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This Spring Break, a group of 12 UC Berkeley students participated in the third annual Solar Spring Break hosted by GRID Alternatives and the World Wildlife Fund.
Most residential areas today are powered by energy from fossil fuels, which are nonrenewable, polluting, and contribute to climate change. In order to decarbonize our energy system, it is essential to increase the presence of renewables in the residential electricity mix. However, the upfront cost of rooftop solar systems may deter many homeowners from switching to solar. By installing solar panels on qualifying homes in underrepresented communities, our team seeks to provide needed financial savings for residents while lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition to advocating for environmental justice in underrepresented communities, participants of Solar Spring Break will also acquire the technical skills need to install solar panels. This hands-on learning experience will actively enrich participants’ knowledge and understanding of solar energy.
We live in a country today with the fourth highest wealth inequality in the world, yet one of the highest nominal GDP’s. We live in a country that has a number of government-backed environmental agencies, yet is still the second highest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. Environmental and economic justice are not entirely separate concerns.
Renewable energy provides an opportunity to address these intersectional issues. The UC Berkeley Solar Spring Break program, in collaboration with GRID Alternatives, enables students to install solar energy systems on qualifying families’ homes in underrepresented local Oakland communities. Students are empowered to take active roles in community outreach by not only learning technical skills behind carrying out installations, but exploring the implications of their actions through an educational curriculum. The program provides a joint opportunity to alleviate financial burden on deserving families, while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
By raising funds, the Solar Spring Break Team is able to provide installation materials for qualifying families, as well as transportation and housing to selected student team members during the installation -- but on a larger scale, the campaign enables students to take ownership of their potential to have a lasting impact on their community.
Solar energy is a renewable and carbon neutral source of energy. Once set up, it involves minimal maintenance and running costs, while providing a reliable electricity output. However, the initial installation costs of an average sized home solar panel system (5 kW) can cost over $25000, mainly due to the prohibitively high costs of photovoltaic systems, as well as the labor and electronic components required. Thus, even with subsidized rates and incentives provided by utility companies, most low income communities still cannot afford these facilities. GRID Alternatives aims to overcome this cost barrier, and make clear, solar power accessible to all irrespective of socio-economic background. This will not only benefit the environment, but also improve the financial well-being and living standards of impoverished communities in the East Bay.
In addition to the trip, our Solar Spring Break Team, recruited this past fall, has been receiving a thorough education by taking our uniquely tailored DeCal, Solar Energy and Environmental Justice in East Bay, to gain knowledge about solar technology, policy, environmental justice, climate change, urban development ethics, and their intersection contextualized in our East Bay communities. After the trip, each member of the Solar Spring Break team will craft a reflection piece for our Solar Spring Break Earth Week Exhibition, in their desired medium (painting, writing, photo essay, music, etc.). Through a thorough education period created by the DeCal, hands on experience during the trip, and reflection period used through their exhibition piece creation, we ensure that students receive a holistic take away to better our community for years to come after graduating from the program.
During the week, the students not only received an education on solar in the climate justice space, but also a look at future career prospects via a tour of SolarCity and an intensive insight into the community they're working in via canvasing efforts for GRID. Take a look at what the students were up to over break:
UC Berkeley's Student Environmental Resource Center (SERC) fronted the $5000 for GRID to run the program over Spring Break. Grid Alternative's Solar Spring used this money to provide equipment, tools, hardware, and other materials to install solar panels for our low income homeowner in Richmond. This money brought environmental and economic benefits of solar power to low-income families in Oakland. Please make a gift today to help us repay SERC, ensure the continuation and expansion our program to help more families and educate more students in the future!