Groundswell Stories en Copyright 2019 Groundswell - For Personal Use Only Wed, 13 Feb 2019 09:12:01 -0600 Groundswell Stories 120 Black Green History:​Increasing Diversity in the Solar Market ]]> In celebrating Black “Green” History month, our theme this year focuses on those “making” history within our green community. Terrell Richmond, the president and CEO of NYMBUS, has spent more than 20 years as an architect of economic advancement and inclusion programs, including in the energy sector. NYMBUS’ research is intended to shed light on participation trends within industries in order to identify where positive, inclusive change can be made. We caught up with Terrell to review his compelling findings and ideas on how to increase the opportunities for diverse participation in the Baltimore and D.C. solar industry and positively shape the future of woman and minority involvement. 

Boosting Minority Participation in Solar Development  

Groundswell recently partnered with NYMBUS, a minority-owned management consulting firm, to assess minority and woman-owned business participation in the solar sector in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. The results underscore both the growing opportunities in solar development and the urgent need for the industry to confront striking disparities in who benefits from them. 

On working with Groundswell.

I became familiar with Groundswell through [CEO] Michelle Moore, who had a hunch there was a missing picture in what was happening in the solar economy as it relates to small, minority and woman-owned businesses in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. 

The solar marketplace has experienced exponential growth on a global, national, and local scale, yet regardless of the trend we still found a gross lack of representation at every level of the solar supply chain. With such a vast space to create employment opportunities and wealth, we aspired to research the current solar economy with the intent of providing a visual depiction of its current status and the availability for future diversity. Baltimore and D.C. have unique opportunities to create shared assets, establish innovation centers and foster mentor relationships that ultimately create paths to prosperity for all members of every community.

On leaving minority and woman-owned businesses behind.

The findings in our research were pretty stark. Only 3 out of 1678 certified small businesses in D.C. were registered as minority or woman-owned full-service solar firms. That means women and minority solar firms make up less than one percent of certified small businesses.

In other words, they're not participating significantly within the solar value chain, and where they are participating, it's at the lower end as it relates to procurement and construction, as opposed to higher paying careers in development and finance. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics wages in the solar segment for  finance are, at minimum, three times higher than wages in solar engineering and procurement.

So wage disparity is one thing. The other consideration is that often the developer has the financial proficiency and the backing to not only build the project, but also own it. Developers that are also owners enjoy both the financial benefits from building the project and the long-term wealth generation that comes from owning the asset. The statistics reflect that very few minorities and women are involved at this level of the solar value chain in order to reap the more lucrative benefits of solar development.

On why early involvement in the solar economy matters.

Minority inclusion within solar is a problem throughout the country, and it’s largely because of the nascency of solar and because of the complexity of the value chain.  

The district just gave preliminary approval to a climate bill, requiring that 100 percent of the energy that is consumed has to come from a renewable source by 2032, so we know there's obviously an environmental impact. But there’s also an economic impact, and not just from an economic development perspective but from a consumption perspective. The cost of delivering solar is less than conventional energy. A lack of participation in solar development prohibits minorities from creating economic value within their own communities and owning an asset that can generate long-term wealth. 

It's sort of like the advent of information technology or the combustible engine. Renewable energy is transformative and is going to be in high demand, and legislative changes are further stimulating demand. 

To not have equal access at the outset can mean you're shut out forever. 

On the way forward.

To address our findings, we made several strategic recommendations. Accessing the data relevant to solar or small business participation is very difficult. There's a need to create a more centralized data source to reflect as well as to understand the trends in not just the solar economy of small minority communities but the business trends of solar in general. 

Other recommendations included: expanding awareness of the solar business model; forming a government and industry partner coalition to increase the participation of minority and woman-owned contractors and suppliers; increasing entrepreneurial capacity through mentorship; and exploring the launch of innovation centers to foster entrepreneurship and connect emerging minority and woman-owned businesses to business development opportunities associated with utility and university supply chains.

This is a complex space, and there's this interdependence between local legislation and policy as well as access to capital and financing to capitalize on solar opportunities. It's a very nascent market, and it is complex, with legislative and financial nuance. There are numerous companies that have the capacity, but don't have the awareness. By engaging with local governments, community leaders and industry professionals, we can collectively take necessary action to make sure growth in the solar industry demonstrates increased equity and inclusion.


