International Program FAQs

General FAQs

Trip FAQs


What does GRID Alternatives' International Program (formerly Power to the People) do?

GRID Alternatives’ International Program works in Mexico, Nepal, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico to build community-powered solutions to advance economic and environmental justice through renewable energy.  We bringing solar power to underserved people and mission-aligned organizations including solar for homes, small businesses and community-serving buildings.  We install stand-alone photovoltaic systems and microgrids in off-grid communities that deliver clean, reliable electricity and we install grid-tied solar systems in urban areas that benefit low-income people. The solar systems provide reliable electricity, remove obstacles to sustainable growth, and create economic opportunities for families and communities. Our community-centric approach puts the needs of the community first and engages residents in the process from start to finish so the systems stay in productive use for the long-term. 


Which parts of Nicaragua, Nepal, Mexico and Puerto Rico do you work in?

In Nicaragua we have installed solar systems in the departments of Boaco, Chontales, Matagalpa, Estelí, Río San Juan, Granada, Managua, Masaya, Rivas, and Jinotega. In Nepal, we have installed solar systems in the districts of Sindhupalchok, Nuwakot, Gorkha, Bardiya, Jumla and Chitwan. In Mexico, we work in Baja Califonia.  In Puerto Rico we provide solar workforce training in the municipality of Juncos.


How do you select your projects?

Our projects come to us from a variety of sources including direct requests from a community and recommendations from other non-profit organizations, local government agencies and partner groups. GRID visits a site, meets with the community members, looks at the structure of the building, and chooses the best sites possible based on our site selection criteria.  Communities must demonstrate the desire and need for electricity.

Selection criteria may include:

  • Level of need (How far away is the community from the electric grid? Is the community low-income?)
  • Building location (Is there shade? Is the roof suitable for solar?)
  • Community involvement (Is the community organized, dependable and responsible?)
  • Building ownership (Is the building and land owner on board with the installation of solar panels on the roof?)
  • Available funds (Do we have the funds to install a system at the time of the request?)
  • Partners (Are there strong partners to work with on the project?)
  • Location (Is the community accessible enough and in an area we are working in?)
  • Maintenance (Will we be able to help the community maintain the system for years to come?)

What is the community’s role in the project?

Before their installation, a community requests the project directly or through a partner organization, forms an energy committee of local volunteers to oversee the project, and guarantees approval from the building owner or local officials. The community meets with GRID Alternatives prior to the installation, attends trainings, and prepares the site for the project.  Community members help install the solar system, provide housing and food for project participants, and organize a celebration on the last day of the project. Our approach to sustainability ensures that the community is involved and that the system will be maintained for years to come after the installation.


What is GRID Alternatives’ role in the project?

GRID meets with the project beneficiaries, raises funds for the project, identifies project partners, designs a custom solar system and acquires the necessary materials, recruits participants for the installation, and leads local and international travelers during their time in country and at the project site. We train the community before, during, and after the installation, monitor the community’s use of the system over time, and make regular visits to the site after the project is installed to ensure the system is working properly. When we offer ongoing training opportunities and provide solar workforce training to local residents.  


What type of community training do you provide?

Before, during, and after the installation we provide interactive trainings about solar energy, cook stove use, system maintenance, gender-balanced leadership, and fiscal responsibility. Before we arrive with the project equipment, we meet with the community and talk to them about solar energy and energy efficiency. We work with communities to identify how having electricity can improve their lives and we help identify ways solar can generate additional income for their families and community.  We set expectations for the week of the project installation and train community members during the install week in basic system maintenance.  During the installation, we provide information to the community about which appliances should and should not be used with the solar system, how to monitor the system’s performance, how to maintain the batteries and the solar panels, and what to do if something goes wrong.  We work with a local energy committee to devise a system for collecting funds that help maintain the system over time.


Does the International Program support local workforce development?

 

GRID provides solar workforce training to residents who want to work in technical roles in the solar industry through our Installation Basics Training program.  We also offer local residents and students an opportunity to install solar with GRID to gain hands-on solar installation experience.  


How does the International Program support women’s empowerment?

