Solar Power and a Sunny Disposition: All in a Day’s Work


Newly minted volunteers at Oakland's Kinsell Commons (Petra on the left, Gleb on the right)

GRID Alternatives in Emeryville is making it pretty easy to do the right thing. They run California’s Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) program, which provides a way for low-income home owners to get plugged into solar. It’s win-win: people who are by definition on a tight budget (or they wouldn’t qualify) enjoy lower energy bills and may even see their meter running backwards if their energy consumption dips below what the panels mounted on their roof produce. The energy system benefits because the timing is right, since in California solar power production coincides pretty well with peak energy demand, especially during the summer. The volunteers, well they get to learn all about solar up close and personal from a really nice bunch of dedicated folks. The GRID Alternatives organization is able to deliver solid work on a very tight budget while training new workers.

Roof-mounted solar water heater

Another win might be making energy production and consumption newly visible. For the home owner, the direct connection between the 240 Watt capacity of each panel and household energy consumption is evident in the utility bill. For anyone who happens to pass by, the panels are a reminder that alternatives are available, and in this neighborhood the reality of alternatives is underscored by the neighboring roof-mounted solar water heaters. Just imagine what a fortuitous confluence of good will, willing hands, and incentives could do to shift the energy system toward sustainability! 

One of GRID’s current project is Kinsell Commons, an eight-unit housing development with East Bay’s Habitat for Humanity.  The development seems to be part of a small but growing oasis in what appears to have been an unrelentingly bleak light industrial landscape. The few neighbors seem friendly and the new library across the street next to what looks like a new school looks promising. As of a few days ago the inverters and solar panel brackets were in place. The panels tested well, but it will be another few days before they are on the roof converting East Bay sunshine into energy and $$.  

Kinsell Commons solar panel installation

Amidst all the constuction someone thought to plant a garden in the common area and the first tomatoes are just now turning red. An edible garden – another way to go green. Solar power, solar water heating, tomatoes: rays of hope.  



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