The solar power nonprofit GRID Alternatives recently celebrated reaching the mark of 9,800 California solar power systems installed for low-income people. All this work was accomplished in just 14 years, so it is obviously a huge accomplishment. GRID answered some questions for CleanTechnica about its achievements.
You have reached thousands of low-income California families with solar. How many solar PV installations is that now?
The vast majority of our work in California to-date has been single-family, so that’s around 9,800 total systems.
Did you accomplish this feat in 14 years?
We did our first installation in 2004, so yes, 14 years!
What do you plan to do in the next 5 years, and 10?
Our work has expanded tremendously in the past few years both geographically and in the types of projects we are doing. In Colorado, for example, we’ve pioneered new models for low-income community solar, helping utilities and affordable housing providers like the Denver Housing Authority serve their low-income residents, so we expect to be doing a lot more of that. Here in California, the new Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing Program will really open up the market for solar on multifamily affordable housing, helping renters reduce their energy costs. We’re also starting to look at the synergy between solar and electric vehicles, which together can make a huge impact on families’ energy costs.
About how much money have your solar PV installations saved low-income residents?
We estimate that the systems we’ve installed here in California will save families around $280 million in energy costs over their 20-year lifetime.
Where are most of the PV installations you have deployed in California?
We have seven offices in California with the ability to reach every corner of the state. Over the last couple of years, we’ve focussed largely on environmentally and economically disadvantaged communities.
Why was the celebration at the home of Rancho Cordova resident Brita West?
California has been a real leader in making sure that all its communities have access to solar, so we chose a home in Sacramento to honor the state’s ongoing commitment to renewable energy and equity.
Without your work, would the low-income residents most likely have been locked out of having solar power?
Even with the dramatic decline in solar prices in the last several years, there are still a lot of barriers to access for low-income families. As a nonprofit, we’re able to really focus in on those barriers and find ways to address them that the market isn’t able to.
Will you ever install energy storage systems to go with the solar arrays?
Storage is going to be really critical for long-term climate resiliency, and we’ve already started working with partners, particularly in rural areas, to build storage into their projects. Most recently, we installed a solar microgrid for the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe and have also piloted residential storage in disadvantaged communities.
The cost of solar power keeps dropping, does that allow you to expand and install even more?
Of course! As a nonprofit, we have a limited amount of resources, and the cheaper solar is, the more we can deploy. Unfortunately, federal policy and tariffs are raising solar costs so we are working with States and the private sector to identify innovative partnership solutions.
How many people have you employed while installing your solar arrays?
We currently train around 4,000 people a year on our projects. Many of the folks who train with us are from the communities we serve, and we often hire from our trainee pools.
Do you foresee a time when they are no fossil fuels in California?
Our vision is a transition to clean, renewable energy that includes and benefits everyone, so yes, a fossil-free California is in our big picture. For us, it’s a question of when and how we get there, and does it happen in a way that lifts up all our communities.
Image Credit: GRID Alternatives
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