Posts Tagged ‘Solar Gardens Institute’

Community power is springing up everywhere! There’s a huge amount of interest in it – in fact, as I noted almost a year ago, it’s really a movement, and one that keeps growing. This was in evidence at the recent San Francisco Bay Area Community Solar Confluence I organized, which was co-sponsored by the Solar Gardens Institute and the Local Clean Energy Alliance. It was part of a series of similar events this spring in Boston, New York, and Omaha.

A small part of the Confluence audience

The event drew in 80 people from diverse perspectives:

  • Members of community groups and neighborhood associations
  • Organizations that are funding community power
  • People working on policy to promote community power, or advocating for community power in other ways
  • Members of activist groups like 350.org
  • Government employees
  • Solar installers
  • And even individuals not associated with any organization, who were just interested in finding out more about community power

We also had a range of speakers from organizations promoting community power. Though the organizations have different approaches, they’re all working toward the same goal – and that’s to empower communities and help as many people as possible participate in renewable energy.

I’ve posted Confluence videos and presentations from these organizations on the Solar Gardens Institute Training page:

Evan Wynns, Andreas Karelas, Youness Scally

Learn more about policy:

The fact that we had to squeeze the talks and questions into not enough time attests to how much is happening with community power in the Bay Area, and how much interest there is. The Confluence gave us an overview of community solar in the area and introduced many of us to one another. Let’s continue the conversation!

Joy Hughes, Ted Ko, Eric Brooks, and Erica Mackie

If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, get involved locally:

  • Join the Local Clean Energy Alliance for updates on what’s going on, including monthly meetings on community power issues. The LCEA welcomes volunteers in a variety of areas, so here’s your chance to keep networking and learning.

For more Confluence videos, see the Solar Gardens Institute Training page and YouTube channel.


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I’m organizing an exciting event that’s coming up in late May — the San Francisco Community Solar Confluence. It’s part of a series of “confluences” presented by the Solar Gardens Institute.

We’ll bring together community-based organizations, neighborhood residents, advocates for renewable energy, solar developers, local officials, and funders of programs for low-income communities and renewable energy projects to learn about community solar models nationwide  – and opportunities to bring solar to people everywhere! All are welcome, and the event is free.

We have some great speakers lined up and will be adding more to the list, so check back for more info!

When: Wednesday, May 23, 7 – 9:30 pm
Pacific Energy Center, 851 Howard Street  San Francisco, CA 94103

Speakers include:

  • Joy Hughes, Founder of Solar Gardens Institute
  • Erica Mackie, Co-Founder of GRID Alternatives
  • Ted Ko, Associate Executive Director of CLEAN Coalition
  • Eric Brooks, Campaign Coordinator at Our City (SF)
  • Other speaker announcements to come

Discussion and brainstorming will follow

For more details, see SF Community Solar ConfluencePLEASE RSVP TO: bit.ly/sfconfluence

Even before the Confluence, the Local Clean Energy Alliance is holding another exciting event, their 3rd annual Clean Power, Healthy Communities Conference. It’s an all-day event on May 10 — register here!

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Can you spot all the roofs with solar in this photo? I hope ours will join them soon!

Have you ever thought about going solar? Maybe you rent, live in a condo, can’t afford solar, have a shaded roof, or plan to move soon.

Some states are now making it possible to go solar even in these situations. In those states, people can subscribe to solar power from a common array called a solar garden, supplying their homes through the existing power grid. Next year, a bill will be before the legislature in California to make this possible here. Please urge your representative to vote for SB 843, which would enable solar gardens to happen in California.

And for now, take advantage of this opportunity to learn about solar gardens:

When: Sunday, November 20, 2011, 4:30 pm
Where: Farley’s Cafe, 1315 – 18th Street, in  Potrero Hill, San Francisco
What: Community Solar Day is a worldwide Meetup sponsored by, among others, Solar Mosaic, Vote Solar, Community Power Network, the Solar Panel Hosting Company, and the Solar Gardens Institute to kick-start solar projects in people’s communities.

If you can, bring a photo of yourself with friends and family at a site where you’d like to see solar power.

Together, we can help get solar to everyone in our communities!

Please RSVP at my Community Solar Day Meetup site for San Francisco.

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I'm in this group photo, but you'd need pretty good eyes to see me!

Any regular visitor to this blog has read more than once about the GRID Alternatives Solarthon. After participating in this “solar barn-raising” last year, I was hooked. And that’s not surprising, since the event combines two of my favorite things: solar power and community. It’s a celebration of the work GRID does all year, and it provides an inspiring example of what people can achieve together.

Some of us on the roof at the Women's Build.

There’s no dearth of good causes to contribute time and resources to, and many of us give to other organizations and do other kinds of volunteer work. But I’ve found volunteering for GRID the most satisfying. Yes, it’s partly that all the staff and volunteers are just so nice, and it’s partly that it’s very different from the work I do during the week. But mostly, it’s the bang you get for your buck. How many other single actions can you take that make a difference in such a host of areas as the environment, public health, jobs, the economy, foreign policy, national security … you get the idea? To top it all off, by volunteering with GRID you’re also helping spread renewable energy in the communities that are generally most affected by environmental problems.

Three of us lifted the heavy inverter into place and then went to work connecting it.

