GRID Alternatives is a nonprofit organization that brings the benefits of solar technology to communities that would not otherwise have access, providing needed savings for families, preparing workers for jobs in the fast-growing solar industry, and helping clean our environment.
We are so excited to be honored in Washington D.C. as a White House Champion of Change!
We’re joined by an inspiring group of people and organizations who are leading the way for solar deployment in the United States. The White House honored individuals who are leading the charge across the country to create jobs and economic opportunity in solar power, and drive policy changes at the local level to further advance solar deployment in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. You can read more about the award on the White House website and check out the fact sheet about all the awardees. The program, including our co-founder Tim Sears, was live streamed on the White House website.
This award is a much-deserved recognition of the work that all our volunteers, clients, donors and staff do every day to make solar power and solar job training accessible to families that can benefit the most. Together we are changing the conversation about who has access to and who benefits from clean energy, from our local communities all the way up to the White House.
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Over the last four years, our partnership with Enphase has powered over 1,000 low-income homes across the U.S., generating over $25 million in long-term savings to help these families pay for basic expenses. Our expanded 2014 partnership will serve an additional 350-400 families over the next 12 months, providing $10 million more in savings, while providing thousands of individuals with hands-on job training in the growing solar industry.
"GRID Alternatives' mission of bringing clean and affordable energy to communities across the country aligns with Enphase's efforts to promote solar energy, and together we are helping to provide much needed financial savings to our neighbors in need," said Jeff Loebbaka, senior vice president of global sales, marketing and support for Enphase. "Our continued partnership with GRID allows families of all demographics to participate in a clean energy future."
Enphase employees have worked more than 2,200 volunteer hours for families throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, including residents of an affordable housing community in Sebastopol, CA., and a family in Richmond, CA. The community and environmental impact of these volunteer hours to-date amounts to a combined $395,000 in savings for 18 families and the prevention of over 1,200 tons of greenhouse gases, the clean air equivalent of planting 29,000 trees.
Donations of the Enphase(R) System have also provided clean, alternative energy to families all across California, Colorado and most recently New York and New Jersey.
"Enphase's long-standing partnership has been instrumental in helping us expand into new regions and serve more families and more job trainees across the country," said Erica Mackie, CEO and co-founder of GRID Alternatives. "We're excited to see this partnership continue to grow."
From Nicaragua’s bustling capital, Managua, down volcanic roadways, past countless lakes, beyond the last power lines, lies Portrero Sur – a quiet agricultural community of about 50 families.
On a hot February afternoon, a group of Americans piled out of a truck bed after a long journey. Covered in dust and sweat, we stretched our legs and got our first glimpse of what would be our home for the next four days – a tiny village of tin and wood houses surrounded by dense forest and farmland. We were a group of fourteen: four staff members from GRID Alternatives and ten employees from Sunrun, a solar power installation, financing and leasing company headquartered in San Francisco. We were there to help install an off-grid solar electric system on the roof of the village school, bringing electricity to this community for the first time.
As we unloaded luggage, solar panels, and tools to be carried down to the school, a two room building that serves as the hub for this small community, the villagers came out to help carry the heavy items. We exchanged timid “holas” and shy smiles, and had a round of introductions before our host families guided us to their homes for a lunch of fresh tortillas, rice, beans and home-made cheese. We would stay in their homes for three nights while we worked, sleeping under mosquito nets on wooden cots set on spotlessly swept dirt floors.
With such a hard-working and solar savvy team, the installation work flew by, leaving plenty of time to swim in the nearby swimming hole and the play in the community’s first coed baseball game. We finished the work a day early, and the whole community flocked to the school to see it lit up for the first time. A circle quickly formed, with two volunteers serving as the nucleus for cultural exchange. Questions like, “What does California look like?” and “Do you have a boyfriend?” were asked to Ashley, while Jameson wowed them with card tricks. The school was buzzing as kids ran around, women talked, and the community came together after sunset like never before. The next evening, our last in Potrero Sur, we gathered again in the lit-up schoolroom to dance and celebrate late into the evening.
After days of refreshing dips in the swimming hole and after-dinner storytelling under the star-clustered sky, it was hard not to feel envious of the peaceful pace of life in Portrero Sur. The land and people there are beautiful, but the struggles are also great. We were not around long enough to experience what it is like to need emergency care and be far from any clinic, to get ill from contaminated drinking water, or to have to send your children to the fields instead of to school.
I will never forget the moment we stepped backed into the truck on the last day. The community formed a wall around our vehicle, standing tall and proud, yet unable to hold back tears as we hugged and said goodbye. As we headed down the dirt road and the power lines began to re-appear, and I knew that we had taken even more from our experience than the solar power we had left behind.
