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ImpactNV has a conversation with Veronica McKinney an Engineering student from UNLV. She is a huge advocate of solar energy, the environment and sustainability in Nevada. A leader of the future. 

October 11, 2017

This has traditionally been a section about community leaders. But as a leader of the future, what do you think todays leaders can learn from the leaders of tomorrow?

I think a lot to do with more technology. A lot of the solar projects we are doing now based on estimators, we do a lot of program modelling and system advisory modelling. So a lot of the modelling we used to do by hand but now we can just plug-in a couple of numbers and we can size the system ourselves and it just spits out whatever we need. I think that really streamlines the process and gives a lot more possibilities. Allowing a lot more people to actually have solar and help people understand it more.

Do you have a personal philosophy or approach to life?

Dedication. You get what you put into anything. So if you don’t put anything in you are not going to get anything out of it. But if you really put your heart and soul into everything you do then you are really going to get into it.

Tell us about your career path so far (combine with below) and what is your future vision?
I have a career path. There is a company called Grid Alternatives based out of California and that is pretty much where I want my life to go. I run a non-profit now but I want to do something with non-profits that are involved with solar. So I want to make an organization where I can have the modules donated, the inverters, all of the equipment that I can then give to a person with low income. I come from a single mom who can barely put food on the table sometimes so I really connect with people who have ow incomes and I really connect with people who need that extra $30 a month, because that could be like 6 meals for kids. So I really want to help low income families get solar on their houses because it not only gives them energy independence but it also gives them independence with money too.

How would you look to put that plan in place?

So what I am doing now is I am learning the ins and outs of Bombard. So at Bombard I am learning about residential and utility scale solar but at the same time I am learning about what it takes to make all of the things. I am learning about pricing trends, I am getting connections with each of the companies. I am really learning all of these things you need if you want to make it anywhere in the solar industry. It is a really new industry but there are many people who are already established.  Like the Director now and the Assemblyman Chris Brooks, he was already established before. All of these things I am learning now because one day I am going to need to call on these connections and say “hey Solar World I need you to donate this new module because I want to help out this young mom” or “hey Solectria I need this inverter for this”. I am really trying to learn the business of it before I can actually take off and set up my own business.

What do you enjoy about sustainability and what inspired you to go into the field?

I am very connected with nature. I have about eight different nature tattoos.

Which tattoo is your favorite?

I have Red Rock literally on my foot. So I love Red Rock and I have Mount Charleston on my arm. Commitment to Nevada! I was born and raised here so I am very connected to this place and very connected to the nature around it. A lot of the tourists have no idea we are surrounded by mountains, they have no idea a forest, gorgeous beautiful green stuff that they have no idea about because we are in a desert. So I really saw the nature and I saw what people would do to it, like they leave trash behind and that is so not okay. Even as a kid I was like Mom I want to make green stuff or I want to make more sustainable stuff. I just wanted to reuse everything. I always wanted to recycle, even now she still recycles everything because of me.

So I got really into that and through engineering I learned more about solar and renewable energy and now it is just a giant passion of mine.

You said you had a passion for sustainability from a young age. Do you think this is a new phenomenon emerging in future generations?

Yes I think it is. With the internet we have more access to all of this information but at the same time we saw our parents be very careless with a lot of stuff. We can see the effects of globally warming and climate change right now and I think my generation, the Millennials, we see it happening before our eyes. That is not okay and we want to change it, we are getting more passionate about it. The climate march happened I think two years ago and it was a worldwide event. I don’t think we have ever seen that type of action with regard to the climate.

Are we progressing as a society? And is progress always good?

Progress is always good. Even if it is backwards I guess. Our President now has just pulled out of the Paris agreement which is a step back I would say. But at the same time because of that step back we see a lot more people stepping forward and a lot more people taking action. Ben and Jerry’s made a hilarious article calling him out but we see companies being a lot more active, a lot more young people getting out there and trying to make their voices heard. So even if it is progress backwards it is still progress forwards.

How do you re-charge?

Every Sunday I try to either go to church or I will go hiking. Calico Basin is my favorite hiking spot. It is free, it is gorgeous and it is beautiful.

What is the most exciting project you have worked on and what did you learn from it?
Okay so I am very excited about Bombard but I haven’t managed to get to the meat of the projects yet. But I was working on a research project with a PhD student at UNLV, because I would also work at the Center for Energy Research at UNLV and we were working on a super critical C02 cycle. So for a thermodynamic process for concentrated solar power. It takes the sun and concentrates the fluid, turns the turbine to make energy. It was very exciting because it is new research. You are in a lab, you get to make mistakes, you get to play around with things and you get to learn more. A lot of hands on work. So that was one of my favorite things. Particularly because it is a new technology, it is not implemented anywhere yet and it is very much in the research and development stage which is very exciting. There is great potential in it, it increases the efficiency quite a lot.

What are you better at than anyone else and what is your secret? What is your dream?
My dream is to experience as many cultures in my life while at the same time helping as many people as I can. I got to be part of a solar internship in New Mexico with the Native American pueblo that has 90 tribal members and 99% of them are below the poverty line. So they are trying to install a 1 MW solar array to offset energy. That $30 or $40 can really help families. So just being able to see that cultural experience that culture and also see them accept solar. Because a lot of people still don’t accept solar, they don’t want that to be on their land.  But they were so grateful and the cultural aspect was just amazing. So I really want to experience that with as many families, I want to help people around the World. I want to focus on my home first and then spread out.

What is your biggest hope for this community in the next 10 years? 50?

Honestly we are getting there. Las Vegas is getting towards a more sustainable and trying to get better schools. Mayor Goodman is incredible, I love her. So of course we are going to have to focus a lot more on sustainability. We really need that light rail on Maryland Parkway. We need to become more technology savvy. Which we are now with all of the new upgrades Downtown, it is really getting there. Zappo’s being there really allowed the area to skyrocket. But I really want it to be the next Seattle, hipster spots with all of the Millennials hanging out. It is my home and I love it.

Do you have a sustainability hero? 

That’s a good question…I have never actually had a hero with sustainability. But people I really look up to…I like Bombard, that’s a good one. Alan my new boss, he is a genius, that is the best way of explaining it. He is awesome and I am learning a lot from him. But honestly my hero would probably be the person my non-profit director but she has nothing to do with solar. She is definitely the person who instilled in me even if you are having troubles you should always know that other people are often having worse troubles.
What is the best advice you ever received? 

That is a good question… Don’t ever think something is too big for you. A lot of people don’t agree with that. A lot of students in college right now tell themselves they can’t get past one math class so therefore I can’t be an engineer. Whereas you know not everyone is good at math, it doesn’t mean you’re not good at engineering. If you push through if you keep trying, if you really put your heart and soul into it you will get there.

What has been the best sustainability invention or project?
Hmmm I know batteries are going to be a big upcoming and amazing thing. I mean they are already here with the Powerwall that is definitely going to change the way solar is going to be used. Now they can store energy which means it doesn’t matter if your solar is not producing all of the time.

Cell phones are also amazing but that is not sustainable. I really like solar and concentrated solar is more my thing though because it is a thermodynamic process with physics and electrons. So concentrated solar is higher efficiency and then when you have thermal energy you can actually store it and things like that. It is a very interesting technology.

Any hidden talents?

I have danced since I was 4. Not many people know that. Hip-Hop which is also surprising to most people.

Last question, what are you reading right now?

Pride and Prejudice. I have reread it at least twenty times, it is my favorite book.

Any final thoughts?
I really want to change the world one solar panel at a time. It is really my motto right now





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