Solar Energy Innovation Network Round 3 Teams Exchange Innovative Ideas for Equitable Solar Adoption

Jan. 27, 2023 by Kamyria Coney

How can low-to-moderate income communities in Tallahassee become solar ready? How can Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) houses of worship adopt solar in a way that supports local community priorities? Eight community-led teams from SEIN Round 3 gathered at NREL to dive into these questions and more. Caroline McGregor, technology manager at the Department of Energy's Solar Energy Technologies Office, launched the working session with inspirational remarks, noting that the teams are pursuing innovative ideas that could drive a step change in equitable adoption of solar in the communities they serve.

A group of Solar Energy Innovation Network participants collaborate around a table.
Teams representing local communities from across the country collaborate at a working session of the Solar Energy Innovation Network. The program brings together underserved communities to explore new approaches to the equitable adoption of solar energy. The author, Kamyria Coney, is shown in red (third from right). Photo by Harrison Dreves, NREL

Participants at the workshop shared insights gained within their multistakeholder project work with other SEIN Round 3 teams, provided and received peer feedback that will help their teams and others make progress on technical questions and other project challenges, and built collaborative relationships across the network.

Anthony Teixeira, manager at Rocky Mountain Institute, started day one with a Sociogram activity to give us a better idea of the folks in the room. As the activity began, it was clear how truly diverse the SEIN Round 3 teams are. On one hand, there was an abundance of community organizations that had extensive experience with people and communities, but SEIN was their first solar project. On the other hand, there were organizations that had 20+ years of solar experience with little to no experience working with communities. This combination of diverse backgrounds and expertise is what made this working session so beneficial and essential for the progress of the teams' projects.

Wealth-Building Through Solar: What We Have Learned So Far

One of the deep dive sessions was focused on the ways in which solar could drive wealth creation. In this session, we had the opportunity to explore a long-term challenge for all Round 3 teams. Wendy Hawthorne, senior project leader for Energy Equity Projects and Initiatives at NREL, opened the session with discussion of the breadth of potential wealth impacts that could be a part of solar deployment. This included narrower interpretations of wealth focused on assets and liabilities to broader dimensions of community wealth building, such as economic development and ecological sustainability.

Participants then workshopped what wealth building means for them within the context of their projects. We all have different ideas about what "wealth" means, so it's valuable to learn how our own definitions can be expanded from learning more about others' perspectives. What is missing from our own definition? How can we expand our understanding as a collective, across geographic and social boundaries? As an individual? Some insights shared by participants:  

  • Health is wealth.
  • Wealth should be shared.
  • Wealth is stability.

Project Storytelling

This activity gave participants an opportunity to practice their story for an important stakeholder needed to move their project forward—they had freedom to choose what, how, and with whom. This storytelling aspect gave participants this "oomph" that they may have been missing. Maybe there was a stakeholder that seemed to struggle to get on board, or maybe they wanted to give awareness to their project. Within each SEIN team, all participants had to create a sound bite or ingredient for their story, depending on the stakeholders they've identified. By the end of the activity, each team had at least three stories for one stakeholder with many ways to adjust their sound bites for their targeted stakeholder in their community.

SEIN's Round 3 Peer Exchange Working Session #2 was inspirational, in the sense that teams taught and learned from one another, reinforcing a shared commitment to tackle the tough challenges as they push to make solar adoption a more achievable and equitable goal.