grid alternatives

Last week, I got the chance to spend some time with an organization called Grid Alternatives, helping out with solar installations on the Chemehuevi Reservation up near Lake Havasu, California.

“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”

I’d signed up to get involved a couple weeks back – they have quite a detailed orientation process – including applications, then a 2hr online webinar where they go through the various health and safety considerations as well as detail the general process of the organization – you can check out a bit more here if you’re interested (they do work all over the US, and are always keen to have helping hands!)

The Grid team after installing almost 20kW of solar in one week!

The Grid team after installing almost 20kW of solar in one week!

Their model is an interesting one – they work all over the US (as well as expanding into Nicaragua just recently) and their aim is to provide and install solar photovoltaic systems to homeowners of low income. Once they’ve identified low-income households and gained agreement from their side to have solar installed on their roof for zero to low cost, they offer an opportunity for people from all walks of life to come and be a part of the installation. The money and equipment comes from a whole range of sources – from government grants, to state utility programs, to donations from manufacturers and other donors. They have approximately 200 employees all over the country, and a strong pipeline of work going forward, so things are looking pretty good for them going forward!

I think this is pretty great on a whole number of levels. Firstly, reducing the energy bills of low-income people (no matter if it’s in the US or abroad) is something I’m strongly supportive of – as well as giving some much needed independence from centralized systems. Secondly, it gives people like myself, who have a strong interest in the industry but are lacking in the practical know-how, a great opportunity to get some basic skills and see some of the concepts that I’ve done a lot of theoretical work on in practice. Getting an ‘in’ into the solar industry can also be pretty hard work… so any basic skills that Grid can help provide make a real difference to any aspiring designer, surveyor or installer.

More than 15,000 volunteers and job trainees have also received hands-on solar installation experience to-date.

Finally, there are the obvious environmental benefits – and with 12MW of installed solar PV on the books, with many more to come, it’s clear that their work is certainly making a difference on a number of levels.

Since 2004, we have installed more than 12 MW of clean, renewable power for over 4,000 families, preventing the release of 340,000 tons of greenhouse gasses over the systems’ lifetimes and providing more than $110 million in energy cost savings.

I learnt a stack during my time with them – and was directly involved with three different systems between 3 and 4 kWp… mounting racking, installing modules, completing basic wiring and just seeing the whole process of a residential solar installation from start to finish. The team, led by Dan, consisted of people from all over the US – from California and Arizona, to a couple from Chicago – and everyone was keen, super understanding and patient, and completely passionate about solar’s place in the energy mix going forward.


Day 3 System

Day 3 System with beautiful Lake Havasu in the background

Oscar teaching Becky how to wire the disconnects

Oscar teaching Becky how to set up the disconnects

Day 4 worksite

Day 4 worksite

Becky splicing the racking

Becky splicing the racking

With the Day 5 finished system

With the finished system on Day 5

Although I know I bang on about it, I hope that any reader out there can see the potential for solar both in the US and across the world (in both developed and developing countries). Solar is achieving grid parity all over the world at a rate that very few expected – a report from Deutsche Bank claims that it has already achieved this in 10 US states, and predicts that this will occur in all 50 US states by 2016.

On top of that, recent reports from big players such as the International Energy Agency forecast over a quarter of the worlds total energy coming from solar PV in 2050 – just 35 years away. This is compared to just 0.5% today – so some incredible growth is in the works. If that comes about, the prediction is for 200GW to be installed every single year from 2025-2040… which would correlate to annual investments of $225billion, and is more than what we currently have managed to install over the past thirty years, installed every single year. That’s a lot of money, and a lot of work – but is still dwarfed by the incredible investments in oil and gas, which even today are estimated around the $1 trillion mark annually.

Regardless, this kind of potential for expansion is absolutely incredible – and the days of solar being a niche product for the environmentally conscious rich are well and truly gone.

Those stats are pretty amazing – albeit scary (there’s a lot of work to be done!) and also incredibly important. Although solar may not singlehandedly power the world in the immediate future, it can certainly make a big dent in reducing emissions and providing cheap, accessible energy to many – and the simple fact is that the more smart and intelligent people learn about it’s potential in some regard, the better off we’ll be.

So – if you’re in the US and at all interested in any capacity, check Grid out – if you’re further afield, do a google search and see what’s out there in your country and community – or check out what options you have for ‘no money down’ lease or loan arrangements with a company like SolarCity. There’s also a world of opportunities in the industry – and put simply, the faster you get in, the better the prospects in a couple of years when the large scale build out really kicks into gear. I have resources coming out my ears for anyone with even the slightest bit of interest, and would love a yarn if you’re keen to talk.



Moonrise over Lake Havasu

Moonrise over Lake Havasu – I stayed at this random little trailer park beside the lake in my tent – and at one stage was thinking “shit – I’ve just turned 27, I’m unemployed, and I’m sleeping in a trailer park… where did it all go wrong?!” But you sure don’t get sights like this too much working in an office!

Heading home

Heading home


5 thoughts on “grid alternatives

  1. So happy that my daughter shared your story with me! She works for GRID at the home office in Emeryville, CA, and I live in Lake Havasu City, AZ…..directly across the lake from where you did the installs!! I’m SO thrilled that GRID was able to do a few installs in our neck of the woods, and equally thrilled that you were impressed with GRID. I believe their contribution to the solar community & society in general is remarkable! So glad you enjoyed your time at Lake Havasu…..come back and see us again! PS…..make sure you stop by the Visitor’s Center in Lake Havasu City, AZ to say hello and learn about the London Bridge and the AZ side of the lake! 🙂

    • Cheers Judy! Havasu is beautiful – we made the trip across for dinner on one of our last nights actually… I should have mentioned it in this entry! I loved the London Bridge story – and you live in a beautiful part of the world! Cool to hear that your daughter works with Grid – they do some really great work.

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