Giving Clean Energy to Those Who Need It Most

GridAlternativesA low income working family living in the United States spends five to fifteen percent of their income on energy bills.  This amount is much higher than the percentage spent by an average American household.  When bills need to be paid, low income families are sometimes forced to decide between eating and having electricity.  With more than sixteen percent of the population living in poverty, providing energy assistance to those in need is an urgent matter.  GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit solar contractor based in Oakland, California has been working to give low income families across the United States access to solar photovoltaic (PV) technology.

The organization was founded by Erica Mackie, P.E. and Tim Sears, P.E. during the 2001 California energy crisis, and now operates through eight regional offices serving all of California and Colorado.  Their vision is centered on the idea that clean, renewable energy should be free and available to everyone.

In 2008, GRID Alternatives was selected as the statewide program administrator for the California Solar Initiative’s Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes Program (SASH), a $162 million incentive program funded by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).  Low income working families qualifying for SASH receive fully subsidized or highly subsidized 1 kilowatt (kW) systems.  On average, these systems reduce a low income family’s monthly electricity bill by 80 percent.  The initiative has led to the installation and interconnection of more than 4,200 solar PV systems, totaling over 13.4 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity.

In addition to solar rebates through SASH, GRID Alternatives combines a workforce development component into each installation.  The Sub-Contractor Partnership Program (SPP), started in 2010, requires each subcontractor working on a SASH project to be accompanied by a job trainee or volunteer.   The SPP provides volunteers and potential employees with valuable hands-on experience and training in the field of solar PV technology.  Over 3,000 job trainees and more than 15,000 volunteers have been trained in solar installation since the program’s launch.  GRID’s sub-contracted solar projects have also created 850 paid employment opportunities for successful job trainees.

Recently the organization expanded to the Mid-Atlantic region with the help of a $2 million grant made by the Wells Fargo Foundation.  GRID installed solar on ten Habitat for Humanity homes in Washington, D.C.’s Ivy City neighborhood, and provided job training to interested residents.  Around 300 volunteers, including community members, partner organizations, local leaders, and top Obama Administration officials participated in the four-day event.  The panels were donated by SunEdison, Inc., a leading global solar manufacturer, and collectively represent 19 kW of renewable solar power.  As part of their National Women in Solar Initiative, a program aimed at bringing more women into the solar industry, GRID hosted a women-only installation session during the expansion launch.

Not only does solar energy provide numerous benefits to low income families, it reduces carbon dioxide emissions and protects our planet.  Over their lifetimes, GRID’s solar panel systems are expected to prevent a total of 340,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.  Considering that most people who are unable to afford solar live in areas of extreme environmental pollution, the reduction in emissions will help advance regional transitions to renewable energy.

By giving solar energy to low income families, GRID Alternatives provides a valuable service to local communities and the environment.  The SASH and SPP programs should serve as a model to other organizations looking to bring renewable energy to their regions.

To learn more about GRID Alternatives and the SASH/SPP programs, click HERE.