Success Stories

This page features the successful projects that Zero Emissions Network has accomplished so far.

El Costeño Solar Trailer


The ZEN team has just about completed a project sponsored by a Solar Moonshot grant from the Left Coast Fund. The project is building a 9 kw custom solar trailer for El Costeño, a Oaxacan food truck, for small business owner Moises Santos in Seattle. If that sounds like a lot of power on a mobile trailer, that’s because it is! Moises is a tech wizard who uses Sense and Watson artificial intelligence data to connect historical sales information from his food truck with live data from the Department of Transportation and social media to predict daily sales. This in turn generates a food-prep model for the day to minimize food and water waste.  

Moises was enthusiastic from the beginning to add solar to his business and has been an amazing client to work with, as he is all about adding positivity and sustainability to his community. He worked with Sense to create an educational platform for teaching customers and passers-by about solar energy. We are very proud of the impact Moises’s solar trailer will have on lowering his carbon footprint and raising awareness about clean renewable energy.  

The ZEN Experience

College students at the University of Colorado Boulder constantly say something along the lines of: “I would like to be more eco-friendly, but I just can’t right now. I definitely will when I have more money.” In fact, this is a trend among people in general. Most people want to be more eco-friendly, but they feel that they do not have the resources to do so. It is out of this need that our team came to the idea for the Zero Emissions Network (ZEN). The ZEN team’s main goal is to make it easier for people to become more sustainable in a way that fits their own lifestyle. There are a lot of opportunities to become more sustainable, especially in a place like Boulder, Colorado. However, accessing those resources can be difficult and that is where we come in.  We have been working to help others easily become more sustainable, and along the way, have been taking our own advice. 

One of the most significant accomplishments of this ZEN team is our own lifestyle changes as a group and as individuals. We were able to bring a group together that feels passionate about helping our planet and work towards helping each other make lifestyle changes that ended up changing our own lives. From volunteering to garden in Dharma’s Garden on Saturday mornings to picking up trash by the river during COVID to just walking places rather than driving, we have been able to celebrate each other’s minor lifestyle changes that help the planet and our own mental health every day. We also made lists of the little changes we made every week and celebrated those. The passion of this team is incredible. Every week, for the past two years, our team has come together for an hour, even during huge snowstorms and this pandemic, to talk about what we are doing to help our planet and ourselves become healthier and see what the world around us is doing as well. Taking the time to educate ourselves and our other team members and holding each other accountable for these actions has allowed each of us to take up these sustainable practices and enjoy the process along the way.

These quotes from our team help describe the amazing journey we have been on:  

“Working with ZEN has allowed me to use my creativity and analytic skills to develop innovative environmental solutions that benefit specifically lower-income, BIPOC communities in the front range.” – Joel Cerny

“Working on ZEN projects has challenged me to get out of my comfort zone and do things I never would have thought I would do, such as establishing a student chapter. I’ve been able to grow and learn throughout my journey here and it has been amazing!” – Sarah Gillerlain

“The opportunities I have gotten to become more integrated into my community from working with ZEN have been fantastic. Forming a student chapter has allowed me to connect with the community in a different way than I have up to this point and is building a community of students passionate about the same issues as me. Most importantly, ZEN has strengthened who I am as a person and student with the opportunities I have been given!” – Franky Jones

Jack’s Solar Garden Subscriptions

Jack’s Solar Garden is located just outside the city of Boulder and contains over 3,200 solar panels to create a 1.2MW solar garden. That’s enough to power over 300 homes. Along with solar panels, Jack’s Solar Garden also produces agriculture in a new combination called agrivoltaics. Subscriptions to the garden where the energy generated from the panels they purchase will create a bill credit for financial savings on their Xcel Energy electricity bills. 

 The ZEN team became connected with Jack’s Solar Garden just when Jack’s began selling subscriptions. ZEN donated $20,000 of grant money to the farm via The Left Coast Fund to purchase 10 total subscriptions to be used by lower-income individuals and families in Boulder. Many of whom we became connected with through Boulder Housing Partners and the Foundations for Leaders Organizing for Water and Sustainability (FLOWS). Each household received a subscription to 5 solar panels over a 5-year time period.

Our team’s vision in donating these grants was to help lower-income individuals and families realize they are the vanguard of low carbon footprints and are often ahead of the curve when compared to some wealthier people with higher carbon emissions. Our team was also able to offer the ten households receiving these subscriptions a one-year ASES membership. ZEN is excited about our ability to make lower-income families feel more excited about and engaged in the solar community and proud of their way of living with clean, renewable energy.