By Jessica Nelson, GRID Alternatives Multi-Media Storytelling Coordinator
We are thrilled to announce that non-profit Power to the People is joining our family as GRID Alternatives' new International Program, pending regulatory approval.
International work has always been part of our long-term vision of bringing solar to underserved communities. In November of last year, GRID Co-Founder Tim Sears had the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua with Power to the People and 13 GRID volunteers to install off-grid solar electric systems on a rural clinic and school, literally lighting up the community for the first time. It was such a powerful experience, and so well-aligned with our mission and values that we decided to make the program a permanent part of our organization.
A hearty welcome to Power to the People founder Jenean Smith, our new Director of International Programs, and our team in Nicaragua!
GRID’s International Program will continue to build and expand upon the “voluntourism” model used successfully by Power to the People since 2008, providing opportunities for volunteers to travel to Nicaragua and install solar alongside community members, while raising funds to support the projects.
Travel with us and help bring power to schools, community centers and health clinics across Nicaragua so that children can study in the evenings; families can charge their cell phones and household batteries; and everyone can have access to life-saving medical equipment and perishable vaccines.
We are currently signing up volunteers for trips on August 9-17 and October 25-November 2, and will have more opportunities in 2015. We are also offering corporate and student group trips... click here for photos from our recent trip with SunRun! Thank you to everyone who has made this dream a reality. Our international work is powered by supporters like you.
On March 6th we celebrated our 10th anniversary in style at Interconnection 2014. With 345 GRID Alternatives champions present and hundreds of friends joining us in spirit, we toasted to the installation of more than 10 megawatts in 10 years in low income communities across California and beyond. Thank you to all who helped make it an incredible evening featuring interactive art, live music and great company.
Enjoy the event photo album from our celebration, and check out our Anniversary video featuring the event's honorees: PG&E, the California Public Utilities Commission, the City of San Francisco, and Wells Fargo Bank. Many thanks also to our Board of Directors, Host Committee, and our generous corporate and individual sponsors. The event raised over $93,000 to support the scaling up of GRID's impact in 2014.
We hope to see every one of you soon. Please stay connected via our newsletter and social media as we launch new programs and initiatives in 2014 that will shape our next 10 years, and continue to build a movement for solar equity. Here's to the next 10 years!
Els Van Woert, a graduate student from the University of Vermont, spent her spring break week in Morro Bay, California, installing solar for low-income families with GRID Alternatives. She and her teammates are among six college groups participating in GRID's first annual Solar Spring Break this month. The program, a partnership with World Wildlife Fund, gives students the opportunity to get hands-on with renewable energy technology while helping local families in California and Colorado.
For Els, the week was full of laughs and eye-opening experiences on and off the roof. Having already worked for several years in wind energy before returning to school to focus on solar, she was excited to touch and feel what she's been advocating and going to school for.
“I’ve fallen in love with community solar and have studied policy and ecological mapping for where it can be best installed,” said Van Woert. “It’s so cool for me to fill in the knowledge gap about how systems are actually installed and see it in the flesh. I actually get it; that experience was so invaluable.”
Caitlin Fey, a student in the Program for the Environment at the University of Michigan, traveled to San Diego in early March with 11 other students and installed solar for the La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians in Pauma Valley. In addition to the hands-on training, they stayed with the Tribe and had the opportunity to learn about Tribal culture and even make dream catchers with the Tribe's girls club.
"It was amazing how interconnected the community was," said Fey. "It seemed like everyone either had gotten solar or knew someone who was getting it, and they were all talking about how it was saving them money to buy clothes and school supplies for their kids."
The students in Fey and Van Woert's groups walked away with renewed enthusiasm for renewable energy and with gratitude for their time with the families and the knowledge gained during their trips. "Coming here I never expected to have as much fun combined with education in one experience," one UVM student wrote in a thank-you card. "I had a way better break here than I would have anywhere else."
But for Van Woert, it was even more than that. “I don’t know that there’s any classroom that’s facilitating such life changing conversations as what’s going on here,” she said. “It’s priceless.”
Twice this year already, GRID Alternatives Central Valley has been able to parlay a generous gift from the Honnold Foundation with rebates from Turlock Irrigation District in order to make solar a reality for families in Delhi & Turlock, California- two cities that until now have not benefitted from our solar program. In total, the Honnold Foundation will support four families going solar in the Turlock/Ceres/Modesto area in partnership with GRID Alternatives, TID, and Ceres High School.
The practical implication of this support is staggering: GRID is able to help families save $168,000 on monthly electrical utility bills over the lifetime of the solar PV system, provide “Classroom on the Roof” experience to students of Ceres High School’s Green Technology and Manufacturing Academy, and reduce 528 tons of greenhouse gases in the air we breathe. GRID Alternatives would like to extend a warm thanks to the Alex Honnold Foundation that provided the impetus in making these installations a reality.
