After 1,000 home installations, GRID Alternatives poised for interstate expansion


Earlier this month, the U.S. not-for-profit, which finances, coordinates and installs domestic solar arrays for low income households, reached the significant milestone. It brings the total installed capacity in the scheme to 2.5 megawatts over the 1,000 roofs.

Founded in 2001 and completing the first installation in 2004, GRID Alternatives provides the solar installations free of cost to low income families, organizing everything from the paperwork and applications for incentive schemes, through to procuring the panels and putting together the installation team. The installation is then wholly owned by the homeowner with all the financial benefits that entails.

Not-for-profit model

Co-founder Erica Mackie told pv magazine that while they are pleased with the milestone that it is only really the beginning. "In California alone there are 1.5 million low income home owners, so our 1,000 installations is just a small start in serving the needs of families that really need savings." Mackie went on to say that in 2011, GRID Alternatives had doubled the number of its installations and that that is set to occur again next year.

Another special feature of the GRID Alternatives model is that teams of volunteers can be involved in the installation process, which not only introduces local communities to the benefits of photovoltaic installations, but also provides crucial solar work experience in areas where unemployment remains high. Below – under the ‘solar jobs flower’ headline – is a pertinent example of how big a difference that can make.

Interstate expansion

Mackie also told pv magazine that GRID Alternatives is ready to expand its model to other parts of the country. While not every state in the U.S. has similar solar schemes as California and enjoys such a degree of support from the major utlitiy players, there are opportunities for the model to be applied elsewhere. "We are poised for out-of-state and national expansion, but we are also moving very strategically with that."

The GRID Alternatives team has already spread to many parts of California and work with local communities to become established and remain in touch with the special circumstances that exist in each community.

"I believe that the GRID Alternatives model works in many states, and if you look forward to the next ten years we will probably be in those states. But we also want to make sure that we have really strong good local partnerships on the ground to make sure that we serve people in a way that is genuine and understands the communities from which they come."

Funding the installations

GRID Alternatives uses a range of sources to fund their installations. Private donors play a major role as does tapping into the Californian Public Utilities’ low income solar installation scheme, which provides a higher rate of funding for photovoltaic installations for those households which qualify. They also use some donated modules in partnership with Yingli Solar.

Solar jobs flower in the "inland empire" desert

Mackie related to pv magazine one special story about a GRID Alternatives installation. It highlights not only what the program can do for homeowners looking for savings but also how participants in the scheme can pick up skills that may help them back into the workforce.

"We have recently opened an office in the "Inland Empire", a desert region of California which has a very high rate of unemployment. So there are families there who not only need the panels themselves but they also need jobs. And I was down at a recent installation there where all of the people working on the installation, all the volunteers, had been traveling around the state looking to get some hands on experience and were looking for jobs in the industry.

And simultaneously some the big solar installations are going up there in the desert and those folks were hoping to get jobs on those installations. And some of them were.

The actual homeowner himself was out of work and he was taking a class in solar. So he had dreamed about getting solar on his home and when he found out that it would be a possibility for him and that there was a non-profit called GRID Alternatives who would help him: he jumped at it! He was up on the rooftop and he was using it not only to not only save him money but also to get him a new career that he desperately needed."

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