Black Green History:​Increasing Diversity in the Solar Market Kristina Overton
Report: Solar Empowers​...Some ]]> A new report by NYMBUS Holdings, commissioned by Groundswell, highlights immediate and measurable steps to close the diversity gap in Washington DC’s solar marketplace to address the underrepresentation of minority and women-owned businesses at every level of the solar supply chain. Prompted by Groundswell’s first-hand experiences in the local solar market, and enabled by Groundswell’s participation as a Citi Foundation Community Progress Maker in Washington DC, the objective of the report is to:

  1. To describe the current levels of minority and woman-owned business participation in the solar sector in the Baltimore, MD and District of Columbia solar markets, and frame the near-term opportunities; and,
  2. To provide recommendations for closing the diversity gap

Solar Empowers...Some

The State of Diversity and Inclusion in the Solar Sector In Washington, DC And Baltimore, MD


The solar marketplace has experienced exponential growth on a global, national, and local scale. Nationally, 4 out of 10 electricity generation jobs were solar jobs in 2017 – more new jobs than any other segment of energy industry. [1]

Solar energy’s sustained growth has impacted local economies. In both the District of Columbia and Baltimore, solar developers, financiers, and solar engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) firms are shaping a market that is rich with innovation and profitability. In the District alone, solar capacity grew from a negligible base in 2009 to 62MW by the end of 2018, representing an investment of about $160 million to date. [2] DC’s solar capacity is expected to increase to 164MW by 2023. Based on expected installation costs and capacity projects, the period 2018-2023 could see an additional $300 million in solar investments in DC. [3]

While the City of Baltimore’s solar capacity is less robust than DC’s, the State of Maryland’s solar market, already more than 1 GW in Q3, 2018 [4], is projected to grow by 974 MW by 2023, according to the Maryland-DC-Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association (MDVSEIA), representing an estimated $ 2.4 billion in solar infrastructure [5]. That’s an estimated $2.73B in projected new solar infrastructure – which is great news for local solar companies.

Critically, however, minority and woman-owned businesses are grossly underrepresented at every level of the solar supply chain. As a result, the solar industry and its wealth-building economic expansion in the District of Columbia and in Baltimore is not fulfilling its potential to drive equitable economic development. In fact, the level of diversity in the local solar value chain is sparse even compared to solar industry diversity in other states and to the under representation of minority and woman-owned businesses in other sectors. [6]



[1] 2018 U.S. Energy and Employment Report, National Association of State Energy Officials and Energy Futures Initiative, May 2018 (release Feb. 4, 2018); p. 38 

[2] Wood Mackenzie, Limited/SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight®, Solar Energy Industry Association with GTM Research (now known as Wood Mackenzie). District of Columbia-specific data is cited from the Solar Energy Industry Association state policy. Data from this report is current through Q3, 2018.

[3] Ibid., Full report, p. 9

[4] Solar Energy Industries Association, state profiles, Maryland

[5] MDVSEIA, as drawn from Solar Energy Industries Association, National Solar Database, data downloaded 11/14/2018

[6] 2017 U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study, The Solar Foundation. Appendix, p.38

Report: Solar Empowers​...Some Fri, 13 Feb 3660 15:49:59 -0600 Kristina Overton
Coach Dave's Playbook: January 2019 ]]> It’s a new year, and we’re already off and running with advances and updates in the world of clean energy…so let’s dive right in.


DC’s Clean Energy Bill Is Now Law

On January 18, D.C,’s Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 into law. It requires 100% of DC’s electricity to come from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2032—13 years earlier than California and Hawaii have committed to transition to 100% green electricity. For more details, check out this helpful write-up from Greater Greater Washington. This bill recognizes that action on climate is not complete if the benefits are not shared equitably among our residents, and that we need a more sustainable future for the next generation of D.C. to thrive.[1]


Update from the Garden State: Low-Income Community Solar Takes Root in New Jersey

In January 2019, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) approved rules for a new community solar pilot program, which clears the way for at least 225 megawatts (MW) of community solar to be built in the state over the next three years (enough to power approximately 25,000 homes). The program is also expected to create local clean energy jobs and help the state meet its ambitious renewable energy goals.[2]

Within the community solar pilot program, 40% of all solar capacity is earmarked for low- and moderate-income consumers.

A 2018 study from GTM Research found that community solar has the potential to deliver energy savings for more than 400,000 customers in New Jersey, including a quarter million low-to-moderate income and affordable housing customers, by 2030.[3] The state had more than 100,000 total solar panel installations by the end of 2018, but encouraging broader access to solar power is key to Governor Murphy's stated goal of 100% clean energy by 2050.[4]


New York Launches “Solar For All” Program

In early December 2018, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) announced contract awards for nine community solar projects throughout New York, as part of its “Solar For All” program. These first nine projects, which are intended to provide community solar access for up to 7,000 eligible low-income residents, will be followed by additional round of funding in 2019, which will then expand the number of households to 10,000, as well as increase the areas served by the program.

