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California Low Income Solar Program Spreads to East Coast

GRID Alternatives is a non-profit organization founded to bring high-tech solar technology to low-income homeowners who need the cost savings the most.

In 2001, two California engineers launched a non-profit organization with the lofty goal of making free, clean electricity from the sun available to everyone, regardless of income level. At a time when residential rooftop solar was strictly a luxury item, it may have seemed to some as more of a fantasy than a mission statement. However, since the project’s inception fourteen years ago, GRID Alternatives has gone on to create job training and educational opportunities as well as affordable solar installations across the United States.

In 2008, GRID Alternatives was selected by the California Public Utilities Commission to manage its $162 million Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) incentive program, the first program of its type in the nation, providing solar rebates for low-income families. Since then GRID Alternatives has gone on to manage projects not only in California, but in Colorado, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, D.C., Virginia and Delaware, as well as internationally. Their solar project portfolio totals an impressive 6,046 systems, totalling 20,745 kW. That adds up to just under $159 Million in lifetime savings.

One of the keys to GRID Alternatives success is its model, which operates a bit like Habitat for Humanities in that it relies on volunteers. A recent article on called GRID Alternative’s projects the “Barn-Raisings of the 21st Century.” The article follows an installation in Sunset Park, Brooklyn NY which will save the working-class homeowners an estimated $600 annually. “We hatched this idea of transitioning as a country to clean power and doing it in a way that includes everyone—everyone as consumers having access to it, but also everyone having access if they want to [have] jobs in the growing industry and the training,” Erica Mackie, a co-founder of Grid Alternatives, told Slate.

Mackie and her co-founder Tim Sears have received numerous awards for their successful program, including the 2014 White House Champions of Change award,  2013 Clean Energy and Empowerment Award,  2011 Excellence in Renewable Energy Award for Innovation in Policy from Renewable Energy World and 2008 Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA).

One of GRID Alternative’s most exciting projects is the National Women in Solar Initiative, in partnership with SunEdison. This program is designed  to bring more women into the solar industry and support them in their professional advancement. “We Build” events are women-only installations where participants get to network with their peers while getting hands-on training in solar technology.

GRID Alternatives also hosts an Americorps program called SolarCorps. According to their website; “The SolarCorps Fellowship is an opportunity for highly motivated and enthusiastic people to join GRID Alternatives for a one-year term in service to their community.  Fellows will gain valuable experience in the solar and non-profit industry to help launch their career while making significant contributions to GRID Alternatives and the broader community.

The Fellowship experience includes self-paced career development opportunities, as well as attendance at 3 events: New Member Orientation at GRID Headquarters, Staff Summit (GRID’s annual training retreat), and a week-long Photovoltaic training at the Solar Living Institute which qualifies participants to take the NABCEP Entry-Level Test.” Through these programs and others, including tribal energy and veterans programs,  GRID Alternatives is bringing down installation costs by using its projects as educational opportunities for the next generation of solar industry professionals.


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