So I was glad to take part in this year’s Solarthon last weekend. And I must take a moment here to thank my family members and friends who helped me become the top fundraiser for the Solarthon for the second year in a row, for which I was featured in this GRID video. With your help, I raised over $4,300! This helps GRID continue their important work all year.

The direct benefits of this particular Solarthon can be measured:

  • We installed 13 PV energy systems.
  • These represent 31 kW of clean, renewable energy.
  • The systems will produce 1.7 million kW over their lifetime.
  • The families will save $290,000 over the system lifetimes.
  • And the systems will prevent 977 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

This is just one day’s work. GRID is growing exponentially and has already installed over 1,200 solar systems, preventing 96,300 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. But there’s a lot more to it than these impressive statistics. At the Solarthon, you experience being part of a community of solar enthusiasts, as well as the community where you’re installing the panels. While doing something very concrete in one neighborhood, you also get to feel that you’re part of something larger.

The happy homeowner turning on her new system.

Which you are. GRID is not alone in spreading solar through communities. We had a visit at the house I was working on from Joy Hughes of the Solar Gardens Institute, who wrote about the event in her blog. As a proponent of community solar, she was enthusiastic about GRID’s work, which brings local power to communities in need. She’s part of a growing community solar movement, as is GRID — just from a slightly different angle. And this movement could significantly change how we generate, distribute, and use power. The hope is that it will not only help us get off fossil fuels but also directly benefit not the large power companies but the people who need the power — which is all of us.

And that’s really the reason to volunteer for GRID and other renewable-energy organizations: we all benefit. We’re not talking in a fringe benefit kind of way; this is a serious, urgent issue. If we don’t take care of the environment, all those other causes people volunteer for will cease to exist. And ultimately, that’s really the reason I choose to devote my volunteer time and energy to an organization like GRID Alternatives.

The whole group at the end of the day.

The roof we worked on with all 10 panels in place.

With Erica Mackie, co-founder of GRID.

For more Solarthon photos, see my Facebook album and this album from GRID Alternatives.

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This post originally appeared on The Energy Collective.

You may or may not have noticed, but a grassroots movement in community power is picking up speed around the country. What’s community power, you may ask, and why does it matter?

The community power movement aims to decentralize electricity generation, which provides benefits to communities beyond local, clean, and more affordable energy — though those benefits would be enough. Take the case of solar power. Solar is getting cheaper, and given the costs of coal and nuclear plants, it will at some point become cheaper than other options. But who will benefit? Organizations promoting community power want to ensure that the answer to that is the people who need the power, rather than big companies outside their communities. In addition, keeping power production local creates jobs locally, avoids destroying delicate habitats, and bypasses the need for inefficient transmission lines, which can take many years to put in place.

Community power also helps address the challenges many of us face in going solar. If you’ve read about my quest for solar at my condo complex, you’ll have some insight into what this means for multi-family buildings. Condo dwellers aren’t the only ones facing significant hurdles; renters are at the mercy of their landlords. And many single-family homeowners can’t afford solar, even with rebates and incentives. In fact, fewer than 1% of U.S. homes currently have solar panels.

A big boost for single-family homes has been the increase in leasing options, such as those provided by Sungevity. This Oakland-based company is showing that solar is not just for the elite but can be within reach of any homeowner. Leases allow homeowners to go solar without putting any money down — thereby saving money right away, with savings increasing yearly.

But what’s a homeowner to do if their roof is not large enough, too shaded, or not positioned correctly for solar panels? Even a lease can’t help with those issues. Plus, leases are hard to come by for condos and are not an option for renters. That’s where community solar comes in.

Groups like these are springing up around the country to help address these challenges:

  • Solar Mosaic, based in Berkeley, uses crowdfunding to raise money for solar installations on schools, churches, all kinds of public buildings, or homes. Anyone can invest in a “Tile,” which represents a $100 share in a solar installation. The investor is paid back in full over a period of years (with no interest), and the money generated by the system is used to fund future solar projects.
  • Re-volv, a San Francisco nonprofit, uses a similar model to fund renewable energy projects in community centers. The organization aims to empower communities and individuals to invest collectively in renewable energy, creating what basically amounts to a revolving loan that helps fund more community solar projects.
  • The Colorado-based Solar Gardens Institute helps people pool resources as a group to buy panels in a “solar garden” — these can be on the roofs of public buildings such as churches, schools, or libraries, on parking lot awnings, or in other available spaces. Because laws in many areas prohibit anyone but a utility company from selling power, the organization advocates for legislation that promotes community-based energy development.
  • The Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative started as a group of friends and families that decided not to wait for the government or business to take action on global warming. Though it began as a small venture in a DC neighborhood, the larger goal is to make solar affordable and available throughout DC, where they’ve already formed other coops — all of which can serve as a model for the rest of the country.

We can all help promote the model of community power — after all, we are the community, so our involvement is crucial to the movement’s success. A good first step is to sign up for updates from the groups listed above and others like them, and ask how you can get involved. You can donate to organizations like Re-volv or ask them how they can help you fund solar projects in your community. Or you can invest in a Tile with Solar Mosaic, which is similar to lending through kiva.org — you might think of it as micro-investing rather than micro-lending. With all these options, and others sure to come, it’s easy to get involved and make a difference.

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