My internship is at SunDog Solar/ Solaqua Power & Art in Chatham, NY. SunDog Solar is a small business that designs and installs residential and commercial solar photovoltaic and solar thermal hot water systems, as well as spray foam insulation. Solaqua Power & Art is the nonprofit arm of the organization and works to bring sustainable living demonstrations to Chatham. Solaqua’s mission is to “integrate renewable energy and the arts, and promote a sustainable future through community education and revitalization.”
There are many projects that fall under Solaqua’s umbrella, including a “tiny house,” various art projects, and a solar oven factory in a shipping container that could be deployed to disaster areas. The project I am currently researching is a sustainable aquaponics farming system that will produce fish and vegetables in a closed-loop, zero-effluent, indoor system. Some of the main global concerns with aquaculture (fish farming) are destruction of mangroves around the world, overfishing of the oceans for marketable fish or to produce fish feed, and environmental damages caused by the release of pesticides and nutrients into waterways. SunDog wants to do this in a sustainable way, eliminating the need for pesticides and turning the fish waste into a nutrient source for hydroponic crops. The system will be designed to be low-energy and renewable energy sources will be used for all operations. The research I have conducted includes looking into industry best practices, innovative solutions in indoor aquaculture, and organic seafood policies. Surprisingly, there is currently no organic standard for seafood in the U.S., but a resolution was passed to allow any wild-caught seafood to be labeled organic, while farmed fish (including from indoor systems) cannot be labeled organic. So you might want to get to know your producer better if you plan to buy “organic” fish.
I am also learning about renewable energy incentive programs and policies at the state and national level. I was able to attend a meeting with the office of NY State Senator Steve Saland regarding the Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act of 2011. If passed, this act would require power companies to purchase Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) from homeowners and businesses with solar energy systems for fifteen years to provide locked-in incentives to jump start New York’s renewable energy industry. Additionally, I have helped to edit several grant proposals for solar installation incentives from the USDA Rural Development Agency.
Most of my CEP classes have helped me already in this internship. Jen Phillips’ Science of Agriculture and Ecosystems class outlined the current issues in intensive aquaculture and covered various solutions in intensive agriculture. My literature review on pharmaceuticals and personal care products in water underscored the need for agricultural systems that use less pesticides and chemicals and for a more holistic approach to waste management. I’ve used Gautam’s stats and economics courses to critically evaluate the journal articles that I’m reading and to try to understand the full implications of things like the Solar Jobs Act mentioned previously. And, of course, my Science of Climate class provided the understanding of why the projects I’m working on are important; the climate is changing and not necessarily in predictable ways, our agricultural systems tend to add to the problem, ecosystems like ocean fisheries may be failing, and solutions are in high demand.
I look forward to the rest of the summer at SunDog, learning about the solar industry and talking with other CEP students in renewable energy internships about national and international policy. I also look forward to communicating with various stakeholders about the sustainable aquaponics system, figuring out how to make it a reality, and working to address the national policy shortcomings. While indoor aquaculture is becoming more popular, the industry is still hindered by large amounts of waste that need to be managed and very energy intensive designs. With some fine-tuning to address these issues, aquaponics will be the wave of the future.
—Melissa Mezger, Climate Science & Policy, Bard CEP 2012