This recent boost to low income solar in New York state is part of Governor Cuomo’s NY-Sun program, a 10-year, $1 billion component of Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), which aims to create a cleaner, more resilient, and affordable energy system for all New Yorkers.[5] More info here:


Things Are Looking Up For Solar Jobs

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest growing occupation in the US is solar PV installer, with a projected growth rate of 105% between 2016 and 2026. The #2 fastest-growing job? Wind turbine service technician. Yep, both jobs are in the booming renewable energy industry.[6]


Bonus Reading: Equitable and Inclusive Urban Planning

A fascinating look at how the city of Minneapolis is grappling with issues of race, income, renewable energy, and urban planning


Coach Dave's Playbook: January 2019 Kristina Overton
Turning “Them” Into “We”: Creating Clean Energy Solutions Together“them”-into-“we”-creating-clean-energy-solutions-together/ ]]> Clean energy is a complex field filled with endless twists and turns — from local policy and technical challenges all the way down to the varying interpretations of “clean energy” as a concept. For those that are new to it (like I am), this industry can be a challenging one to navigate.

At Groundswell, I work with a team to manage community solar projects and partnerships. We partner with electric utilities, community partners, lawmakers, and neighbors to make equitable clean energy access a reality. Over the summer, I became increasingly interested in figuring out how our work fits within the industry and what the future of clean energy might look like in coming years. However, doing this myself was challenging. So, I started looking for a group that wanted to build knowledge together.

Enter CELI, the Clean Energy Leadership Institute. For the last three months, I’ve been attending a weekly seminar through the CELI Fellowship, which is available for young professionals in D.C. and San Francisco. Covering a wide swath of topics from regulation and advocacy to the future of our planet, the seminars invite questions and discussion that add rich context to our work in clean energy.

Here are three of the most important things I’ve grown to understand through the fellowship:

We have to modernize our grid.

Our energy grid is OLD, and its management is complicated. In the U.S., many of the poles, wires, and other equipment that comprise our energy transmission and distribution network are nearing 50 years old. As equipment wears down, it is a challenge to plan for and manage upgrades, especially as energy demand continues to increase across the nation. This may sound like an issue that’s removed from our daily lives, but we all rely on consistent energy access. When it’s not available—for example, power outages during a thunderstorm—we all feel it.

The role of utilities is in flux.

Decentralizing energy generation is a huge point of contention. One element of the debate is the changing role of electric utilities, which manage the country’s electric grids and have long provided a public service: consistent and reliable access to electricity. Historically, containing power plants, transmission and distribution systems, and end users all within the same network allowed the utility to manage processes in an organized, centralized fashion. This system made sense when electricity primarily came from oil and gas sources, which are generally processed at large power plants. Communities also used less energy and were far less complex.

Now that energy sources are more diverse and we have greater, more varied energy needs, utilities are dealing with complicated challenges. For example, solar energy systems can be installed on homes and businesses, allowing consumers to reduce reliance on traditional sources of energy and take more control of energy prices. Because of this, public utilities are now competing with these private sources of energy generation, also called distributed generation. And yet, distributed generation systems still connect back to the publicly-owned grid in some cities, creating major questions: what is the present-day responsibility of utilities to provide the public service of reliable electricity? And should they remain centralized, handling all elements of the energy grid, or change their model?

People matter.

Connectedness matters: turn “them” into “we.” Building relationships can transform industries and constituents into communities. CELI has provided a valuable pathway to building community with young professionals in my industry, whether through discussing the future of electricity or sitting around playing 80’s hits on the guitar. The CELI fellowship has been an opportunity to understand various angles of the clean energy industry as well as to connect with the intelligent, driven, and vibrant people that push it forward.


Intentionally building community can often redirect solutions from being prescriptive towards being supportive and adaptive. As I’ve learned about various sides of the energy industry at CELI, the value of working at an organization like Groundswell has continued to reveal itself. When our team designs a project, we work in partnership with neighbors and community leaders on clean energy solutions that will benefit people for years to come. This may be more work than installing a prescriptive system, but its worth is proven tenfold: leveraging our power together is one of the keys to creative, lasting transformation. Our team synthesizes the regulatory, political, financial, and technical sides of the energy equation in order to serve our communities across the country, and the direct relationships we cultivate enable us to always keep this goal in sight. 

