Black Rock Solar Will Be Transitioning in 2017 to Clean-Tech Accelerator, Black Rock Labs

Black Rock Solar, after almost 10 years of accomplishments in low-cost solar power, will pivot to become Black Rock Labs, an accelerator for clean-tech innovations arising from the Burning Man world, after completion of the organization’s current project pipeline.

Black Rock Labs will formally launch in April 2017.

It only took nine spins of our sweet little planet Earth around our nearest sphere of hot plasma for Black Rock Solar to install 7.6 megawatts worth of solar systems to generate clean, cheap power in Washoe County, Nevada, and points beyond.

“Black Rock Labs will enable us to leverage technologies that weren’t available eight years ago to significantly reduce the carbon footprint at the Burning Man event.”

Black Rock Solar began its sun-capturing mission at Burning Man 2007, installing a 30-kilowatt solar power array on the playa in keeping with that year’s Green Man theme. After the event, the team donated and moved the installation to Gerlach’s Ernest Johnson Elementary School. The original array was later expanded to 90 kilowatts, providing the school with a third of its power and saving more than $15,000 per year, money that goes toward enrichment programs for the kids.

Black Rock Solar’s financial model was innovative: use donations and grants to fund solar installations, receive significant solar rebates from Nevada’s electric utility, and use that money to fund more installations. Today, through Black Rock Solar’s efforts, more than 100 schools, non-profits and tribal community buildings, including the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribes schools and facilities along the Route 447 stretch between Fernley and Gerlach are now powered by the sun’s rays.

Over the past nine years, the cost of solar installations has dropped significantly and Nevada’s rebates have been slashed. Black Rock Solar’s financial model is no longer viable.

Black Rock Solar’s board of directors recognized that, while there is always more work to be done, this important juncture is an opportunity to address new needs. After much deliberation fueled by Burner-style creativity and innovation, the board has decided that Black Rock Solar will officially declare victory and turn its energy toward a bright new star in the heavens.

Black Rock Labs will be an accelerator for best-in-class clean-tech innovations particularly suited to the Burning Man culture and in alignment with Burning Man principles. It will select projects that may start by bettering life in Black Rock City, but which can be scaled to serve the whole world.

Entering the Laboratory
Black Rock Labs’ trajectory will be informed by technological advances in networked devices and machine learning. Its sphere will still include energy but will expand to encompass innovations in habitat, water, and waste.

Some examples to get you started: Deployable habitats that enable humans to survive in a more environmentally sustainable manner, not only in Black Rock City’s harsh desert, but in refugee camps around the world, or after natural disasters, or in remote regions where people are congregated (like Standing Rock). It’s a perfect synergy with ongoing Burner activities: Burners Without Borders can identify needs and deploy teams to install technologies created by Black Rock Labs graduates.

The first effort will target smart power, using “Internet of Energy” technology that optimizes the storage, generation, and dispatching of renewable energy where it’s needed.

“Black Rock Labs will enable us to leverage technologies that weren’t available eight years ago to significantly reduce the carbon footprint at the Burning Man event,” says David Shearer, chair of the board of directors, “and concurrently develop beneficial co-projects around the world.”

Black Rock Labs will champion its initiatives through the Burning Man community. It will serve as a platform for Burners to share and develop ideas. The platform will help to connect like-minded people and empower them to network with the vast brain trust of the Burning Man community at large.

(Top photo: The Black Rock Solar crew in Gerlach, circa 2007. Photo credit unknown.)

About the author: Sybil Hatch

Proud citizen of Black Rock City and Glittercamp since 2005, Sybil Hatch is a lover of the desert, bicycles, and writing. She is particularly drawn to stories exploring the interstitial dynamics between humans, emotion, and the natural world. Best burn ever? When she brought her 16-year-old daughter to Burning Man. Daughter’s response when asked about her favorite part of Burning Man? “I couldn’t believe how friendly and open all the people were to me!” That’s Sybil’s kind of town!

11 Comments on “Black Rock Solar Will Be Transitioning in 2017 to Clean-Tech Accelerator, Black Rock Labs

  • Will Chase says:

    This is fantastic. Congratulations on a job very well done, and best of luck with the next chapter!

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  • Tahir J Naim says:

    I’ve been a regular donor to BRS since 2009. I’ll be sorry to see BRS gone. A clever pop-up habitat suitable for playa and snow would be a welcome innovation. I’m curious to know more detail about what’s happened in the last 9 years besides solar that’s of interest. Keep us posted!

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  • C says:

    I’m genuinely not sure if this is a joke or not. Labs, pivot, tech accelerator, synergy, machine learning, platform, “internet of energy” (and the assumed reference to the “internet of things”) – all these terms are straight out of silicon valley’s toxic, entitled culture that is already too present at the burn because of the outsized representation of the tech world at the burn. (I know because I’m part of that culture, so I can recognise it!)

    If this is a joke, it’s extremely well done and you got me! If it’s not a joke, then I’m sad.

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  • Dr. Bungee says:

    The rebate programs were put in place to encourage solar installations, until they became price competitive with non renewable sources. This is now a reality, or close enough so that the system that helped finance BRS is no longer a necessity. As I sit here on this longest, darkest night of the year, I can’t help but wonder what lies ahead, as the political winds seem to be changing. Let’s hope that the call to bring back coal is nothing more than another empty promise made to a specific constituency in a (successful) bid to attract votes. While it’s easy to get depressed contemplating dire possibilities, let’s remember, the darkest hour is just before the dawn. Having like minded people work together for a better future is what we CAN do. I look forward to what this group of inspiring entrepreneurs can evolve into. As a builder of sustainable homes, I offer whatever help I can.

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  • Some Seeing Eye says:

    Bold necessary move. And a challenge to differentiate your project.

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  • roissy says:

    BRS need to start looking at technology such is this:

    http://solarcontainer.info/solar-container/index.html
    and
    http://solarcontainer.info/index.html

    And may the price of PowerWalls will drop as well.

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  • Mystry says:

    Article fails to reveal funding, as in sources and who profits. With a change in focus always comes a change in money balance. A “Lab” ? Who owns, who pays, as the old funding structure is breaking down? Pivot? Yes, the funding pivots so who profits? “Synergy” implies private capital investors with a focus on profit. “Machine learning” implies big data. Who’s big computers are being used to generate profit? “Platform” “internet of energy” “leverage”– all these terms are straight out of bible of big business. Having stated these concerns, BRS have been at their best in the early years as a grassroots org with a focus on true egalitarian action. They are to be congratulated to date, as we wonder, What is the financial source and focus of their actions moving forward?

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  • Mystry says:

    Just wanted to add, that the photo of “affiliated orgs” at the top of the article, were not listed in the article. Who are the affiliated “all white guys-no women” you show, and what is their role/affiliation? Thanks for starting the conversation and hope to see follow up answers.

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    • Quiet Earp says:

      If you are referring to the photo at the top of the blog that is of the people who started BRS. It is a photo taken at the Gerlach array. There are a few people missing. I admit it was predominantly male but the construction industry is generally male. I see you assumed the genders of the people in the photograph, but you misjudged as there is a female pictured who was on the crew.

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