GRID Alternatives actively encourages gender balance in our work. Our International Program team reflects this balance. We encourage the communities we work in to have gender balance in the local leadership groups formed to manage the solar projects in the community, and we encourage women to participate in all aspects of a project. Our Women in Solar program offers local women an opportunity to install a solar project with GRID. These opportunities give women interested in, or already working in, the renewable energy industry a chance to gain more hands-on solar installation experience.  Additionally, our solar home systems, improved cookstoves, and water projects save women time and improve the air, water and lighting quality of their homes.  GRID actively seeks out projects that are women-led and that benefit women directly.


Is there any income generation from the systems?

Many of the projects we have developed provide a new source of local income generation.  Solar home systems allow families to power a business that uses small electrical appliances to earn additional income, like an electric hair razor, a beater for making pastries, or woodworking equipment to make crafts.  Our microgrid projects use smart meters allowing families to pay a small monthly fee for electricity usage; a fund that is used to pay a local system operator.  Microgrids offer families a chance to start businesses that require a larger load than a solar home system could provide powering, for example, wood mills, grain mills, electric sewing machines and food processing equipment.  Solar-powered drip irrigation systems have proven to be an excellent way for small rural farmers to increase their income and crop yields.  Grain mill and coffee roaster projects create small businesses which create local income generation and save people time from having to walk to another community for these services.  Observation towers in Nepal help increase local income generation as the towers are more attractive to local and international travelers with electricity.  Income from the tower funds local conservation efforts to protect animals and maintain the national parks in Nepal.

For projects installed on community buildings, like schools and health clinics, communities can offer new services for a fee and can hold celebrations and raffles to raise funds for ongoing maintenance. Some communities have raised funds that they then use to offer micro-loans to community members.


Do you provide communities with computers or Internet access?

Providing communities with computers and Internet access is not part of our mission, but by bringing reliable electricity to rural and urban areas, we are paving the way for the use of computers and other technologies. For example, in one community on the Island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, the presence of electricity at the elementary school allowed the community to qualify for the One Laptop per Child program. Now, each student has a laptop to take home at night and use in class each day. In another community on the Island of Zapatera, electricity at the school allowed non-profit Children’s Wellness Fund to donate desktop computers to the school.  We have installed cell repeaters and Wi-fi towers in some communities to allow us to stay in touch with the community and remotely monitor the solar systems.


What is the typical system size for your projects?

The size of our projects range from 300 Watts to 50kW.   


Where do you get your solar equipment?

Much of our solar equipment is donated by generous companies in the solar industry that support our work. The rest is purchased at a discounted rate from manufacturers or distributors. When possible, we purchase items for our international projects from companies in Nicaragua, Nepal, Mexico and Puerto Rico.


Who maintains the system and what does this involve?

The community is responsible for the daily system maintenance. This involves adding distilled water to the deep-cycle batteries and cleaning the components and solar panels from time to time. If there is a problem with the system that the community cannot solve, they can contact us or a local solar company. GRID visits each community at least twice a year to perform regular check-ups and more rigorous system maintenance.  GRID is committed to keeping the systems we install up and running.  We also work with local solar companies in that offer ongoing operations and maintenance services.


How long do the batteries last?

The life of the batteries depends primarily on 1) the type of batteries used 2) how often and how much they are charged and discharged 3) how well they are maintained and 4) the climate. Most of our battery projects use deep-cycle flooded lead-acid batteries, which can last 5-10 years.  We use lithium batteries for some projects which have a longer life span.


Do you work with other renewable energy sources (biogas, hydro, wind, geothermal, etc.)?

At this time we only install photovoltaic modules (solar panels) and improved cook stoves.  We do not install solar thermal panels or install systems that generate electricity from other renewable energy sources.


How long do solar panels last?

Mono- and poly-crystalline solar modules have a manufacturer’s warranty of 25 years, which means they were made to last much longer. There are solar modules that have been producing electricity for more than 50 years.


Why do you construct improved cookstoves rather than solar cookstoves?

We install improved cookstoves that provide clean air in rural households in Nicaragua that are already producing clean energy from GRID solar home systems. Improved cookstoves are a culturally appropriate replacement to traditional open fire stoves that reduce C02 emissions and fire hazards. They are 65% more efficient, using less wood which reduces deforestation and saves women time from gathering wood. Although photovoltaic (solar-powered) cookstoves may be more renewable and perhaps even more cost-effective, the design disrupts hundreds of years of tradition in Nicaraguan communities of people cooking over flames, which would require people to change their cooking behavior and would result in low adoption rates of the technology. We believe that the human behavior side of sustainable development work is absolutely critical. Our projects intentionally include community members throughout the entire process in order to understand daily behaviors, realities, interests, and needs and then respond with appropriate solutions. Development work is most successful when it is step-by-step and does not require radical change of the beneficiary. While many technologies are available, they are not all adopted locally at therefore do not all have the desired impact.