Turning “Them” Into “We”: Creating Clean Energy Solutions Together Mon, 13 Feb 3950 15:45:41 -0600“them”-into-“we”-creating-clean-energy-solutions-together/ John Goldring
Exciting Updates on Energy Efficiency Efforts and More in Georgia ]]> Exciting Updates on Energy Efficiency Efforts and More in Georgia


Groundswell’s work is ever-expanding into areas of opportunity including the Southeast and, more specifically, Georgia. Sixteen percent of Georgians fall below the federal poverty line compared to the national average of 12.7%. Those statistics, combined with the region’s extreme weather conditions (hot, humid summers + freezing winters) and inefficient, aging homes mean low-income Georgians pay seven times more of their income toward electricity than higher earners. Finding innovative, financially sustainable programs that address these issues and create jobs has been a key area of focus for Groundswell in Georgia.


Going big sometimes means starting small. That is why as Groundswell’s Southeastern Community Engagement Lead based in LaGrange, GA, I am focusing my efforts locally and throughout Georgia to explore the challenges and opportunities that exist around energy efficiency, community solar and sustainable growth. Doing so takes a multifaceted approach, so we are working closely with the local utility, elected officials, community leaders and residents to listen, familiarize ourselves with the landscape and work together to find solutions that address the needs. Groundswell is also looking at these same issues on a statewide level as a member of the Energy Efficiency For All (EFFA) Georgia Coalition. EEFA Georgia explores strategies that make multi-family and single-family homes healthy and affordable through energy efficiency.


The Pay As You Save (PAYS) program is one solution that is currently under consideration by the City of LaGrange to help those in our community who struggle with the highest energy bills and improve the efficiency of the older homes they likely live in. The PAYS program is a non-subsidized, financially sustainable energy efficiency upgrade program that serves low-income customers regardless of credit score or whether they rent or own their home. We applaud the City of LaGrange’s leadership for taking the initial steps necessary to address the very large issue of energy efficiency and quality of life by approving (unanimously, I might add) to fund Phase I development of a local PAYS program. Partnering to design a successful PAYS program for LaGrange is Southface, a leader in sustainable strategies and technical expertise throughout the Southeast.


In the small, rural towns of Ouachita, AR and Roanoke, NC, both the utility and customers are enjoying the benefits from a successful PAYS program implementation. In these cities, a customer enrolls in the PAYS program through their local utility and an energy audit for the home is scheduled. Once the audit is complete and the efficiency improvements identified (weather stripping, HVAC, insulation, caulking, low-flow toilets, LED bulbs, etc.), the improvements are made, and paid for, by the utility. The savings are immediate and the utility recovers the cost of the improvements by sharing in the savings with the customer. In Ouachita AR, customers on average experienced a more than 20% reduction in energy use resulting in lower energy bills from the very beginning. Not only does the PAYS program help customers reduce their utility bills and put money back in their pocket, it can also impact their quality of life by improving indoor air quality and thermal comfort, especially for the very young and elderly.


Energy efficiency programs like PAYS can also be an economic driver that positively impacts local economies as they help to create skilled jobs and opportunity. However, communities need to have a local workforce that is prepared to perform these jobs which is why as a board member of thINC Academy, our local high school college and career academy, and in conjunction with West Georgia Technical College, we are partnering to explore the curriculum and training skills necessary to prepare and train our future workforce. 


Partnerships are the key to many of Groundswell’s successful endeavors. Michelle Moore, Groundswell’s CEO, may have said it best, “We believe that partnership is leadership, and that working with local values-aligned organizations with complimentary skills is always a better decision that reinventing the wheel or going it alone.” In LaGrange, Groundswell is truly blessed to partner with the Ray, a nonprofit that was created by the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. The Ray is dedicated to reimagining and revolutionizing an18-mile stretch of highway and the surrounding acres in order to transform the transportation infrastructure of the future and serve as a global model for change. From right-of-way solar arrays to solar-paved highways to highway shoulder bioswales and more, The Ray is creating a first-of-its-kind regenerative highway ecosystem.


LaGrange is a small town with a big heart and, like Groundswell, understands that the foundation of every thriving community is its ability to “love thy neighbor as yourself.” LaGrange is also a “City Inspired” that has a deep sense of community, a long history of public/private partnerships that invest in the success of the city, and it is open to innovative approaches to tackling big issues. LaGrange cares about those in their community that struggle and is committed to finding ways to improve affordability, quality of life and economic development. The good news is our work will not stop in LaGrange. Groundswell understands the opportunity and positive impact that connecting the dots between energy efficiency, community solar and sustainable growth can make on local economies and the health of the overall community. Which is why we are especially energized and excited to expand our efforts throughout the Southeast in the months and years to come.

