Going solar is a smart and easy way to lower energy costs — especially in sunny California — but for many, it is not a feasible option. GRID Alternatives, a non-profit licensed solar installation organization, has found a way to give everyone an opportunity to bring alternative energy into their community, by training volunteers to install solar electric systems for low-income families.
The program brings renewable energy to families that will greatly benefit from the savings of going solar, but that wouldn’t otherwise be able to financially support a renewable energy system.
Through GRID Alternative, volunteers sign up for a one-time orientation. The next orientation in the Central Coast region is Tuesday, January 22 from 6-8 pm at the Santa Ynez Tribal Hall. Once that is completed, volunteers are divided into teams based on experience. (For example, some will go on to set up tracks on the ground, while others will work on the rooftops.) For the individuals looking to gain more experience and skills, GRID Alternatives offers a Team Leader program, which requires five installations and an additional training session. Once a volunteer is able to demonstrate mastery of the core skills, he or she can become certified as a “teaching assistant,” helping the rest of the staff in the field.
Otha Cole, a LEED Green Associate with a Master’s in Urban Planning, started getting more interested in solar a few years ago and wanted to increase his professional skills. Santa Barbara City College offered several sustainably-minded courses in construction technology, including solar energy. “Once I started taking those classes,” says Cole “I did my first solar panel installation. I wanted to extend on that and heard about GRID Alternatives.”
For Otha, gaining the knowledge and skills was beneficial to him professionally, but it was also about more than that. “People talk about the importance of solar energy and how it is the future; I wanted to learn first-hand just how it works.” He believes that the real incentive to go solar “is self-sufficiency, moving toward a more logical approach towards energy and a critical mass of people who are adopting these lifestyles.”
In the future, Otha wants to have solar panels on his own home. Since he doesn’t have that option currently, he did everything else he could to show his support for solar energy by joining the volunteer force of GRID Alternatives. “This is a great way to volunteer and to actively participate in an actual project, getting the hands-on experience installing solar panels and learning about all the components that are needed in a solar array system…for free.”
To learn more about GRID Alternatives, visit their website. You can also join their next Solar Installation training on Tuesday January 22 from 6-8 pm at the Santa Ynez Tribal Hall. Sign up for the orientation online or contact Serena Bruce, Solar Corps Solar Installation Associate at (805) 769-9112.