Women Building a Solar Future

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April 02, 2019
Martha and Erica on the roof

GRID’s Communications Specialist, Maisha Kudumu, spent the day with our latest Women’s Build crew and learned about their motivation and hopes for a solar future.

When Jody Rinke found out her 2.7 kW of solar panels would be installed by an all women crew as part of GRID’s Women in Solar program, she was really excited, “ It’s so cool and I was impressed,” says Rinke.

Rinke was referred to GRID by friends several months ago, as she sought a way to reduce her energy bills.  A San Diego transplant, Ms. Rinke purchased her home in 2008. As a single mother of two, buying a home was important to her for her family’s stability.  She’s been able to stay afloat as a recruiter for a dental insurance company. But Ms. Rinke admits she has mixed feelings about homeownership. “It’s hard to survive in California because everything is so expensive,” she says.  When she signed up with GRID she was mainly concerned with reducing costs so she could pay off debt and provide a better quality of life for her children.

This was the sentiment of the entire crew of March’s Women’s Build: giving women opportunity and empowerment for better lives via renewable energy.   

Ingrid Murillo, GRID San Diego’s Workforce and Program SolarCorps Fellow, is determined to bring more women into the industry through GRID’s volunteer and training programs.  Ingrid says representation is important, “Currently the industry is only 26% women. So spaces like this are important, especially when women are able to see themselves reflected in GRID staff like Erica and Jazz.”

Women's build team pose for group shot outside
From left: Erica, Daphne, Jazz, Lucy and Martha

Everyone calls Jameelah Koehler “Jazz” and that’s exactly what she brings to the GRID Alternatives worksites.  For almost two years, Jazz has been a presence at GRID installations; first as a volunteer and, for the last year, as a SolarCorps Construction Fellow.  Jazz feels strongly the skills women learn on an installation job could be applied in the home, helping save money on repair costs. “I love to show women that they can learn and accomplish anything. This is in an excellent way to do it while giving back to community.”  Jazz has become well versed in all aspects of solar panel installation, including electrical work and technical measurements. She eagerly assisted first time volunteers, like Daphne Pierre-Smith, with these tasks.

Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Daphne recently moved to San Diego.  She first learned about GRID at a job fair. For Daphne, participating in the Women’s Build was a way to help the environment and satisfy her curiosity about the construction field -- all while being exposed to employment opportunities.  “There were mostly men at the orientation,” she mentioned. “I wondered how I would fit in on the worksite.”

Daphne didn’t have to wonder long. She was quickly taken under wing by Lucy Conde, another dedicated volunteer and Team Lead on the ground for WE Build.  Lucy didn’t mind working with a novice. She was up for the challenge and the bonding experience. “This type of work not only helps the environment but also fosters a nice sense of sisterhood,” she reflected.  “It shows women can do it!”

GRID solar installations depend on volunteers who may have minimal experience.  This doesn’t stop seasoned installers from passing on their knowledge and the Women’s Build site was no different.  Erica Cook, the Team Lead on the roof for WE Build, always makes it a priority to show women they are welcome on the roof whenever they volunteer at the installation sites. “It’s so important to learn skills to level the playing field in construction,”  says Erica. She recognizes th

And Martha Juarez was there with Erica, helping remove tile from the roof and laying down racking for the solar panels.  Martha has volunteered at GRID San Diego for six months. The Women’s Build was especially important to her because typically the construction and installation fields are not women-driven.  “Getting this kind of exposure and publicity is setting an important example to women,” says Martha. “We’re one step closer to decreasing the gender gap in the solar industry.”e powerful, tangible skills that can be gained by the volunteers. “And it’s not as hard as people make it seem!” she says as she effortlessly pulls tiles to be replaced from the roof. Plus Erica appreciates the comradery, “It’s cool installing solar with men, but special with women.”

These women came together to make a difference for the Rinke family and the world.  Jody Rinke will save an estimated $25,000 over her lifetime through solar, the earth will see 52 tons of greenhouse gases eliminated and women will be a little closer to increasing their 26% presence and decreasing the gender gap in the solar industry.

If you’d like to participate in an upcoming Women’s Build, please email imurillo@gridalternatives.org.