With new climate records being broken seemingly on a weekly basis, it is more important than ever to address the causes of our increasingly extreme climate. Transitioning to clean energy is a concrete solution for reducing our carbon footprint. But that transition needs to be just and equitable. Everyone must be included to ensure sustainable solutions.
Buying solar panels can be a daunting consideration for new homeowners in Puget Sound. First, the Greater Seattle Area is known for being cloudy and overcast most times of the year. This has led to the misconception that the region is not suitable for solar panels. While it’s true that Seattle will never see the levels of sunlight normal in southern United States, Seattle does receive more sunlight than most of Germany – a world leader in solar energy.
Moreover, Seattle’s climate offers some advantages. For example, frequent rain cleans off pollen and dirt from panels, thus reducing the need for maintenance. Furthermore, some solar cells become less efficient when temperatures get too hot.
The real challenges for solar panels are lack of awareness, finances and bureaucracy. Installing solar panels demands a significant upfront investment. Although there are financial grants and incentives, navigating the processes to access them can be a barrier. Combined with the misconception that the Pacific Northwest is not suitable for solar, people give up on the hope of having solar panels, non-English speakers especially.
ECOSS strives to shift the narrative towards equity by empowering low-income immigrant homeowner families to access green energy. Partnering with Spark Northwest, Homestead Community Land Trust and Puget Sound Energy, ECOSS is educating low-income homeowners, raising awareness about solar panel programs (e.g. Solarize the Land Trust) and helping community members navigate grants and incentives for installing solar panels on their property. For ECOSS, underserved communities are primary audiences, which include immigrants and refugees and non-English speakers.
Engagement is not successful with only one interaction. ECOSS hosts workshops where homeowners are invited to learn more about solar energy. These workshops include interpretation, childcare services and food, recognizing that these are all common needs for families to attend. If an attendee is interested, ECOSS connects them with a solar panel contractor and helps homeowners assess whether solar panels are the right choice given their electricity use, roof suitability and more.
If this all sounds familiar, it is because ECOSS has pioneered this type of community engagement before. ECOSS advances equity throughout the cycle of installing Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI), from engaging immigrant and refugee homeowners to recruiting and guiding multicultural contractors. This outreach simultaneously provides stormwater solutions and creates green career pathways within marginalized communities. And ECOSS is working to provide the same model for solar panel outreach.
ECOSS is excited to leverage decades of experience to bring an equity lens to solar panel outreach with communities throughout Puget Sound. As the program grows, ECOSS will consider how previous experience with GSI can inform solar panel demonstration sites and contractor training.