I’d like to start by saying e:lah’kwa (thank you) for the opportunity to visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE's) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) facilities in October. The tour, led by Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team (START) Project Lead Colton Heaps and Principal Engineer Otto VanGeet, was tremendously insightful. I would also like to thank our travel sponsors (Darrell Tsabetsaye, Pueblo of Zuni Tribal Renewable Energy Office; Shaun Tsabetsaye, Engineering Consultant to Zuni Energy Project; and Royce Stewart, Red Mountain Energy Partners) for making the trip to NREL and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) National Conference possible.
My name is Reyna Banteah, and I am a senior studying environmental science at the University of New Mexico. I am a member of the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico. I have always believed that it is important for our Tribe to develop and protect our resources. There has always been a desire in my future goals to help my community with its resources, particularly to protect our lands and water. Our Tribe is unique in its language, customs, and traditions, and the environment we occupy is precious and complex. My reason for wanting to visit NREL ties into this desire to be involved in sustainable research, not only with energy but in other avenues as well.
Being a female in an underrepresented science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) field holds a lot of promise and responsibility. Sometimes the progression of Native American students in STEM fields is not a paved road; however, it is encouraging to know that through START and similar programs, DOE and NREL are leading the way to help Native American communities further their potential, which allows students like me to keep pursuing our own potentials as well.
Here are some of my highlights of our tour at NREL:
- The visit to the biomass plant was exceptionally inviting because the lodge pole pine being processed smelled wonderful. You could actually feel the power being generated by the heat. I learned how important maintaining a fire could be, from which types of fuel are more efficient than others to how burn settings need to be calibrated based on type of fuel.
- It was wonderful to learn the design and planning that went into building the Research Support Facility (RSF), which is a LEED Platinum-rated building. We were able to see on the RSF Energy Monitoring system the inputs and outputs of energy being used and created by the building. The facility is just amazing!
- The meeting held by several NREL employees was one of my favorite moments because they showcased the START Program and the various energy projects going on with different Native American Tribes across the United States. It was great to learn about the various resources that Tribes have available to them, such as the renewable energy curriculum/short courses, webinar series, newsletter, and internships for students. I was also very encouraged at the beginning of the meeting during introductions when I stated my major as environmental science and got an enthusiastic cheer! That was very uplifting.
- The projects being done at the Energy Systems Integration Facility are truly remarkable, especially the research being done to design more energy efficient homes and vehicles. I really enjoyed all the films and displays located throughout the building, which described its various operations. We also had the opportunity to use the 3-D visualization room.
Partnerships with DOE, NREL, and Tribes such as Zuni allow us to keep moving in a direction that not only minimizes harmful impacts on the planet, but also ties in our traditions of being self-sustaining people. Sustainable energy development, particularly solar energy, is important to develop in our Tribe, as we do not have other major resources, such as coal, oil/gas, or water to utilize. In the future, I would like to be conducting the research necessary to keep our communities ready for the future and progressing forward with sustainable efforts.