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  • Writer's pictureTiana Starks

Spring break in Pasadena? For MIT students installing solar panels, it’s a way to give back

PASADENA — Meital Hoffman squinted from the searing sunlight, then moved quickly into the shade. As one of 12 engineering students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she’s spending spring break soaking up the sun but in a totally different way than most of her college classmates.

The MIT students were helping install a solar power system on the roof of a small, Spanish-style home in Northwest Pasadena on Wed., March 28. Once completed, the system will free up the homeowner — who is on a fixed income — from at least 90 percent of her electric bill. It will also produce clean energy without burning fossil fuels, thereby reducing smog emissions as well as greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

“Most of my friends are in Miami right now,” said Hoffman, 20, wearing jeans, work shoes, a T-shirt and a hard hat. “I wanted to do something productive, kind of giving back.”

Capturing sunlight She and others from the prestigious school in Cambridge, Mass., joined Grid Alternatives’ week-long Solar Spring Break program for some hands-on learning in sunny Los Angeles. On Tuesday they helped position rails on the southeast portion of the house’s roof. The next day, the students hoisted onto the roof 11 solar panels, which were then fastened onto the roof at a 10-degree tilt for maximum capture of Southern California’s 5.6 peak hours of daily sunlight.

The system will produce 2.7 kilowatts of electricity, which gets fed into the house’s electrical control panel. The homeowner’s $200 to $300 bills every two months will be reduced to less than $30, said Danny Hom, development and communications coordinator for Grid Alternatives, the largest nonprofit solar installer in the United States with projects in Orange, San Diego, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

The group, born in Northern California but with its largest office in downtown Los Angeles, drafted 200 students from 19 schools who are trading beaches for rooftops this spring.

“This is very different for me. It takes me out of the academia bubble,” said Hoffman. She’s studying electrical engineering and computer science during a break under a shade canopy on the lawn of the Pasadena home.

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