Exciting Updates on Energy Efficiency Efforts and More in Georgia John Goldring
A 100% Renewable Energy Standard for DC and Energy Efficiency for All ]]> On December 18, DC’s City Council will take its final vote on the DC Clean Energy Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018. Among its many notable provisions are to adopt a 100% renewable portfolio standard (RPS) for the District of Columbia by 2032 – doubling the District’s renewable energy goals. That means that all of the energy used in the District of Columbia will come from renewable sources within the next 15 years. With this commitment, DC will join two states (Hawaii and California) and more than 90 cities and counties across the United States who’ve stated unequivocally that they want their community to be powered by clean, renewable energy. Renewable energy is abundant, resilient, and local – and we’re grateful for the DC City Council’s leadership.


Importantly, and thanks to the leadership of Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie who is Chair of the Committed on Business and Economic Development, the legislation also clarifies that Pepco and Washington Gas are authorized to offer energy efficiency programs to customers, including low and moderate-income members of our community.


Why is this so important? In DC as in most every city in our nation, the poorest families pay the most for electricity because their homes and apartments are older and less efficient. As any of us who’ve lived week to week know from experience, you don’t buy a new Energy Star refrigerator or a high-efficiency air conditioner because it’s better and less costly to operate than the old one – you keep stuff until it breaks and you don’t have a choice but to replace it.


Back in 2016, Groundswell took a deeper dive into energy and economic equity and found that 1 in 14 of our DC neighbors struggling with poverty were paying $200 per month or more for electricity – vastly more than their affluent neighbors who could afford the comfort of an energy efficient home. That’s grocery money, rent money, school supply money, money for doctor’s visits and medicine. And that’s the kind of utility bill that undermines your financial security and quality of life.


Making sure that DC’s utility companies – Pepco and Washington Gas – are part of bringing the benefits of energy efficiency to all Washingtonians is an important step forward. And it’s a step that many other states have already made. Some states require that utilities meet a minimum percentage of electricity demand with energy efficiency, while others set specific performance targets. In each case, setting goals and measuring performance not only holds the utility accountable for making a positive impact, it also enables policy makers to make certain that programs offered by public utilities are equitably benefiting the public.


If you can find a few minutes and you live or work in Washington DC, I’d encourage you to make time to say “thank you” to the DC City Council for not only making sure that the District is moving forward with other leading states by setting a 100% renewable portfolio standard, but also for making certain that our local utilities come to the table as partners in delivering energy efficiency for all.

A 100% Renewable Energy Standard for DC and Energy Efficiency for All Tue, 13 Feb 8120 15:44:47 -0600
Coach Dave’s Playbook: November 2018’s-playbook-november-2018/ ]]> The new year is arriving quickly, and with it comes new updates and developments in the solar industry. This month’s blog is dedicated to sharing some of the recent policy changes and exciting innovations that we are seeing in the District and across the globe.


Updates from the District


  • Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018: The DC City Council voted on November 28th to advance a bill that would set a 100% renewable energy mandate by 2032. The D.C. bill would also go beyond the electricity sector, mandating that all public transportation and fleet vehicles be electric or another zero-emission technology by 2045.[1] Here’s a link to the latest version of the 24-page bill itself. The Clean Energy Act is slated for a second and final vote on December 18th.


  • DC’s grid modernization initiative: Pepco’s application to the District of Columbia Public Service Commission (DC PSC) for its Capital Grid project includes upgrading three existing substations and building a new substation in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood. Some environmentalists and residents have pushed back on the project, arguing there is a more sustainable approach to updating the grid. On a separate track, the DC PSC is engaged in a process to modernize the District’s grid. The goal of the process, Modernizing the Energy Delivery System for Increased Sustainability (MEDSIS), is to increase sustainability for consumers and make the energy delivery system more reliable, efficient, cost effective and interactive.[2] It will be interesting to watch this play out, as this initiative will shape the electrical grid of the future!


Interesting solar design applications


Creative solar power designs are emerging around the globe.