Dharma’s Garden

The ZEN program decided to work with Dharma’s garden because of how beneficial investing in a living, breathing natural solutions project is. This is the best way to work towards solving the issue of global warming because not only do the plants and trees in the garden take up carbon dioxide, but the fact that the farmers use no-till practices means their farm does not degrade the soil like farms using other practices. Also, there are a lot of other benefits that come from no-till farming. One study found that CO2 loss was the least for no-till agriculture over a 19-day period compared to zero till and direct seeding (Reicosky 48). Dharma’s garden uses regenerative practices as well.  A study found that up to 322 billion tons of carbon dioxide could be sequestered from the atmosphere if regenerative practices were used everywhere on croplands and pastures.

ZEN interns have done many different types of work with Dharma’s Garden.   Taylor Bartlett, Adrienne Hodgson, and Taylor Heisler worked closely with Dharma’s Garden. They helped work on social media advertising for Dharma’s garden. They created online advertisements and tried to help boost their social media campaign. The team worked on researching carbon sequestration and soils, as ZEN plans to find individuals who would like to donate to the garden to offset some of their carbon footprint. In addition to that the team researched no-till farming and regenerative practices, which are both used at Dharma’s Garden and looked into how these are beneficial to the environment. They also contacted companies in an attempt to raise money for Dharma’s Garden so they would be able to continue their amazing work. ZEN was able to find a private donor generous enough to pledge $20,000 to the garden.

Dharma’s Garden is a wonderful place that the ZEN program has been lucky to work with. We hope our efforts have been beneficial to the owners, Timothy and Kerry Francis. We are excited to see what the future holds for the garden!

Electric Vehicle Charging Station

ZEN was looking for sustainable transportation projects that were an appropriate size for the team to take on. Joseph Wajrowski, a ZEN team member, started talking to the City of Boulder about sustainable transportation options like electric bicycles and solar chargers and electric vehicle (EV) chargers. After getting a more detailed background on the residents in this area and their challenges with charging EVs, the team thought that the EV charger was a good option for this community because it would meet an existing and growing need, which is that people without garages or driveways (renters and/or apartment, condo, and townhouse dwellers) can’t easily charge an EV.

After looking into potential grants that would facilitate a financial pathway to the installation, the team determined that it would need to be open to the public for charging.  So Joseph developed financial models to assess the revenue stream, comparing different usage cases and carbon emission savings.  He found that an EV running on Boulder’s current energy mix would generate less carbon emissions, save money, and offer a variety of lifestyle and financial benefits for the individual and the community. He prepared a detailed cost/benefit analysis for the BVCOA Board to vote on and the decision to move forward on the EV charging station was passed unanimously.  

Joseph and the board members submitted grant applications with Charge Ahead Colorado and for an Xcel matching grant.  To do this they conducted a survey of residents door-to-door (masked, during the quarantine!) and Joseph created a document to circulate in the community about the financial feasibility and individual and community benefits of building an EV charger.   Everyone was absolutely thrilled to hear back that both grants were accepted to be funded – it was stellar!  

Carbon Dioxide Kiosk

Our team really wanted to do an informational kiosk in the center of Boulder to show citizens just what the carbon footprint of Boulder is, what the city’s emissions targets are, and how to help achieve those.  We got preliminary permission to put the kiosk right on Pearl Street in the Boulder County Courthouse where it would be frequently viewed and we could easily wheel it out to show at events downtown and interact with people about the data.  The intern who helped secure this permission provided graphics for the website and also served as Operations Manager last spring to keep all the wheels turning.  This intern is the super positive, incredibly efficient Michele Wolff. 

We also got enthusiastic support from Nate Jones, the Assistant Director of Advising with the CU Environmental Design program. Nate indicated that a team from the ED program would build us a great kiosk.  But then the quarantine hit so that had to get put to the side.  

Meanwhile, ZEN’s greatest ally, Rahim Khoie, Director of Engineering Physics at University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA, whom Sarah met when he was speaking at the Policy in Action session of Solar 2018, put together with two of his students an amazing design for an informational kiosk.  The kiosk is to display local, national, and global levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in close to real time! For details of this wonder, see more information about his presentation at Solar 2021 here at CU. His plan was to build two of them with his students this fall and give one of them to us to display here in Boulder! But again, the quarantine hit so his students can’t even get into the lab yet to build it.  

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