Solar Spring Break!

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March 21, 2017

Solar Spring Break UNC students

Solar Spring Break students donned in construction gear pose with a SSB banner!
Solar Spring Break students are ready for an install!

 

DC weather was not ideal for the Solar Spring Breakers’ volunteer trip. The first snow of the year was in March! Nine University of North Carolina Chapel Hill students braved the cold during an unconventional Spring Break and volunteered for a week with GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic (GRID), installing solar on a multi-family apartment complex in Southeast DC. Solar Spring Break is a GRID Alternatives initiative that allows students to use their Spring Break to install solar for underserved families across the country alongside GRID staff. 

The University of North Carolina students were mostly from an environmental fraternity, Epsilon Eta, and many of them were part of UNC’s Institute for the Environment. The students chose renewable energy over a week at the beach. Why? “I really care about renewable energy – and the hands-on part is unique. I don’t know when I else I would have the opportunity to do this. I also wanted to learn more about GRID and GRID’s model,” explained Jennifer, a Junior and Environmental Studies and Political Science double major.

Solar Spring Break students take a break during an install
Solar Spring Break students take a break during an install
First, the students received an introduction to the GRID office. Each GRID department gave a small interactive presentation for the students, allowing them to learn about how each employee works together to make GRID effective. For Stephen, this was very interesting – especially the policy. Stephen was the only returning Solar Spring Breaker; last year he traveled to California and volunteered with GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles. “My favorite part of this trip was learning about the policy,” said Stephen, “It was really interesting learning how GRID funds projects in DC, because it’s so different from California funding models.” 

The Solar Spring Breakers also joined the GRID Outreach team for phone banking. This allowed the students to see the beginning of the solar installation process – finding qualified homeowners who could receive GRID’s services. Phone banking can be very difficult, but some of the students had success. “I had one guy say he was interested. He said to call him back next week!” said Katia excitedly, an Environmental Science major. 

Solar Spring Breaker Abby smiles after installing a solar panel
Solar Spring Breaker Abby finishes installing a module
Before going out on the solar install, the students learned about the process in the warehouse and participated in a mock solar installation with GRID Construction staff. “I’ve only seen solar panels from afar on a roof. It was really simple, which was surprising,” remarked Katia. “It was really cool to see all of the pieces that went into it.”

The snow pushed the solar installation experience to the end of the week, so the students ended their trip on a high note - on the roof of a multi-family apartment complex in Southeast DC with a fantastic view of the District. The Washington Monument and Capitol were visible on the horizon. At the installation, the students put their new skills and knowledge to practice. “My favorite part was getting on the roof! It’s not as scary as I thought it was going to be,” said Kate, a Sophomore Environmental Science major. 

Solar Spring Break students pose in their blue GRID shirts on the roof of the GRID office
Solar Spring Breakers braved the cold to spend a week installing solar!
 

 The week was a great learning experience for the students. “Solar Spring Break has helped me better determine what kind of career I want to pursue in the future and the different opportunities available in a non-profit solar company such as GRID Alternatives,” explained Sophia, a Sophomore double majoring in Geography and Information and Library Science.  

GRID uses Solar Spring Break to help students expand their horizons and we are glad that was the case for the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill students. 

See pictures from their trip here!