Clean Power

Published on March 6th, 2016 | by Glenn Meyers

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“Solar Spring Break” Connects Students With Clean Power In Underserved Communities

March 6th, 2016 by  

In the 2016 “Solar Spring Break,” over 100 students from 10 US colleges will be taking on the task of installing rooftop solar for low-income families, and learning as they work.

The program runs through March 25. Students will connect with clean energy at Solar Spring Break — an alternative spring break program hosted by GRID Alternatives.

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All-women engineering team from UNR Oroville, CA 2015

Teams of 10–12 students will travel to different sites in California and Colorado, where they will spend a week learning about solar array design, installing rooftop residential systems, and meeting with solar industry employers. Most participating students have taken solar or sustainability courses and tentatively expect to join the clean energy industry upon graduation.

Now in its third year, Solar Spring Break has grown from 6 schools and teams in 2014 to 10 schools and 11 teams in 2016. Participating schools include:

  • Arizona State University — installing in San Diego
  • Beloit College — installing in Denver
  • Claremont McKenna College — installing in Atascadero, CA
  • University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill — installing in Los Angeles
  • Duke University — installing in Riverside, CA
  • University of Michigan (third year in program, two teams) — installing in San Diego
  • Northeastern University — installing in Sacramento
  • University of Nevada–Reno — installing in Chico, CA
  • North Carolina Central University — installing in Sacramento
  • University of California–Berkeley — installing in Oakland

Now in its third year, the alternative break program provides students with an opportunity to lear first-hand about energy and environmental issues facing low-income communities.

“Solar Spring Break gives college students who are passionate about renewable energy the chance to turn passion into action doing projects that have a tangible impact on families’ lives,” said Erica Mackie, CEO and co-founder of GRID Alternatives.

Teams of 10–12 students from each school will travel to different project sites around the country and spend the week on a combination of solar installations, renewable energy industry tours, and neighborhood outreach. Two teams of students from the University of Michigan, returning for its third year in the program, will kick off the season from February 29 through March 4 installing solar for three tribal families on the La Jolla Indian Reservation near San Diego and learning about tribal culture.

“The GRID staff taught us more in two days than we had learned in months at school,” said Abhishek Rao, a graduate student at Arizona State University who participated in 2015. “We put into practice all we had studied from textbooks about residential solar systems, from surveying the site, to using tools to determine shading, designing the system, and actually installing it with our own hands. Solar Spring Break definitely added a much-needed real-world perspective to my experience studying solar energy engineering at school.”

The team from North Carolina Central University, a historically black university, will install solar on the home of a Sacramento family from March 14 through March 18 in what will be the first trip outside of North Carolina for many of the students. It is one of three North Carolina schools participating this year.

“North Carolina Central prides itself on requiring undergraduate students to provide service to the community as a pre-requisite for graduation,” said Chris McGinn, Assistant Professor at North Carolina Central University.

Other highlights include an all-woman engineering team from the University of Nevada–Reno headed to Chico, California, March 21–25.

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Students from UNC prep rails for installation in Long Beach 2015

Oakland-based GRID Alternatives is America’s largest non-profit solar installer providing clean energy technology and job training to low-income families and underserved communities. The organization reports installing over 6,500 rooftop solar systems with a combined installed capacity of 22 megawatts, saving $170 million in lifetime electricity costs, preventing nearly 500,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, and providing more than 25,000 people with solar training.

We wish all teams the best results in this engaging program.





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About the Author

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.



  • sjc_1

    Very good program, not all students are self absorbed hedonists.

  • Frank

    Sounds really cool. Then again, I would like to put up my own system, and I’ve never done it.

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