Solar Works Brings Renewable Energy, Career Opportunities to Low-Income D.C. Residents

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The Solar Works DC program hopes to install panels on 100,000 low-income residences by 2032. (Image courtesy of GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic/Twitter)

With the soaring demand for cost-saving solar panel installation in residential communities, a Washington, D.C.-based program is looking to arm residents from underserved areas with the skills needed to build a career, all while providing low-income families with the energy-saving benefits of rooftop panels.

A recent partnership between the city and the nonprofit GRID Alternatives, fittingly dubbed Solar Works DC, trains participants from Washington’s poorest communities for careers in the rooftop solar industry, according to The Christian Science Monitor. Over the next three years, participants will be paid to install solar panels on 300 low-income homes.

The goal? To have solar panels on at least 100,000 low-income residences in the district by 2032.

Devonta Sanders, a 23-year-old participant in Solar Works’ first summer cohort, told the publication he didn’t know anything about solar power when he first entered the program but wanted to add a new skill to his repertoire. After just six weeks of on-the-job training, Sanders said he’s now comfortable installing the panels from start to finish, noting that he plans to parlay that training into a full-time career.

For D.C. Dept. of Energy and Environment Director Tommy Wells, this is exactly the kind of career opportunity he hoped the Solar Works program would create.

“You can clearly say, ‘You go through this program, get certified, there’s a job waiting for you on the other end,'” Wells told the CS Monitor, adding that he hoped the initiative would go beyond just a job “by getting more people in a pathway to a job they can grow in, and grow into the middle class.”

Dramatic drops in the cost of solar panel installation, coupled with the benefits of a federal rebate program and the potential for long-term energy savings have sent demands for residential solar installation through the roof (no pun intended), the publication reported. Data from solar company EnergySage indicated that 20-year electricity savings from solar can be significant, ranging anywhere from $7,000 to upwards of $30,000.

Surging interest in the panels, however, has left many U.S. solar firms struggling to fill positions. That’s where Solar Works DC comes in.

In its first three years, the program hopes to provide on-the-job technical training to over 200 D.C. residents, according to the Monitor. The program trains participants in every aspect of the installation process, including electrical groundwork and laying the panels on rooftops. Participants also receive training in sales and outreach.

“I’ve seen the whole ‘Oh, you ain’t going to be nothing,’ [and] ‘In order to get money, you got to sell drugs,’ ” said D.C. resident and Solar Works workforce coordinator Alexis Harvey. “That’s the only way [urban youths] know how to do it because that’s what’s been taught.”

Solar Works “is an opportunity for them to see the possibilities,” Harvey added. “People shouldn’t be boxed in when they’re looking for their future. … They should have options. This is one of those options.”

The first Solar Works cohort graduated on Aug. 4, the publication reported. The next group of trainees is set to start the program on Tuesday, Sept. 5.

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