Where does your funding come from?

Our funding comes from individual donations, community fundraising events, corporate sponsorships, foundation grants, government grants, partner organizations, trip participant fees and contributions from beneficiary families and municipalities.


Is GRID Alternatives affiliated with any religious or political beliefs?

No, our work is secular and apolitical. We choose our communities by need and do not attempt to influence a community’s religious or political beliefs in any way.


How can I participate and be more involved?

  • Travel with us to install solar systems
  • Become a monthly giving member of our International Program
  • Sponsor a student to participate in our Installation Basics Training Program
  • Share the news about our work  
  • Support our international program by donating to make our projects possible
  • Support through in-kind donations of equipment
  • Sign up for our newsletter to receive program updates and announcements about new opportunities
  • Attend educational webinars hosted by GRID and check out our case studies to learn about best practices in energy access and sustainable development

Your donation to GRID Alternatives' International Program helps us keep our project costs low so we can bring electricity to more communities. Please contact us at international@gridalternatives.org.

 


Trip FAQs


How do I sign up to go on a trip?

If you'd like to travel to Nicaragua, Nepal, and Mexico with GRID Alternatives, visit our list of upcoming trips to see the available travel opportunities. To sign up, please contact us and we’ll get in touch with you with instructions about how to register and pay the initial 25% non-refundable deposit to confirm your participation. 


What do I need to know before getting involved?

Please check out GRID Alternatives' Volunteering & Training Guidebook, which outlines opportunities, requirements, safety measures, and conduct expectations for all participants in GRID Alternatives' projects across our international and US regions. 


What do participants do during the installation?

Our projects are led by GRID team members who give the project participants direction about what to do and how to do it.  Participants are welcome engage as much or as little as they would like.  We typically work in small groups and each project is different.  Some examples of things participants do include: installing solar modules and racking, mounting and hooking up batteries, hanging and wiring inverters and charge controllers, and installing and wiring light sockets, outlets and switches inside the building, digging trenches and laying irrigation tubes, and installing cook stoves. Beyond the installation, participants can also move or clean equipment, play with the kids in the community, rest, take photos, create a community map, or perform other tasks related to the project.  The group usually works from morning until evening for three days, but there is no set schedule since each installation is unique.


Do I need to speak Spanish or Nepali?

Volunteers are not required to speak any Spanish or Nepali. Our guides are bilingual.


Is solar experience required?

No solar experience is required.  GRID’s local teams ensure the solar installation goes smoothly and everyone can play a part, so participants are free to lend a hand as much or as little as desired during the project.  Technical solar experience is always helpful for those that have it, but not expected or required.


What are the meals and accommodations like?

Meals

  • Nicaragua: While the group is working in a rural community, the meals are generally provided by host families and often consist of rice, beans, corn tortillas and coffee or a fruit drink made from purified water. Meals may also include local fruits, cheeses, vegetables, and sometimes beef, chicken or fish. GRID provides purified water for the families to use when cooking or making drinks for the group.  Before and after the installation, meals will be more varied since the group will be eating at restaurants and can choose what they like from the menu. Some of the restaurants have Nicaraguan cuisine, and some have Asian, American, Italian, and other dishes to choose from. If you are a vegetarian, a vegan, or have other dietary restrictions, your trip leaders can help you ask for what you need.
  • Nepal: While the group is immersed in a remote community, the meals are generally provided by a kitchen staff hired by our local trekking partner, who cook meals for the group from locally available ingredients. In general, most meals in Nepal consist of rice, lentils (“daal”), cooked vegetables, potatoes, curries, and sometimes meat. In the community, you will likely be eating as a group in one central dining tent. Before and after the installation, you will eat at a variety of restaurants, which will serve traditional meals as mentioned above and local favorites, like “momos” (Nepali dumplings) or soups. There are some restaurants that offer continental food, including American, European, and other South Asian cuisines. Nepal is very vegetarian-friendly! If you are a vegetarian, a vegan, or have other dietary restrictions, your trip leaders can help you ask for what you need.

