Oakland nonprofit provides free solar systems, job training
OAKLAND — Oakland nonprofit GRID Alternatives brings solar technology to those who could not otherwise afford it.
The organization installs free solar systems to in low-income homeowners and affordable housing developments, and also trains people for green jobs.
The skills acquired at its new Installation Basics Training Program (bit.ly/2tlGrX0) open doors to employment in the growing solar-power industry, and in some cases are transferable to more general contracting work, particularly for electricians. GRID offers 11 certificates in a variety of skills, including job safety, wiring and conduit-bending and installation.
Its programs are not recognized for college credit, said Daisy Meyer, GRID Alternatives’ workforce development manager. But industry employers recognize and value GRID certificates when they see them on job applicant resumes, she said.
The installation basics program accepts six highly focused applicants a quarter. GRID also has a variety of programs open to anyone who can learn about solar technology at a pace that fits their needs and availability, Bay Area Regional Director Renee Sharp said.
These include team leader programs for those who have mastered an array of skills and can share them with newcomers. A “women in solar” program, which next starts in September, augments hands-on training with system design and sales training.
GRID also offers a variety of free skills workshops on weekends, evenings or on a single day, Sharp said.
Last week, GRID switched on new solar panel systems it installed at the Marcus Garvey Commons affordable housing development on Wood Street in West Oakland. GRID trainees and volunteers did the work. Funding was provided through California’s Low Income Weatherization Program (http://bit.ly/2sSYztC) and a grant from Neighborworks America (http://bit.ly/2s0SdqU), a nonprofit community development organization.
GRID calculates that the work at the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation’s multifamily Marcus Garvey Commons site will save residents of the 22-apartment complex $177,000 in energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint by 364 tons of greenhouse gases over the estimated 30-year life span of the system.
Since 2004, the Oakland-based nonprofit has provided 300 solar power systems for low-income homeowners in Oakland and a thousand more in the greater Bay Area. The systems are projected to save residents almost $36 million in energy costs and reduce by 75,000 tons the amount of greenhouse gases produced in meeting their energy needs.
GRID has seven offices throughout California and others in Denver, New York and Washington, D.C. For the past nine years, it has also developed projects in Nicaragua to electrify schools, irrigation systems and homes in off-the-grid, hard-to-reach communities.
Last fall, it completed its first project in Nepal, which is still digging out from earthquakes the year before, and in May helped install a 3.78 kilowatt solar-powered grain mill system in a remote village there.
Some of GRID’s money comes from its management of the state’s Single-family Affordable Solar Homes Program (bit.ly/2su87aI), which since 2006 has funded almost 6,500 GRID projects in California through the state’s Public Utilities Commission. Individual property developers or nonprofits also contribute on a case-by-case basis.
With 3 million Americans already employed in the for-profit sector of the clean-energy industry, GRID anticipates a strong job market for years to come.
The nonprofit is not able to track where all the people it trains wind up, but since January 2015 at least 83 of its Bay Area volunteers and job trainees have gone on to work in for-profit sector solar-industry jobs, Sharp said. GRID has benefited from the work of at least 4,000 volunteers over the years, Meyer said.
Besides taking on trainees directly, GRID works with pre-apprenticeship programs such as Rising Sun Energy Center in Berkeley, Pittsburg’s Future Build and San Francisco’s New Door Ventures by augmenting their classroom training with hands-on training at its installations.
“What’s really going to get you the job is hands-on job experience,” Sharp said.
Trainees come from all walks of life, from unemployed and underemployed people who may need some help in resume building and job-readiness, to contractors who need to develop additional skills, Meyer said.
Depending on the individual’s skills and availability and the number of certificates being sought, a trainee might be in the program anywhere from a month or two to six months, Meyer said. GRID also has a 13-month program modeled on and conducted in league with AmeriCorps, called SolarCorps, (bit.ly/2sIBrhc).
Grid is hosting a job fair (bit.ly/2tGwlPL) July 10-12 in San Francisco.
Those interested in seeing if they qualify for one of GRID’s solar systems can call 1-866-921-4696 or go to its web page (http://bit.ly/2stnFwE). Would-be volunteers can apply at bit.ly/2sjBDCW.
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