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.)