EmPOWERing Communities With Solar

By Marissa Johnson — Executive Director Twende Solar

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Portland Rescue Mission

With the winter storms we just experienced in the last few months, many Oregonians found themselves without power. Schools were closed, news updates were harder to come by, heating and lighting was inaccessible, entering or leaving communities became challenging or impossible, grocery stores were closed or could not accept electronic payment, groups of anxious or desperate people resorted to commandeering resources, and medical facilities had to rely on backup power to provide essential services. For Pacific Northwest residents, this was a foreshadowing of what could happen with a Cascadia subduction earthquake event, but for billions around the world, living without electricity is their daily reality.

Amidst all of the difficult news and troubling facts about poverty and climate change is hope - the hope that comes from taking action.

As supporters of Solar Oregon, you’ve likely advocated for strong solar policy in the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps you’ve chosen to purchase renewable energy from your utility providers, purchased an electric vehicle, or even gone solar at home. The results of these actions are decreased utility costs, decreased carbon emissions, and, especially when paired with storage, increased independence and resiliency.

Recent steps in the legislature and at the ballot box are providing hope that all Oregonians will be able to take advantage of the solar revolution with community solar and specialized carve outs for low to moderate income households. In Portland, residents overwhelmingly voted to authorize a business license surcharge on large retail corporations that will help provide marginalized communities with solar access and green jobs training.

At Twende Solar, we are also taking action to empower energy-deficient communities with renewable energy systems in the world’s most neglected areas.

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Twende Installation in Guatemala

Lack of access to electricity hinders even the most basic forms of development and progress. Access to quality education, access to vaccines and basic healthcare, access to the pumping of clean water for sanitation and basic hygiene, access to economic development. All of these barriers pose challenges to alleviating the circumstances of poverty.

Solar is an important part of the equation of tackling both poverty and climate change, and the industry has a thirst to give back to help communities in need. More than just a willingness to give back, some believe that the gifted and trained have a duty to help when they are able. Operated and supported by a wide network of solar PV industry professionals, Twende Solar bridges the gap between renewable energy experts and energy-poor communities.

I recently heard the inspiring story of Twende’s genesis again. Founders John Grieser and Brandon Little of Portland-based solar contractor, Elemental Energy, were studying renewable energy engineering and volunteering on a humanitarian project installing small solar (PV) systems in Tanzania. John recalls seeing a Maasai warrior take a call on their cell phone in the middle of a wedding. He realized that cellphones were commonplace in an area that had never had landlines.

Tanzania had “leap-frogged” over that antiquated technology and Tanzanians were more connected than ever before. What would it mean for the country, and the world, if they could do the same in the energy sector and skip over the burning of fossil fuels and straight to renewables?

John and Brandon recognized that solar would be revolutionary for the development of communities around the globe that had never had electricity, and research and data supports this. As a distributed form of energy, one that doesn’t need to wait for a grid to reach remote or poor communities, solar has the potential and flexibility to be a game-changer. Solar can help save the world.

Twende Solar identifies communities, nonprofits and NGOs that are doing good work in promoting quality education, access to medical care, and economic development opportunities for those experiencing poverty. We work with these communities to learn about how electricity and solar could help amplify the development work that they are doing, bringing dedicated experts to tackle the project. From volunteers who design and install the systems, industry manufacturers and distributors that donate and discount high-quality equipment, and generous businesses and individuals that support the projects financially; we work together to empower communities in need.

To date, we have helped rural schools in impoverished regions of Guatemala and Cambodia increase their power output and decrease their reliance on expensive and carbon-intensive diesel. This energy fuels the education of the next generation of thinkers, innovators, and leaders now better prepared to further the economic development of their respective communities. We’ve empowered the recovery of local women receiving treatment and care from the Portland Rescue Mission to overcome homelessness, abuse, and addiction by offsetting 40% of their electrical usage with solar allowing for more to be spent on programs and less on power. Most recently, we electrified a native community in the high jungle of Peru. They now have the ability to increase the quality of their coffee production and fetch better prices for their beans, access learning on the world wide web, and work on their handcrafted goods or enjoy a game of soccer after the sun sets.

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Community in Peru where Twende recently installed a solar system

Access to clean, reliable energy is fundamental to human development and an investment in our collective future.

Whether it be for education, the empowerment of women, medical care, agricultural yields, mitigating environmental footprint or economic stimulation, creating access to sustainable energy for all is essential for achieving a more equitable society and advancing the quest for global energy independence.

Amidst all of the difficult news and the large challenge ahead of us is hope — the hope that comes from taking action and being part of the solution. This Earth Day, I encourage you to take action through a local activity or a donation to Solar Oregon, Twende, or your favorite environmental organization — you can be the change. You can help save the world.

It takes a village — let’s go solar, together!

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