How One Non-Profit Turns Solar Energy Into Cost Savings And Jobs

May 18, 2016, 1:50 AM UTC

While many people are increasingly looking to solar energy to help reduce pollution, organizations like non-profit GRID Alternatives see it as a solution for also addressing increasing income inequality.

GRID Alternatives, founded in 2001, works to provide cheaper solar panels to low-income communities in the U.S. and Nicaragua. In addition to helping customers save on their energy bills, GRID also helps these communities by providing them with jobs. To fund its operations and the panel installations, GRID gets funds from corporate philanthropy, individual donations, government grants, and its own revenue.

“We’re building a power plant, one house and one person at a time,” said GRID Alternatives co-founder and CEO Erica Mackie during Fortune‘s Brainstorm E conference in Carlsbad, Calif. on Tuesday. “We are similar to any mid-size solar installation company, except we only install for people who may not be able to install otherwise,” she added.

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Since its humble beginnings, GRID Alternatives has grown to perform thousands of installations per year, and to date has trained 26,000 people, according to Mackie.

One such employee who went through GRID’s program and currently works there as an installation supervisor is Diana Adams, who joined Mackie on stage in Carlsbad. As Adams tells it, she found GRID Alternatives after deciding she wanted to find an outlet to help people on a large scale. A poster advertising solar panel installations inspired her to enroll at a skills centers in Los Angeles, and she was eventually selected to participate in GRID’s training program.

“It never even crossed my mind, not once,” she said when asked by Fortune senior editor Jennifer Reingold whether she had ever thought solar energy would be a part of her life.

For Adams, one of the most important aspects of her job is what solar panels can do for people financially because of their energy bill savings. “If you add up all those savings in a year’s time, there’s no telling what you can do,” she said.