How this Solar Partnership is Producing Real Results
Walt Vernon, PE, LEED AP, EDAC, FASHE
Principal, Chief Executive Officer
Last week, I was lucky enough to be able to participate in a solar panel installation with my Denver office. It was the best part of my week for so man reasons. And, it was a high point of a long and continuing story.
A few years ago, Mazzetti established a non-profit organization, the Sextant Foundation. Sextant is committed to developing sustainable infrastructure projects that advance the health of low-resourced communities. To date, we have done projects in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines, with several more pending. We do it in partnership with various other NGOs, primarily Project Hope. Our model is based, in fact, on the work of Project Hope; Hope recruits medical professionals to go and provide healthcare services to people who need it. But, they are not an infrastructure organization, and they need infrastructure help. Sextant recruits from the same hospitals as Hope, but it recruits the facility and construction people. We then deploy them to build and repair the infrastructure that houses healthcare operations. So far, Sextant has been largely supported by volunteers and funding from Mazzetti, though we have affiliation with another NGO, Electricians Without Borders, who have provided much of the on the ground leadership and staffing for some of our projects.
Well, after a while, I started hearing from the people at Mazzetti… “Why are we only helping people around the world and not people here (domestically) who need help? And how can we participate as volunteers in the Sextant projects?”
The challenge is that most of the Mazzetti people are not trained as the “hands-on people”. They are academically trained as engineers. And, the Sextant model is to provide only a few volunteers from the US who recruit and train local people so that we build capacity in the country, and we have people who can operate and maintain the systems after we leave. So, I can’t send volunteers unless they can train others.
And then I discovered GRID Alternatives. GRID is a rapidly growing NGO operating mostly here in the US. They work similarly as Habitat for Humanity; they use money and volunteers to provide solar power systems for people with low income. In so doing, they are providing both social and environmental good. And, they train the volunteers. In fact, they train the volunteers, over time, to be able to train other volunteers. So, it was perfect for Mazzetti. We became partners and supporters of GRID last year, and the partnership continues to grow.
Mazzetti now completes at least one installation with GRID in every city where both organizations have offices (Denver, San Francisco, and Irvine). Each installation costs $7,500 – $15,000 facilitating up to ten volunteers on the roof, learning and installing the systems. We have now completed six, and it has been fantastic!
In the process, about 30 of our people have now received hands-on experience and training. In so doing, they are becoming better engineers–better understanding the installation details for the systems they are designing in their real jobs. And, they are strengthening their teams and doing something good for their communities and for the world.
Denver Installation – Friday, Oct. 16
And so, on Friday, I was up on a roof in Denver. I have to tell you, I have a fear of heights, and it took a lot for me to climb up on that two-story roof. You would be amazed at how little balance you seem to have when you are standing that high up! And those super sticky soles on my running shoes seemed to be slathered in butter, they seemed so slick. But we did it. And it was so fun!
There were five other intrepid Mazzettians – Caleb Kline, Kaitlyn Lang, Bud Gaines, Alex Arnold, Tracey Fisher, Shelbie Lewis, and Connor Hopkins. We put up roof flashings and stanchions, rails and inverters, grounding cables and cabling for the inverters. Next week, we will install the panels and interconnect them to the utility service. And, a few more kw of energy will be coming from the sun instead of from fossil fuels. A few more people with few resources will have a little bit easier time of it. And a few more Mazzetti people will know that they made a difference.
By the numbers.
We helped install a 3.68 kW solar system, which is projected to have the following environmental and economic impacts for the families and the community:
– 154,188 lifetime kWh production
– $29,272 value of energy generated by the systems over their lifetimes (direct savings to these families!)
– 139 tons of carbon emissions prevented (equivalent of planting over 3,277 trees)
P.S. I have another idea. Sometimes, we are not able to field a full Mazzetti team, and we have some extra slots for volunteers. It would be great to do more than we are already doing. So how about this… We have clients in many of the places where we do these installs. I think it would be fun to do some installs with some of our clients some time. So, let me know.. Join us. Help us make the world a better place by creating better environments. You’ll be glad you did.