When California faced an energy crisis in 2001, Tim Sears and EricaMackie were installing renewable energy systems in the privatesector. But as they watched their state and profession makeup twohalves of a state-wide power breakdown, the two engineers sprung intoaction, determined to spread the knowledge and skills needed to makesolar energy available to underserved communities.
The offspring of their ambition is GRID Alternatives, acompany that is imparting everyday Californians with solar equipment and installation training. Grid Alternative’s Affordable Solar HousingProgram, launched in 2004, has led to the installation of 369 solarelectric systems on the roofs of houses of low-income homeowners fromSan Diego to Sacramento.
The newly installed systems are reducing electric bills by roughly 75 percent. Over the projected lifespan of the systems, the total solarsavings will amount to nearly $7 million and prevent over 27,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from infiltrating the atmosphere over thenext 30 years.
The genius of the company lies in saving low-income homeowners onprofessional installation by pairing them with GRID Alternative’sinstallation volunteers throughout the Bay Area. The volunteers can earn a living as an installer while saving on installation cost byinstalling their own home system. According to GRID Alternatives, entrylevel system installers earn between$10-20 an hour, an InstallationForeman can earn up to $38 an hour, and an Installation Engineer can max out at $50 an hour. GRID Alternatives’ volunteers are mandated to takean installation crash course upon signing up with the company. Oncethat’s completed, the freshly trained installers are thrown knee-deep in real-life experience, taking on solar tasks in nearby neighborhoods.