Solar Installations Are Good For the Soul

I had the great pleasure to volunteer with a non-profit in California installing solar panels on qualified low-income households. The homeowners would pay nothing at all or a small portion of the system cost, and all labor was donated. Solar panel manufacturers, like Siliken, Sunpower, and Canadian, and inverter manufacturers, like PV Powered, also offered subsidized or discounted pricing. The rest of the cost of the panels was funded by the Single Homes Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) Program run by California’s Solar Initiative. It was one of the best experiences of my life for quite a few reasons:

1. I’ve never thought I gave enough back to our community.

Other than a few “Walks for Hunger”, donations to many different organizations, several bags of clothes to Goodwill, and the occasional soup kitchen, I’ve never felt right about how much I give to others. I never felt better in my life than the 19 installations I worked on. I had a chance to meet the families from many of the homes we installed solar on, and they were beyond thankful. Even though they had many mouths to feed in their home already and things were probably tight, most cooked us lunch and offered us cold drinks. You can’t pay for the appreciation and satisfaction I felt.

2. People say solar energy systems are only for the affluent.

Many of the homes we worked on were built from Habitat for Humanity or other similar organizations. People who thought they would never own a house, are now able to. But how do they afford the ongoing expenses, like utilities? The SASH program is important because it allows solar incentives to go those that are in financial need. It also decreases a homeowner’s monthly electricity bill so they can use that money for other things.

I’ve heard from people who are upset about the solar incentives being offered right now in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. They think that federal and state subsidies should go to families in need. Those families in need probably wouldn’t be able to afford a solar electric system if they can hardly afford to pay their mortgage or put food on the table. California has been able to step up and solve this problem. I hope similar programs are enacted in New England.

3. I was able to educate others about solar and teach them them about the installation process

I think there is both a lack of awareness and understanding about the solar industry. People have considered it too new of a technology, but developments in solar power started 150 years ago. As a team leader with the volunteer group, I would teach others how to design the system, prevent leaks from roof penetrations, and install the inverter. This would, in turn, help build and expand the skilled renewable energy workforce. The organization was training people in skills they never had at no cost.

4. The view wasn’t bad either

I’ve lived in New England most of my adult life. I really can’t complain about all the rich experiences that it has to offer, but California is another world. I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience it from the roofs of almost 20 houses. Every installation was different, from the streets of Southeast LA to the vineyards in the Central Valley to ocean views in San Diego. It was an el nino season so the farms close to the Bay area were a lush green. It was visually breathtaking. There’s nothing better than being on the roof installing solar panels in a world as beautiful as ours.