Looking to the immediate future, GRID will complete these installations in March/April 2014. From the staff and leadership at GRID Alternatives Central Valley office, special thanks to the Honnold Foundation and the partners that are making solar happen for families in Delhi and Turlock!
Espanola Jackson is a San Francisco Bay Point resident of 46 years, community activist, grandmother to over 70 grandchildren and the proud owner of a solar powered home thanks to GRID. However, Espanola’s pathway to solar isn’t typical and neither is her dedication to spreading solar to over 100 fellow San Francisco homeowners.
In 2009 a house fire, caused by an old heating system, left the top floor of Espanola’s home charred. Espanola was shocked by this unfortunate event but also felt that it would bring positivity to her life in some form. During the weeks following the house fire she attended a Public Utilities Commission meeting where she heard about the opportunity to own her own solar system for little to no cost. The next day she submitted her application, recieved approval, and was next in line to get solar through GRID. When GRID contacted her to set up the date of her install she kindly informed the scheduler that she was very excited to get solar but that her neighbor was desperate for savings and should get their system installed first. GRID responded by immediately reaching out to Espanola's referal and in no time had set the date for both neighborhood installs. The systems were installed the following week which left Espanola with a 2.0 Kw system on her roof and reduced her monthly electric bill to around 4 dollars a month.
After feeling blessed with the opportunity to become a solar homeowner, Espanola felt she should help more people in her community get involved with GRID, and that's exactly what she did. From 2010 to 2012, she told hundreds of community members about the program, with spectacular response; over 90% of all San Francisco clients that heard about GRID through word of mouth came through Espanola in that time period. When asked if she could give solar to one more homeowner in San Francisco who would it be, she answers, “I would give it to everyone, because it’s not about one person, it’s about the people."
Giving the gift of solar is an amazing feeling that can be shown by the smile of a homeowner who turns on their system for the first time. At GRID we have the unique opportunity to solarize thousands of roofs, but this can only happen with your help! Almost everyone knows a homeowner who qualifies for solar through GRID, and that’s why we’re asking all our supporters to refer at least one person in their network. So please click here to view the client qualifications and then reach out to people in your network who you think qualify. We can all be a solar catalyst like Espanola, and not only reduce electricity cost for family, friends, and neighbors, but also inspire others to brighten the world for future generations.
Please check out these GRID qualification guidelines and forward them to anyone you think may qualify for our program to help spread solar in your neighborhood!
Our two-day veterans' install started sharply at 8:30 AM, there was no fanfare or grandeur in the air, yet there was a quiet sense of camaraderie and honor that comes with serving your country and your community; and rightly so, as our crew was staffed entirely by veterans from the U.S. Navy, Army, and Marine Corps.
This project came to be through the efforts of Geoff Harjo, a U.S. Army Veteran who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan and who is currently completing a 6-month fellowship with GRID Alternatives through The Mission Continues. The Mission Continues empowers military veterans to serve our country in new ways by putting to use new skills learned in service and giving them the tools needed to succeed as they transition back into civilian life.
With hard-hats on and harnesses secured, all 12 veteran volunteers were ready for the safety talk led by Norman Graham, GLA's own veteran. Graham, who served for 23 years in Japan as a U.S. Navy Quartermaster, has been a Solar Installation Supervisor for GLA for over two years. He wrapped up the safety talk, and quickly divided everyone into roof crew and ground crews. Under Graham’s no nonsense leadership style, there was no standing around and no blank faces. It was evident our veterans were ready to get work done.
Our veterans’ crew came from many ranks; Captains, Lieutenants, Sergeants, and Corporals were all together to serve their community once again. There were older veterans and younger ones, some retired, some still serving. Our ground team was lead by one of GRID’s go-to Team Leaders, Bernie Stafford; a U.S. Marine Corps who served in the Vietnam War. Lieutenant Stafford started his own business after transitioning back into civilian life. He is now an experienced electrician, and enjoys volunteering his time to teach others about the electricity needs surrounding a solar installation.
Also on the crew was Jorge Pongo, a staff sergeant who served for 14 years in Kuwait, Iraq and Djibouti and who continues to serve through The Mission Continues. Pongo now works in business management, and sees the economic upside of installing solar panels on low-income homes, “It makes sense to provide solar to people in need as it frees up income to be used in other ways.”
While all of our veterans have a different story to tell, they all have a similar work ethic cultivated through their commitment in service to our country. Graham, our Installation supervisor commented, “This is the biggest group of veterans we’ve ever had on an install. The get-the-job-done mentality we all share made this an efficient day. Working with these guys is not only a pleasure, but an honor.”
Thank you once again for your service, gentlemen. The honor is ours.