Sister Paula Gonzalez is a member of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, where she spearheaded the development of two solar buildings on the campus of the College of Mt. St. Joseph. This work has earned her the nickname of the “solar nun.” While in TN, she showcased energy choices our society is making and suggesting some different options, using her own work as examples.
Her first solar project, which was undertaken in the early 1980s, utilized volunteer labor and re-used materials to convert an old and unused chicken barn into a passive solar residence. Sister Paula and Sister Mary share that house, “La Casa del Sol” to this day.
Their home uses a large “solar space” with very well-insulated windows and an airflow system for heat, supplemented by a small wood stove that burns 11-inch logs.
Members of the grounds crew at “Mt. St. Joe” often bring her usable wood that they accumulate in their work as they clear downed limbs and remove trees.
La Casa del Sol has a passive design. Passive solar technologies are built into the design of the building, such as placing windows on the south-facing side, and using overhanging eaves and deciduous trees to block incoming sunlight in the summer and yet allow the sunlight to enter the building in winter.
Later, in the 1990s, she was successful in converting an unused garage into a building now known as “Earth Connection”–a learning center for environmental education on the campus of the College of Mt. St. Joseph. This building uses solar thermal technology on the rooftop to heat hot water, which heats air that is pumped throughout the building. In addition, the building has two photovoltaic (PV) panels that convert sunlight to electricity. So it uses two types of active solar technology, unlike the passive solar design of La Casa del Sol.
In the new millennium, Sister Paula converted a donated golf cart to use solar power. The golf cart (now named “Sunny”) has one PV panel mounted on the front of the vehicle, and also charges by connecting to two roof-top PV units to charge the battery for longer use. She uses this very quiet zero-emission vehicle to get around on campus. She ended her presentation to the youth with an invitation to visit her at “Mt. St. Joe” and take a ride on Sunny.