  • Agrovoltaics: You’ve heard of “photovoltaic,” but what about “agrovoltaic?” Agrovoltaics (sometimes spelled “agrivoltaic”) involves co-developing the same area of land for both solar photovoltaic power as well as for conventional agriculture.[3] A new program in Massachusetts incentivizes such agrovoltaic designs, to avoid clearing farms and forests for solar power generation. One such design in the state—a 30-acre solar farm system—is located 8 to 10 feet above the ground.[4] It likely resembles this system, which is located in Chile.


One of the world’s largest agrovolatic systems is built in China by Huawei. The 1-gigawatt system utilizes trackers and module level electronics.

Emerging research suggests that the combination of solar and agriculture, while lowering the output of either land use compared to a “pure” installation, can increase combined agricultural and electricity output by more than 150 percent.

  • Floating solar power: A company called Ciel & Terre has completed a 250 kW-DC floating solar plant for a water district in Lake County, Northern California. The project uses 11 anchors to anchor the solar “island” to shore. The system is also designed to sit on the bottom of the pond if the pond drains. The project is one of four floating solar projects, totaling 5.3 MW, to be completed across the nation recently.[5] Here’s an image from a project in Florida that uses modular floats that readily snap and screw together.[6]


Case study: Massive nonprofit installation helps Portland’s homeless in a powerful way

  • Check out this cool story about how a Portland, OR, solar organization brought stakeholders together to help address homelessness and addiction recovery through a 100-kW solar project. More than a dozen regional companies sponsored this project by donating either products or labor.


Finally, for those looking for a little extra reading, I recommend this piece from the New Yorker: The Battle for Solar Energy in the Country’s Sunniest State.


That’s all for now. Until next month!

Coach Dave’s Playbook: November 2018 Sun, 13 Feb 7200 15:43:59 -0600’s-playbook-november-2018/
A Letter of Thanksgiving ]]> The turkey is brining, the cornbread for dressing is going in the oven, broth’s on the stove for tomorrow’s collards, and I can barely resist making tonight’s dinner of the Pumpkin Surprise. But all that’s just the trimmings – Thanksgiving is really about gratitude.

Gratitude is one of Groundwell’s guiding principles. We begin with gratitude, we work with a spirit of service, we respect the communities where we serve, and we believe that respect begins by understanding the places and listening to the people where we work. This year, we have a lot to be grateful for.

I take time every day to write down the specifics as a part of my daily prayer and devotional practice – three things I’m grateful for, one thing I need help with, and a reminder of my purpose in service. Particularly on the hard days when the problems seem to outnumber the solutions, grounding myself in gratitude fuels me forward. And during 2018, I’ve filled up a whole book.

The people and places Groundswell serves are filled with such an abundance of Good! I wish I had the words to share them all here, but I’ll just call out a few to show what good is possible when we work together in loving service to our neighbors.

Before the end of this year, we’ll be under construction on enough Share Power community solar projects to serve nearly 200 families, including more than 125 Empowered families whose community solar subscription will cut their electricity bill in half. That’s money back in people’s pockets to pay the rent, buy groceries, spend on school supplies, and live a little easier.

The good we will do for our communities is all thanks to our partners in service, many of whom represent local congregations who’ve lent their rooftops, parking lots, and other spaces to us to build community power projects that will extend their own mission in the neighborhood.  These partners also include values-aligned solar investors who believe in the power of private capital to do good, and whose investment (literally and figuratively) makes Share Power possible. Our solar engineering and construction partners have also committed to the mission by providing training and job opportunities to people from the neighborhoods where we’re working. We are grateful for the whole extended team.

The people we serve have inspired, informed, and driven us forward. I’d like to share a special thank you to all the people who took time out of their days to sit with us in a series of Human Centered Design research sessions that enabled us to build the Share Power platform and our customer enrollment program in a way that will serve everyone, regardless of their household income, with dignity and respect.

Without the local and state leaders who set the rules of the road for the solar market in each of our 50 states, we couldn’t even get to go. While the places we work have diverse laws and regulatory frameworks, each has an abundance of opportunity. The District of Columbia has among the most forward-leaning clean energy policies in the nation that is now being even more closely connected to making solar power a Made in DC industry, Baltimore and Maryland are looking to lead on energy storage and resilience, New York is pioneering community ownership models, and my home state of Georgia is pairing groundbreaking low-income energy efficiency programs with big solar projects that are focused on economic competitiveness and quality of life. We appreciate all of our partners in each state and place, and we’re grateful for the abundance of opportunities to connect solar power to economic empowerment that you’re helping to create. And this upcoming year, we look forward to getting to know Illinois and Hawaii!

