Black Rock Solar Celebrates Five Years & Two Megawatts

[Marnee Benson is the Deputy Director of Black Rock Solar, the solar non-profit spinoff from Black Rock City LLC.]

And then one day in July, under a blazing Nevada sun, the veteran Black Rock Solar crew put the finishing touches on a gorgeous hundred-kilowatt array at the Desert Research Institute in Reno.  Not only would the array provide clean, renewable energy to the internationally-recognized research center for decades to come, it also marked the two millionth watt of solar installed since Black Rock Solar dedicated its first free array in the tiny, remote outpost of Gerlach some five years ago.  An array built by a ragtag team of DPW volunteers working for breakfast at Bruno’s, packs of cigarettes, and a bunk in the town’s dusty trailer park.  Well, that’s the legend anyway…

The 2007 crew on the playa during Burning Man. Photo by Marnee Benson


The Black Rock Solar crew in Gerlach, circa 2007. Photo credit unknown.


100 kW at the Desert Research Institute in Reno. Photo by Paddy McCully

 We’ve come a long way, baby

Now it’s 2012 and Black Rock Solar has one of the most experienced construction crews and professional project development teams in the state.  In the past two months alone the 501(c)(3) non-profit has commissioned six more systems, bringing the grand total to 53 and the number of individual panels installed by hand to 12,313.  Some, like the tiny 2.9 kW off-grid array at Urban Roots Farm, provide a small amount of power where it’s needed most.  Others, like the 200 kW array at Western Nevada College, are keystone systems at statewide institutions of higher education, visible to thousands of students and educators every day, helping to make solar power part of the right now rather than the maybe someday.

Western Nevada College in Carson City, Nevada.


Since its inception in 2007 Black Rock Solar has worked closely with 17 different schools and colleges, four tribes, six medical centers, and 12 other charitable organizations.   Their work has allowed thousands of dollars – approximately $250,000 in 2011 alone – to be re-allocated from paying electricity bills to improving community programs and services from Lovelock to Gardnerville.  The Food Bank of Northern Nevada estimates they are able to provide 54,000 additional meals every year to hungry families in Nevada because of the money they save each month with their 150 kW array.

VIPs at the Food Bank of Northern Nevada. Photo by Candice Towell

One of Black Rock Solar’s principal partners is the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.  BRS has built nine arrays and almost half a megawatt for the tribe’s public buildings and schools in Nixon, Nevada, helping lift economic independence and providing job training for tribe members.  The first solar project was constructed in 2009 at the tribal medical clinic, followed in 2010 by the celebrated arrowhead array at the Museum & Visitor Center. Work continues today with new solar projects in development as well as energy efficiency and audit training for tribe members.

Pyramid Lake Museum & Visitor Center Arrowhead Array

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency may not be the most scintillating conversation topic, but it’s the one insiders know to be the simplest and most effective way of saving energy and reducing environmental impact from energy consumption.  Black Rock Solar now offers free energy audits to many of its solar partners, as a way to identify and prioritize conservation measures and upgrades to be implemented in conjunction with new solar arrays.   BRS is also working with six Nevada tribes to provide energy audit & array maintenance job training to tribe members under a USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant, helping create economic sustainability and jobs.

Field Trips.  To Actual Fields.

For three years Black Rock Solar has been hosting field trips for northern Nevada students to visit array sites and receive hands-on educational experience with working solar panels.  Kids learn about renewable energy, conservation, and climate change while discovering the great programs offered by Black Rock Solar’s non-profit partners.  Recent trips include the CARE Chest, where free medical equipment and supplies are given to Nevada families, and the Pyramid Lake Museum & Visitor Center where kids learned about Paiute culture and Pyramid Lake history.

Traner Middle School students at the Food Bank of Northern Nevada. Photo by Candice Towell
Hunter Lake Elementary School field trip to Pyramid Lake Museum & Visitor Center. Photo by Marnee Benson


Black Rock Solar is also a founding member of GREENevada, a coalition of non-profit organizations that believes every school can be green and every child can learn global responsibility through local example.  In 2012 GREENevada hosted the 2nd Annual Student Sustainability Summit where 14 high school teams competed for $16,000 in cash to implement environmentally friendly projects at their schools.

