GRID Alternatives expands scope of solar benefits

I was glad to see the recent media coverage highlighting a report that indicates speedy progress  in pursuit of energy alternatives: “Upbeat forecast for new systems.”  That said, large-scale access to these resources is still years in the future.

So I am especially pleased to share the news with you about GRID Alternatives, a terrific organization that is already making great strides toward sustainability right here in California – reaching out to  the neighborhoods and communities that are often the last to benefit from technological advancements.

The importance of their work was recently acknowledged by the Northern California Chapter of the US Green Building Council, who chose to honor GRID Alternatives as the “Outstanding Community Organization” at their annual Green Building Super Heroes Awards Gala.

GRID Alternatives was one of three finalists in this category, and I encourage you to learn more about the other two organizations, who are also doing exemplary work: MEarth – The Hilton Bialek Habitat and the RichmondBUILD Green Careers Academy.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a few of the reasons I’m so inspired by GRID Alternatives, namely their mission to empower communities by providing renewable energy and energy efficiency services, equipment and training, along with their commitment to the combined goals of economic impact and environmental justice. Their work at it’s core is about increasing access to new technologies, and Executive Director and Co-Founder Erica Mackie summed this up beautifully in her heartfelt acceptance speech for the award: “If we truly want to make renewable energy solutions mainstream, and to make this a movement that everyone can take part in, we need to make sure we have ALL of our communities at the table.”

This approach to empowerment-by-way-of-solar-power is clearly articulated in the GRID Alternatives mission statement:

We believe making energy choices that are good for the environment can go hand-in-hand with improving the lives of those living in low-income communities. GRID Alternatives works collaboratively with communities and local organizations to identify specific needs and to develop renewable energy solutions that are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.”


Their core approach to this work emphasizes local training and leadership opportunities  to install solar electric systems with low-income homeowners in diverse and traditionally under-resourced communities. GRID Alternatives recently hit their goal of 1 Megawatt of installed solar electric generation and counting.  You can watch their progress on the cool “impact calculator” on their website,  tracking such details as “number of homes solarized” (596), total capacity generated (now up to 1.2 megawatts), amount of CO2 saved (51,769 tons), and number of volunteers trained – a whopping 5,302! All of this arises from a program that started with just two installations in 2004, and now they complete hundreds of projects every year.

Another exciting program they’re involved with is SASH: the Single-family Affordable Solar Homes Program. Serving as the program administrator of this state-wide program (on behalf of the California Public Utilities Commission), they offer incentives on PV solar systems to qualifying low-income homeowners. Additional components of the program emphasize workforce development, green jobs training opportunities, and community engagement. GRID Alternatives proudly declares that “no other low-income solar program in California  has such a diverse range of benefits for low-income communities.” And this diversity is visible even in their outreach materials: informational pamphlets are available in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish, and Tagalog.

In further pursuit of their shared goals of economic impact and environmental justice, GRID Alternatives has taken an active role in partnering with local job training programs, and set aside a certain percentage of installations as learning projects to provide the supplemental  hands-on work experience that ensures program graduates are viable candidates for future job openings. These partnerships are unique to each of their current core program locations, which currently include the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Coast, the Central Valley, Greater Los Angeles, and San Diego. Here in the East Bay, for example, one such partner is Solar Richmond.

They also partner with local volunteers, so if you’ve ever been curious about the solar installation process, here is your chance to work with their experienced construction staff and lend a hand in installing solar electric systems for low-income households throughout California.

Not quite sure you’re ready to get up on a roof? Then at least visit their newly renovated website and check out their inspiring stories… and while you there, see how they are progressing with their “impact calculator” – another innovative way to track our shared progress towards sustainability!

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