Our funders are so much more than philanthropy. Together and individually, they are the best strategic investors an entrepreneurial team like ours could ask for. They’ve helped make us smarter by understanding the powerful role that Community Development Finance can play to scale this marketplace, connecting us with expertise and new partners we couldn’t have accessed on our own, challenging us with tough questions about how we will increase our impact from some really great projects to new models that could open up the solar market to our low-income neighbors, and more.

You may have noticed that partnership is a theme here. We believe that partnership is leadership, and that working with local values-aligned organizations with complimentary skills is always a better decision that reinventing the wheel or going it alone. The project we’re leading with partners Elevate Energy, Southface, and Clean Energy Works that was recently awarded funding from the U.S Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) to support research that will rapidly accelerate community solar access for low-income communities is a great recent example of the power of partnership.

The people of Groundswell are at the core of everything we do and they have shaped, nurtured, and kept our culture. While we all share a sense of mission, each individual – including the team of expert consultants who expand our capabilities where we need it – makes a unique contribution to the whole and bring a sense of joy and delight to the work. From Kristal’s soaring voice to Krysta keeping us fit with the daily squats challenge- we’re a team.

Our Board of directors is part of that team, too. Next month when they meet for our Fourth Quarter convening, they’ll be inviting a few great new folks to join the “superhero” squad they’re building to lead Groundswell forward into a strategic planning process next year. Are you Shuri or Professor X? Our Board Governance Chair Kimberly Lewis wants to hear from you.

In closing, I’d like to express our appreciation for you. And not just because you’ve read this entire letter of gratitude : ) Whether you’re enrolled to subscribe to one of our Share Power projects, you’re one of our wind power customers, you’re among our partners and community advisors, or you just keep up to date and in touch – we are grateful for your commitment, your trust, and your willingness to share your ideas with us.

Wishing everyone a blessed Thanksgiving and an abundant year ahead,

A Letter of Thanksgiving
Coach Dave’s Playbook: October 2018 ]]> Happy September! A couple of quick policy updates to lead off: 

  • New DC clean energy legislation introduced – In late July, DC councilmember Mary Cheh introduced the Clean Energy DC Act of 2018, which would require 100 percent of the electricity sold in the District to come from renewable sources by 2032. To the disappointment of some activists, the bill does not include a carbon tax. Regardless, I view this as a promising development for the city and I’m excited about the prospect of a more aggressive clean energy goal for the District. For more information, read these articles from The Architect’s Newspaper and Greater Greater Washington. The DC Chapter of the Sierra Club has also published a helpful fact sheet. A public hearing is scheduled for October 9; check out the Council website for more details. 


  • California enacts 100% clean energy bill. With the Governor’s signature on September 10, California enacted legislation requiring the state to obtain 100% of its power from clean sources by 2045. California has become the second state in the U.S. to rely solely on clean energy by 2045. (Hawaii was the first to implement such a plan.) This is a really big deal, because California is such a huge state—in fact, it’s the fifth-largest economy in the world.1 David Roberts from Vox breaks down what this all means here. I also recommend listening to this podcast episode from The Energy Gang. 


Going Deep: Solar and Recycling  

I don’t think I need to expound on the benefits of solar energy, or its potential to address urgent issues like air quality and global climate change. I do think it’s interesting, and prudent, to look ahead and think about the “lifecycle” perspective for photovoltaic equipment. 

As the solar market expands and competition drives down the cost of photovoltaics, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimated that the industry will produce 78 million tons of waste by 20502 -- a wave of 35.3 million panels, not counting the hundreds of millions of panels that flooded the U.S. market in the last decade that may need to be disposed of sooner.3 The industry standard life span for solar modules (panels) is 25 to 30 years. 

Part of the problem is that solar panels are complicated to recycle. They’re made of many materials, some hazardous, and assembled with adhesives and sealants that make breaking them apart challenging.4 

Most solar panels are made from glass, polymer, aluminum (frames), silicone, copper and less than 0.1 percent of silver, tin and lead. Silver makes up a very small fraction of the mass of a solar panel, but a very high fraction of its value—about 47 percent. We might think of that as almost half of the incentive a recycler has to recycle a panel. Silver is worth significantly more than other recoverable components—aluminum, copper, silicon and glass.5  

According to GreenBiz, manufacturers are finding ways around using components that would have value to recyclers, such as copper and silver.6 What’s more, 75 percent of the material that gets separated out is glass, which is easy to recycle into new products but also has a very low resale value. 

