Interview with Speakers - Marissa Leshnov

We are excited to present a new series of interviews the Marketing Director, Estefania, conducted with some of the speakers of SES 2019. The interviews were held in the months prior to the Summit with the aim to present some of the energy leaders who will be speaking during the Summit and foster an exciting and informed discussion in anticipation to the event.

The third interview of this series is with Marissa Leshnov, Communications Assistant at GRID Alternatives. GRID Alternatives is a certified non-profit organization based in Oakland, California, with nine affiliate offices serving all of California, Colorado, Washington D.C., Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. The organization also has a national Tribal Program, and an International Program serving Nicaragua, Nepal and Mexico. Its mission is to make clean energy technology and job training accessible in underserved communities.

Estefania: What is the story behind the creation of GRID Alternatives?

Marissa: GRID Alternatives is the largest non-profit solar installer in the US. We were founded by two engineers named Erica Mackie and Tim Sears during California’s energy crisis in 2001. At the time, they were helping large corporations reduce their electricity bills by switching to more energy efficient practices, and they realized that their neighbors could benefit even more from these technologies. After quitting their jobs, our founding partners completed GRID’s first solar installation in 2004. To date, GRID Alternatives has installed over 52MW of solar benefiting more than 14,000 families. Our triple bottom line is people, planet and employment; but people come first, always. With this platform, we generate wealth through energy savings, generate clean power, and offer hands-on job training that people can use to get a foot in the growing solar industry. 

Estefania: How does GRID Alternatives’ model has been scaled up to different market segments?

Marissa: For many years we focused solely on single-family solar installations, starting in California and then expanding our operations across the nation. Given this growth, we realized that the single-family model did not reach everyone, especially in California with the rising cost of home-ownership. Additionally, not all homes are suitable for rooftop solar, especially homes with older roofs or lots of shading from nearby trees or buildings. That is why we scaled up our model to multi-family and community solar projects. Within our Tribal and International programs, we support energy independence through off-grid solar system installations supported by batteries. Our International Program has been developed in countries such as Nepal, Mexico and Nicaragua.

Estefania: What have you identified as the main barriers for the deployment of solar distributed generation? 

Marissa: Many of the barriers we have encountered while growing our model come down to policy, at least in the US. Our model is unique in the sense that it addresses solar deployment with low-income users at the center. Since our work is centered around equity, there needs to be strong policy on the ground supporting this approach. The state of California has been a leader in low-income solar policy, but other states such as Colorado, Illinois, and the Tri-state area have started building equity into their clean energy policies

Estefania: How does GRID Alternatives finance its operations?

Marissa: Our project financing comes through partnerships, grants, and individual giving. We partner with municipal and state governments to support their clean energy goals and help their residents access the real, lived benefits of clean energy. Unfortunately, there is a history of predatory sales tactics in the communities we serve, and so partnering with the local government helps to build trust and reach people who might otherwise be skeptical of us when we say we offer solar at no cost to them. Private companies that believe in our mission also support our work either through grants or our sponsored workday program. The latter allows employees to participate in the installation of a system while bonding and learning new skills. Since we are a non-profit, we also rely on individual philanthropy and donations.

Estefania: What excites you the most about attending SES2019 next summer in London?

Marissa: I am very excited to participate at SES2019 and be a part of the climate conversation on a global scale. The truth is we do not have the luxury of time when talking about the climate crisis. Our transition towards a clean energy economy will require all hands-on deck, including people and perspectives that have historically been denied a seat at the table. I’m excited to meet people from around the world, listen to their ideas and hopefully co-create more whole solutions that we can bring back to our communities. We need to get this right the first time and break down barriers we haven’t before to ensure that everyone can participate, everyone is included and everyone benefits.