lene Brown works on space satellite sensors at Sandia
ational Laboratory in New Mexico. She’s also presi-ent of the New Mexico Solar Energy Society.
How she got there is a story that circles the world.
Brown grew up in Lexington, Mass., but in the early ‘80s
trekked to Olympia, Wash., to study environmental science at
Evergreen State College. She settled in the Washington, D.C.,
area, working on low-income energy conservation issues for
Maryland’s Prince George’s County. On a scuba trip to Jamaica,
she met Johnny Weiss, co-founder of Solar Energy International
(SEI). That led her, in 1986, to enroll in a year-long program in
carpentry and construction at Colorado Mountain College in
Glenwood Springs. But it was rough going for a woman in the
building trades, so it was off to Albuquerque for a master’s degree
in electrical engineering at the University of New Mexico.
“In the middle of all that, I read Chasing the Sun, a four-coun-try case study by Neville Williams about solar electric lighting in
third-world villages,” Brown said. She volunteered for his program and flew off to work with the Vietnam Women’s Union,
training women to install low-voltage, off-grid systems. Her
trained teams installed 100 systems over five days in 1994, four
community centers in 1995 and another 100 village systems in
1996. She launched a similar program on Guadalcanal.
On her return, she brought a photovoltaic-powered street
lamp and took it to the Sandia lab for testing. The lab brought
her in as a student intern. Over the next four years, while she
finished her degree, Brown worked in the lab, testing batteries
and charge controllers. In 1999, she came on full time. That year,
she won the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) Yellot Award
for her student work on photovoltaic-powered, low-voltage DC
compact fluorescent lamps.
In the meantime, Brown had become active in the Renewable Energy Industries Association of New Mexico, and when,
in 1997, it was reborn as the New Mexico Solar Energy Industries Association, she was on the board of directors. She worked
on the 1998 ASES National Solar Conference, held that year in
Caught your breath yet? Since that time, Brown has served
on technical committees for the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, on the New Mexico Governor’s Solar
Task Force and on the Albuquerque Mayor’s Climate Action
Task Force. She’s taught SEI technical courses, has taught solar
installation skills to hundreds of women and still teaches coed
courses (“We ran out of women to fill them,” she says). And she’s
an ASES Fellow.
This year, Brown receives the ASES Women in Solar Energy
Award at SOLAR 2009 in Buffalo/Niagara, N. Y. Catch her there,
because she doesn’t stand still long. — Seth MaSia
This year, Brown
in Solar Energy
Award at SOLAR
2009 in Buffalo.
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Copyright © 2009 by the American Solar Energy Society Inc. All rights reserved.
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