Panel Crew

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

This was my fourth summer paving the flat parts of Nevada with solar panels. The project had been going on for four years and looked like it would go on for another six.

A summer under the cruel desert sun will teach you about yourself. The sun teaches you your limits and it teaches you the elastic nature of time.

The solar panels are printed off and cut into lightweight, paper-thin wafers before being loaded into heavy groups of four hundred panels each. These panel-blocks slot nicely into our backpacks.

To lay the panels, we reach back in a motion as old as archery to grab a panel, flop it down onto the dusty ground and latch two of the corners to the panels already laid. We dust the leads, spray the protectant and walk one step forward to do the next one.

We put the black thermal side down and the shiny blue solar side facing up.

It’s a mechanical and quick motion that needs to be done in a relaxed manner at a steady pace without being straining. New guys come in and race ahead only to burn out with tennis elbow or RSI halfway through the season.

People ask why this process isn’t automated but the answer is obvious. It’s always cheaper to employ meat to do this kind of work. You don’t have to repair a human. You just hire a new one.

A few Workers Board lawsuits had resulted in the relative guarantee of job safety but you needed to pay attention. Water rations, sunscreen, night tents, proper gear and clothing, everything was yours and needed to be looked after.

I thought of Fremen. I thought of Arabs dressed in pristine white robes on camels. I thought about the Egyptians and their capitulation to Ra, the sun god.

I felt like I could teach them all a thing or two about desert living by now.

Our crew marched forward up the dusty walkway until the edge of where the other team had stopped before us. The irregular border spread out in a jagged line for miles on either side of us. Half of us went single-file to the east and half of us went single-file to the west. All across Nevada, hundreds of other teams were doing the same.

From orbit, the tiles were bright, sky-coloured, shining, square kilometers with thin sandy walkways in between. We were turning the desert into a grid; an energy-producing azure powder-blue plaid. Vegas and Reno now sprouted from fields of shining sapphire glass.

America’s desert was becoming the colour of a tropical ocean. Baby-blue batteries. Powder-blue powerhouses.

The earth was done giving up her oil.

We didn’t have the number of bodies for the bicycle farms of China. We’d dammed up all of the rivers that we could. The wind farms, wave booms and geothermal drills were giving us a good deal of energy but still not enough.

Paving Nevada with solar panels was going to recharge the entire country’s economy. Regular repair and upkeep would keep just over ten percent of the entire continent’s population employed.

Panel People. Redbacks. Sunkids. There were many names for us, depending on where you came from.

The sun screamed down at all of us. We were ants on the hot ground. I looked up through reflective lenses and smiled at the sun’s punishment, daring it to do its worst.

I walked to my grid point designation, reached back over my shoulder for a panel, and got to work.


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