of the project into the classroom. For example, students can calculate how to set the optimal angles for the panels, which they can adjust. The weather station atop Linn Hall allows them to monitor optimal conditions for electricity production, and they also have access to real-time data on the installation’s performance.

Vivian also presented to sophomore Horizons students on the project and the benefits of solar energy, and she monitored the project’s permitting process and the installation of various components. “The challenging thing for me was to just be persistent and to keep communicating, because it takes a while to do something like this,” she said. “We hope this project brings long-term benefits to MHS, not only through building the system, but also using it as a path to promote a greener future for students and the School.”