Solar Is Not Just for the Rich



Think solar is just for the rich? GRID Alternatives, an Oakland-based nonprofit, teams up with volunteers every year at their Solarthon fundraiser and block party to show that solar can save money for low-income families, too. 

This post was originally published on Sunible. 

I’m not a morning person. Especially on a Saturday. But on a recent Saturday morning I gladly hit the road before 8 am. What could make me so eager to get out the door that early? Solar power, of course! And not just any solar power. That day was the Bay Area Solarthon, an annual solar barn-raising and celebration put on by GRID Alternatives.

GRID is an Oakland-based nonprofit that brings solar power to low-income families — over 3500 of them so far. And on that particular Saturday, we were going to add eight more to the list.


This is my fourth year volunteering for GRID. What keeps me coming back? Well, I’m a big fan of solar power. It’s such a simple technology, yet it does so much:

And GRID Alternatives takes all these benefits one step further by also helping low-income families.

None of us like paying big power bills, but for low-income families, those bills are a much larger percentage of their budget. And being able to lower their energy costs can mean these families can afford the health care they need, or clothes for their kids — it can even make the difference between keeping their home or being out on the street.

That’s why so many of us came out on a Saturday to install solar panels. We gathered in the Iron Triangle of Richmond, California, a neighborhood known for high rates of poverty, crime, and pollution. But none of that seemed evident on this sunny morning. The Solarthon’satmosphere of collaboration and celebration would have brightened even the cloudiest day.

As my team arrived at our designated house, we were greeted by the homeowner and her eight-year-old daughter, who were even more eager than we were to get the panels on the roof. It was great to see the little one so excited to help out however she could — and learn about solar power in the process!


With the help of the ever-patient GRID team leaders, we had the 12 panels installed and the system ready to go by the end of the day. A GRID installation is never rushed, because they want to be safe and to provide a learning environment. But the day still went by fast.

Before we knew it, it was time to flip the switch and see the meter running backwards. That meant the house was generating more electricity than it was using. That extra power is sent back to the grid and can be used later, when the sun goes down. And the family was now on their way to saving 75% on their power bills.


That was one of the most satisfying moments I’ve experienced from a day of work. It’s hard to equal the feeling of doing something that’s so useful on so many levels, and that lets you see such concrete results.

That’s the kind of satisfaction you can get from solar. If you’re like me and can’t put it on your own roof, the next best thing is helping those who need clean, cheap energy the most.