2011 GREENevada winners Reed High School. Photo by Jessica Reeder

Top Down

Black Rock Solar continues its work with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, improving the state’s incentive program and helping develop new regulations.  We’re also working with other groups and solar contractors to advocate for new policies during the upcoming 2013 legislative session in Carson City.  We keep track of virtual net metering, renewable portfolio standards, transmission corridors, and performance based incentives so you don’t have to.

Art + Solar = Love

2012 was the first year for Black Rock Solar’s Sunshine grant program, including nearly $30,000 in support for public art and education projects.  The Reno Star Cosmic Thistle, designed by Mark Szulgit, was installed on the playa during Burning Man and will be permanently placed in Reno in November.  Tha Photo$ynthe$sizer is an interactive, solar-powered sculpture designed by Dinaz Kardooni and was displayed on the Esplanade next to the Everywhere Pavilion during Burning Man 2012.  Black Rock Solar plans to collaborate with more artists next year, so keep your eyes peeled and let us know if you have any great ideas for solar powered art in your community.

The Reno Star Cosmic Thistle & Gon Kirin at Burning Man 2012. Photo by James Addison


It’s been quite a ride these past five years!  This month Black Rock Solar will hit 2.76 MW of solar installed, including three arrays in southern Nevada, and we expect 2013 to bring a whole new round of projects and opportunities.  We want to thank you for your continued interest and support and encourage you to drop us a line anytime.





About the author: Marnee Benson

Marnee Benson

Marnee is Burning Man Project’s Associate Director of Government Affairs. Her work focuses on permitting and relationships with the Nevada Legislature, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Pershing County, and multiple other Nevada agencies. She helps Burning Man navigate Nevada politics and federal issues affecting the Burning Man event. Marnee’s first trip to Black Rock City was 2001, and in 2007 she worked with the Department of Public Works and the Communications team, writing and photographing content for the Burning Blog “Building Black Rock City”. From 2009 to 2013, she served as the Deputy Director at Black Rock Solar. She loves the way Burning Man expands her world and flips ideas upside down.

13 Comments on “Black Rock Solar Celebrates Five Years & Two Megawatts

  • Tiahaar Kurtheru says:

    Way to go BRS!! Wow that’s a lot of solar installed, its grown into and beyond what that humble original crew dreamed of back in 2007. I’m the shirtless freak up there on the left, really glad to be a part of the beginnings. Go Solar! =^.^=

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  • reidflys says:

    i love your arrowhead design,
    good job you’ll

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  • ffkellymo says:

    Such a great job BRS! The arrowhead solar array is genius! It’s so awesome that Burning Man was the start of such a worthwhile organization. )'(

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  • Maria says:

    THANK YOU BRS!!! Marnee this blog brought tears to my eyes…seriously. As an adjunct art professor for WNCC…I was personally thanked for BRS ‘s work by the President of the college when I installed an exhibit on BM art – just because of the BM connection. I also teach at TMCC and pass the solar array for the Desert Research Institute every day. We have worked hard to bring BM art to Reno – I had no idea BRS was responsible for the Reno Star Thistle lighting and that there are plans to continue lighting art…I am in awe…and feel honored to be be under the BM umbrella of non-profits – BRS, BRAF and BWB

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  • MOE THOMAS says:

    HELLO ALL! I’m allpying for many grants concurrently to achieve a grand piece that will utilize solar paneling to charge over a 100 puzzle pieces during the day to glow like a fire at night and need assistance and advice in the field with connectors and what would be neccessary to achieve the concept. I have no background with electronics or solar power and wuld appreciate advice and links to those to whom I can get in contact with. Im confident the piece will be approved and the moneys acquired with the right information and budget breakdown. Thank You

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  • says:

    Great post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am inspired!
    Very helpful information specifically the last part :) I care for such information
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    Thank you and good luck.

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  • Jim Laner says:

    Nice Work BRS!!! Set your sights on One Burning Quad (1,000 MW) of installed capacity. You will get there, and sooner than you think!!

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