By Erin Coller

With so many headlines and advertisements from solar providers about how San Diego homeowners may be able to save on utility bills while using clean energy, an offer for no-cost solar electric systems could seem too good to be true. But thanks to one San Diego environmental nonprofit, it is in fact true and a very real opportunity for local low-income families to receive rooftop solar at no-cost.

The Solar Affordable Housing Program is GRID Alternatives San Diego’s core program, providing no-cost solar electric systems to low-income qualified families. GRID Alternatives installs the systems using a “barn raising” model that gives volunteers and job trainees hands-on experience they can use to find jobs in the growing solar industry. Since GRID Alternatives San Diego’s inception in 2008, the organization has installed almost 800 no-cost solar electric systems for local families in need, collectively saving them more than $25 million in estimated lifetime energy costs.

Photo courtesy of GRID Alternatives
Photo courtesy of GRID Alternatives

GRID Alternatives San Diego installs two no-cost solar electric systems for low-income families in San Diego County every week. Local homeowners who earn 80 percent or less of the area median income may qualify for a no-cost system through GRID Alternatives—saving an average of 75 percent on their electric bills each month.

GRID Alternatives and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) work together to expand access to rooftop solar in low-income communities. “Our outreach and construction teams work closely with SDG&E to get every solar project connected,” said Paul Cleary, GRID Alternatives San Diego’s executive director. “SDG&E’s philanthropic support has helped ensure we are able to successfully recruit and train a significant number of at-risk youth from across the city of San Diego—helping to get them on career paths to well paid jobs in a growing industry.”

The collaboration involves charitable support, as well as an SDG&E innovation that allows solar customers to avoid costly electrical panel upgrades. The Renewable Meter Adapter, an invention created by two SDG&E employees, has now been installed at over 5,200 facilities, saving customers—including GRID Alternatives—more than $5.1 million in panel upgrades and construction costs. With the savings achieved with the innovative device, GRID Alternatives has the opportunity to stretch their dollars further and impact more low-income residents.

Photo courtesy of GRID Alternatives
Photo courtesy of GRID Alternatives

SDG&E’s philanthropic support has helped ensure GRID Alternatives San Diego hits its targets—especially those for the organization’s Solar Futures program. Solar Futures serves at-risk youth from communities with limited resources, recruiting and training them for jobs in the solar industry.

Each Solar Futures trainee receives 250 hours of hands-on training, mastering the skills necessary to install a photovoltaic (PV) solar system from start to finish, while also honing their communication, problem solving and time management skills. The training program culminates in a job fair, where trainees have the chance to interview with and receive feedback from a wide range of industry talent scouts—from national solar corporations to small independent contractors—with the ultimate goal of securing a job as a solar installer.

With an estimated 20 million low-income, owner-occupied, single-family homes in the United States, there is tremendous opportunity to support the continued growth of solar and the long-term transition to clean, renewable energy that will benefit everyone. Thankfully, GRID Alternatives San Diego is one of 10 regional GRID Alternatives across the nation. Collectively, they are ensuring that the future of solar in low income communities is bright.

  • The process to check eligibility for GRID Alternatives San Diego’s Solar Affordable Housing Program is quick and can be completed by calling 619-610-0171, emailing or visiting
  • Donate to GRID Alternatives San Diego by visiting sending a check to GRID Alternatives San Diego, 930 Gateway Center Way, San Diego, CA, 92102.
  • Sign up for a company team building workday with GRID Alternatives San Diego by emailing or calling Emma Higgins at / 619-535-3385.
  • Sign up for volunteer or job training opportunities and help GRID Alternatives San Diego put solar on more people’s roofs by visiting and signing up for a volunteer orientation. Job training queries can be directed to Danyla Copino at

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