To summarize: the underlying commodity value of the solar panels is falling. The less value a recycler can extract, the less incentive there is to recycle.7 System owners recycle their panels in Europe because they are required to. Panel recycling in an unregulated market (like the United States) will only work if there is value in the product.8  

And the recycling process itself is still pretty crude. Involves mechanically shredding and crushing the panels, then chemically separating out the more valuable materials.9 

Solar panel disposal and recycling isn’t a huge issue right now—in 2018—because there isn’t a big enough volume to cause concern. Solar panels are warrantied to perform more than 25 years, and once the warranty expires, panels will still produce energy, albeit not at their advertised peak. Solar installations in the United States didn’t really take off until 2010. Any influx of panels needing replaced today happens after severe weather events or other accidents.10 
Where are those damaged panels going now? With no dedicated national program or requirement to safely dispose of solar panels, some unfortunately find their way to landfills. If the system owner is

green-minded and has the money, panels may get shipped to a recycling facility. In some cases, they may be stored until a practical recycling program is established.11 

The broader U.S. industry is just beginning to catch on, and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a trade group representing solar power companies and photovoltaic manufacturers, recently established a PV Recycling Working Group to train and equip commercial recycling companies to understand what’s in manufacturers’ products and how to break them down.12   

Although there’s nothing yet mandated at a national level, a few states are trying to get the ball moving. In July 2017, Washington became the first state to pass a solar stewardship bill (ESSB 5939), requiring manufacturers selling solar products into the state to have end-of-life recycling programs for their own products. Manufacturers that do not provide a recycling program or outline will not be able to sell solar modules into the state after Jan. 1, 2021. Final plans are still being decided.13 See the Washington State Department of Ecology’s website for more details. 

It will be interesting to see how and whether panel manufacturers use recyclability and recycling programs to differentiate themselves, and whether economics, industry standards or government regulation are the most prominent drivers. 

If you’re curious to read up on the issue, check out this recent webinar hosted by the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA). And if you want to learn about of battery recycling, this piece from Bloomberg provides projections for this market and references some of the regulatory drivers which are expected to influence the market for battery reuse and recycling moving forward. 

That’s all for now. Until next time! 


Coach Dave’s Playbook: October 2018
We Listened To Our Customers, And Here’s What We Learned,-and-here’s-what-we-learned/ ]]> At Groundswell, we believe that affordable clean energy is a necessity, not a luxury, and that we can’t afford to leave our neighbors in need behind.  Our Share Power© model allows solar subscribers to share their savings with neighbors who struggle with the burden of high energy bills – households that we call Empowered.  

With the help of a “Listen for Good” grant from the Fund for Shared Insight, we’re checking in with our customers regularly through a series of Human Centered Design sessions to tailor a respectful, positive enrollment and support experience for our Empowered customers. In our most recent session, we asked 41 customers how we’re doing and what we can do to better serve them.  This is what we learned:

Communication is key

Groundswell staff received got high marks on our communication skills, likely because we prepared extensively for these interviews. We started each interview by establishing a personal connection, we used interview scripts that we drafted and practiced so our messages were clear, and we actively listened to each customer and asked follow-up questions. Our customers reminded us to use easy-to-understand language when talking about electricity bills and how community solar works, and not revert to industry-speak.

Setting and set-up matter

The physical setup of a location can impact customers’ experiences and the level of respect they perceive from an interaction. Three of our sessions were held in a spacious conference room and a fourth was held outside a community sports facility. The conference room set-up enabled Groundswell staff to sit next to customers for individual conversations, whereas the outdoor location had staff sitting across from customers while other participants flowed in and out of the conversation.

We learned that the outdoor experience would be better suited for creative activity where customers are engaging with each other. For our design sessions, the conference room provided a better set-up given the individual nature of those conversations.

Appreciate your customer

Everyone's time is valuable, and it’s important for us to demonstrate that we value our customer's choice to spend their time and resources with us. This can be as simple as asking for the customer’s honest feedback and incorporating it into future work. We also heard our customers say respect and appreciation can be shown by using a customer's appointment time efficiently, thinking proactively about additional services that may benefit a customer, providing prompt and dedicated attention to a customer's outreach, and communicating requirements in advance so a second appointment is not needed.

Next step: designing community solar enrollment with these learnings in mind

With gratitude for our customers for sharing this feedback with us, Groundswell will incorporate these insights into the design of the enrollment process for our forthcoming community solar projects. By closely listening to our customers, we can offer a respectful, best-in-class customer service experience and show our customers how much we value them.  

We Listened To Our Customers, And Here’s What We Learned,-and-here’s-what-we-learned/