A couple of weeks ago I wrote about energy democracy, and how the transition to renewable energy can also create a fairer society. It’s not inevitable. Renewable energy can be large scale and remote from ordinary consumers, operated mainly for the benefit of corporations and their shareholders. Offshore wind power and large hydro would tend to have little democratizing effect, whereas solar PV can be installed at the household level and has the most potential for wide participation.
GRID Alternatives is a good example of how renewable energy can be used to create a fairer society. They are America’s largest not-for-profit solar installer, working across California, Colorado and among native American communities nationwide. Their mission is to ensure that the low carbon transition reaches those on lower incomes, by helping people to get solar power, and by creating training and job opportunities.
Poorer commmunities often face greater risk from climate change, and bear more of the downsides of fossil fuels – through pollution, traffic, or proximity to dangerous infrastructure. People of colour are disproportionately affected, creating environmental injustices. Prioritising marginalised communities for renewable energy can help to redress these inequalities, turning energy into something that serves the community rather than exploits it.
GRID Alternatives do this by working with municipalities and housing associations to deliver low or no-cost solar installations, using teams of volunteers in a ‘barn-raising’ collective effort. By using trainees working alongside experts, they can give people vital experience that can help them find work as installers. Each solar installation has a triple dividend: it reduces energy bills for low income families, it cuts carbon emissions, and it provides a route into work in the solar sector.
You can find out more about GRID Alternatives here.