One of the inspiring aspects of the Solar Power International (SPI) Conference is the presence of non-profit organizations associated with solar. Even if you had to squint to find them, these renewable energy organizations occupied a few small tables and made it clear how commercial interests could do a little good with their skills, knowledge and products.

Grid Alternatives

I’ve been a fan of Grid Alternatives ever since I found out about them a year ago. What began in the San Francisco area has blossomed into offices across the country. Among other things, they seek out funding and then establish themselves in areas to help develop interest and skills in the solar industry. By training anyone willing to provide a little sweat equity, they have started to provide a much-needed workforce. America’s vast, growing solar industry is only going to grow in the coming years.

I first learned about them and their initiatives to empower and train women in the solar workforce. After a few days at SPI as the outnumbered gender by about nine to one, I’d say this is pretty important. We need the development of a diverse and skilled workforce that can provide stable employment. Grid Alternatives is clearly doing its part. You can find them at Booth 181.

NRECA

Many communities across the US haven’t always had access to the grid that urban areas take for granted. This created the need for cooperatives, owned by the public and for the public. Surprisingly, co-ops power 56% of the US landmass. Since there can be enormous hurdles to establishing any kind of infrastructure, NRECA comes in as advocates for these electric co-ops. They fight for their needs and interests in legislation and regulations. Although co-ops have frequently been coal-produced power, they are now looking more towards solar. As it has become more affordable, they have seen the adoption of solar nearly triple over the past four years. NRECA’s presence at SPI shows their eagerness to work with renewable energy companies so they can see that these communities are open to development in their arena. Find them at Booth 387.

Power 52 Foundation

Although I didn’t have a chance to speak with Power52, I wanted to still make a mention of them. Similar to Grid Alternatives, Power52 educates and trains a new workforce but especially focuses on underserved communities.

Power52 provides employment training for at-risk adults, returning citizens, and under-served individuals living in Baltimore City and surrounding counties that prepares participants for careers in the solar industry as well as other green job opportunities.”

While their focus is mainly on the Baltimore area, I could see this model expanding into many communities, much like Grid Alternatives. With more widespread use of renewable energy companies in regions like California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Colorado, these areas could all benefit from a more diverse and well-trained workforce. I love seeing the adoption of renewable energy skills and education being applied in such a  beneficial way. Part of the larger public changing attitudes towards energy consumption is by de-mystifying it. We can’t only rely on people with million-dollar homes to recognize the benefit of solar. It needs to be everyone, all across the socio-economic spectrum. Find them at Booth 173.

Power52 accepts donations for their organization and Grid Alternatives is always looking for volunteers.

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