By Roy L Hales
Grid Alternatives grew out of California’s 2001 energy crises. It is a non-profit organization that leads teams of volunteers and job trainees to install solar panels for low income home owners. They currently do 1,000 installations a year out of their California, Denver and New York offices. Thanks to a philanthropic donation of $1.2 million by SunEdison, they have just started a national series of “WE Build” women only installations. This program will start with two WE Builds in Denver, on April 25.
This was something that was special to Dawn Brister, who works in corporate communications for SunEdison. She was in a team of female executives that included people from Wells Fargo and Prologis. Speaking as a woman, in what is still a very male dominated industry, she appreciated the chance to go up on a roof and do an installation.
Dawn said it “sounds cheesy,” but the thing that really gets her out of bed in the morning is the times when she could see the impact her job is making on people’s lives. In this case, Dawn got to see one of the families and help install some solar panels.
The other team was composed of job trainees from Red Rocks Community College, Colorado MountainCollege and Ecotech Institute.
The women worked from 8:30am until 3:00 pm. One of the homeowners, a roofer named Alex Soto, joined “his” crew. He is used to female company, having four daughters – the oldest of which sometimes works for him.
Alex and his wife, Anna Maria, have being trying to go solar for years, but could not afford it. Anna Maria works part-time for the federal food stamp program. She is trying to find full time work and hopes to go back to school.
Grid Alternatives is putting a 3 kW AC system on their roof, which is expected to save them almost $1,100 a year in energy savings.
The other solar recipients were a pair of elderly women, Josephine Frazer and Florence Sanchez, who had previously looked into installing solar but found it too expensive.
Grid Alternatives is putting a 2.4 kW AC system on their roof, which is expected to save them close to $900 a year in energy savings.
Most families pocket around $1,000, which can come in handy for a low income family. More than 4,200 families benefited from Grid Alternatives work, saving $114 million in lifetime electricity costs.
A professional installer would probably have finished by the end of the day, but these women were mostly beginners and the most important was doing the job correctly. Another group of volunteers, or Grid staff, will finish this job off.
Grid Alternatives National women in solar initiative is designed to foster women’s voices, talents and leadership in an industry that is growing by 20% a year. Key elements of this initiative include:
- Hands on training for 1,000 women next year
- Paid internships for 20 women throughGrid’s SolarCorp Program
- A National series of WE Build women only installation events, including some that bring together top executives and up and coming professionals
- a National series of networking events for women in the industry
- A series of webinars highlighting women working in various aspects of the solar industry
It is a program that both Dawn Brister and her employer, SunEdison CEO Ahmad Chatila, are very supportive of.
Many of the people who work on a Grid Alternatives installation think of it as an isolated event. Others get hooked on it and keep coming back. Others use the experience as job training. Nearly 16,000 have volunteered.
(Photo at the top of page: Brittany Traucht from Ecotech institute – All Photos Courtesy Grid Alternatives)