this bit was written for holobiont's web site ....
We first connected with the Iglesias Garden via Philly Community Wireless (PCW), a community wifi project that some of us in Holobiont Lab are involved with. Alex Wermer-Colan from PCW had mentioned the solar power wireless nodes that we had begun installing nearby and opened the topic of solar at Iglesias. Given our commitment to community solar and supporting social struggles, the connection made a lot of sense.
The Iglesias Garden was started in 2012 by a group of organizers from the Philly Socialists. Over the years as the garden developed, a land grab by developers brought the garden into what became a full fledged land struggle. As most Philadelphians know, parts of Kensington have been invaded by real estate speculators and developers, flipping entire blocks and replacing houses, row homes, and gardens with monolithic and over-priced new construction projects. Organizers from the garden stepped up (largely successfully) to fight off developers from acquiring the majority of the neighboring lots and also fought off a developer-friendly city council bill.
In the process, the project has blossomed into a rich community space repping a diverse mix of Philly neighborhoods, with indigenous and immigrant communities front and center. A sampling of recent events there have featured Aztec dances, a drum line, some very impressive fruit cocktails, barbeque cooked in a pit, kids art making, and a drum class. The events at Iglesias Garden reflect what we want to see people's power look like: communitarian, multi-racial, multi-generational, colorful, defiant, and organized from below.
The garden was in need of access to electric power for events, basic tool charging, lights for the art space that will soon be activated within a shipping container on site, and more. It was evident how, in the past, the lack of access to electricity had sometimes created obstacles regarding what could take place there (or had required recourse to fossil fuel-powered generators).
After multiple conversations with those using the garden, we settled on a basic expandable system that could provide power for most daily/basic usage needs and, with some considerations to economy of energy use, events as well. The panels would be mounted onto the roof of a shipping container, intended to serve as an art and activity center.
Originally we had anticipated turning the event into a full scale community barn raising event, taking a cue from the Low Power FM movement's radio station barn raisings, We imagined a 2 day event of workshops and an all-hands-on-deck community install ending in a community panel and event on autonomous infrastructure, climate justice, and social struggles. We were ready to reach out into our own networks and pull together a large event.
However by our second meeting with organizers, things started to feel a bit different. Word of the meeting had drawn about a dozen or so people to the garden. When I mentioned the idea that we would flyer for the barn raising, it was met with some concern. The Garden had just hosted a massive event and was about to host another. It could all be too much. So we decided to scale it back to just the install, offering a basic breakdown of how the system worked immediately after completion.
We started the day off by unloading gear and aiming to offer quick orientation to how the process would unfold. One team representing the bulk of us would work on the racking and solar panels. While myself and a couple others would focus on getting the inverter, battery and the wiring sorted in the container. While the three of us from HoloLab were steering the process, nearly a dozen folks from the Iglesias garden crew engaged with us at every stage, powered us all through the work, and made the installation uniquely fun.
The first challenge was to figure out the panel racking. We had sourced the racking and panels used at a steal, but never had a chance to actually see how the racking and the panels properly fit together in a bigger array. So team Panel Mounting set up a test array on the ground and tried out a few things before organizing the lift to the roof of the shipping container. Those panels are heavier than necessary, so we were lucky to have plenty of hands and some scaffolding handy.
On a parallel track was the inside crew. We mounted the inverter to a board and wired up a series of breakers for the outlets and string of PV (solar) panels. That board was, in turn, mounted in a corner inside of the shipping container.
The garden itself was in live and active use across the entirey of our time there. Kids showed up to do some art, a piano was elaborately painted, a massive plate of sandwiches appeared just in time and seemingly out of nowhere, and several others chatted together within earshot, wrapping their minds around Franz Fanon.
The install took us until late in the afternoon, leaving us with little time or energy for much of a workshop, but we did manage to gather those present to explain a bit about the system, its limits and how to work it.
With still a couple loose ends to wrap up, the system was quickly put to use. A film screening (Born of Flames) a couple nights later didn't phase the system, though a later event which included a gigantic string of incandescent lights did indeed max out the 3000W available in the system. It always takes a few experiences to learn the ins and outs of life with an off grid system.
The collaboration with Iglesias on this project was exactly the kind of thing that Holobiont Lab wants to do more of in the future. We see the kind of work being done at Iglesias Garden as an important piece of t he abolitionist puzzle. It's a community space with genuine neighborhood roots putting elements of a cooperative, safe, and horizontally governed future into practice now. Iglesias is working to expand community controlled spaces for liberation and autonomy. Installing solar in spaces like Iglesias, especially in a community fashion as happened here, are one piece of a grassroots effort against the climate crisis that can reverberate and multiply. It shares out bits of technical knowledge and also demonstrates that as a community we can create control and autonomy over all aspects of our lives, including our community controlled infrastructure.
4 290W Schott PV panels
EG4 3000W inverter/charger
EG4 LifePower battery 5KWH
Din rail breaker enclosure
This system includes a 3000W combined inverter/charge controller (a charge controller to manage charging a battery and inverter to convert the DC power to household standard AC), a 5KWH battery and four used solar panels from our pile of recycled 290W Schott panels. The battery and inverter built by EG4 are a relatively new and inexpensive development and a good fit for small scale setups.
The battery we used is an EG4 LifePower rack mount battery designed for compatibility with the EG4 inverter. Setting up communication between the battery's BMS (Battery Management System) and inverter was as simple as setting a single parameter on the inverter.