Accommodations

  • Nicaragua: While working in the community, participants often stay with host families in very rural houses that consist of a few small rooms, little or no lighting at night, usually no running water, and very basic furniture.  Before and after the installation, the accommodations vary depending on the itinerary but are usually small to mid-sized hotels with moderate accommodations. While in Managua, the group stays at one of the nicest hotels in the city, complete with a pool, air-conditioned rooms, a spa, and a restaurant and bar. 
  • Nepal: While immersed in the rural community, accommodations will consist of camping in tents in some cases, sleeping in rustic tourist towers in some cases, or staying with local host families. Accommodations depend on the type of community you are working in and the environment in that area. Before and after the installation, the accommodations vary depending on the itinerary, but are usually small to mid-sized hotels or eco-lodges around the country with moderate accommodations and reputable hotels with nice amenities in Kathmandu. 

How many people work on a project?

Groups have up to 10 project participants, plus members of the beneficiary community. 


How old do you have to be to travel with GRID?

People of all ages are welcome! Children and teenagers under 18 may travel with their parents. Travelers must be prepared to endure the heat and rustic rural conditions, be able to walk long distances, and be in good health overall. We have had people from 9 years old to 65+ years old travel with us.


Are there any physical fitness or health requirements to travel with GRID?

Travelers must be prepared to endure high heat and humidity, very rustic rural conditions, be able to walk long distances, be okay with sleeping on the ground if camping, or on a basic cot if staying with a host family, and be in good health overall. If there is an aspect of your physical abilities or health that you think might prevent you from doing any of the above, we encourage you to email us at international@gridalternatives.org to have a conversation about it before you officially register for a trip.

Once registered, travelers are required to fill out a form GRID sends you to note any allergies, medical requirements, and health issues so that your trip leaders can be aware and prepare accordingly. 


Once I sign up for a trip, can I go ahead and buy my plane ticket?

Yes, once you sign up for a trip, feel free to buy your plane ticket. If you are traveling to Nicaragua, you can arrive to Managua (MGA airport) anytime on the first scheduled date of your trip and can depart anytime on the last date of your trip. If you are traveling to Nepal, you can arrive to Kathmandu (KTM-Tribhuvan Intl. airport) on the first scheduled date of your trip, but please be aware that for most flights from North America you will need to leave the previous day in order to arrive in Kathmandu by the first scheduled day of your trip.  If you are traveling to Mexico you can arrive at the San Diego airport SAN.

If you would like to arrive on a date before the official program starts or leave on a date after the program concludes, please let us know. You will need to arrange and cover the cost of your accommodations, meals, and transportation during your extended stay. We’re happy to recommend things to do during your extra days in the country.


When is the trip fee due?

Space on our International trips is limited and trips are filled on a first-come first-served basis. In order to be guaranteed a spot on a trip, you must contact us to officially register and pay a 25% deposit. After you register, we’ll coordinate with you to fill out forms, gather travel information, and send detailed information about the community, the solar project, and what to expect while you are traveling with GRID. All forms, logistics, and final trip payments are due 45 days before your departure date. Please see our Payment Policies and Procedures


Can you help me fundraise for my trip?

While the 25% deposit must be paid out-of-pocket to officially register, many people fundraise for the remainder of their trip fee. GRID Alternatives will provide you with everything you need to set up your own fundraising page through our online crowdfunding platform. You can share your personal fundraising page with friends and family, and all donations processed through this page will go directly to GRID but are automatically earmarked for your trip.


Is my trip deposit refundable if I cancel?

Please read our Payment Policies and Procedures.


I’m already going to be traveling in Mexico, Nicaragua or Nepal, can I just stop by and help out?

Our projects are made possible by the trip fees that participants pay. If you will be traveling in Nicaragua or Nepal during one of our project dates, you are welcome to work on the project if there is space available, but we cannot waive or discount the program fee.


What should I bring with me on my trip?

Packing lists will be customized for each trip based on the country and project, and GRID will send you a comprehensive recommended packing list before your trip. Feel free to ask us any questions you have about packing in advance by emailing international@gridalternatives.org.