Julian Foley: Community Spolight

Helping Low-Income Families Save Big

Helping low-income families gain access to renewable energy is Julian Foley’s passion, but for Oakland, California–based GRID Alternatives, that’s just the beginning.

What is GRID Alternatives?

We’re a national nonprofit working to make renewable energy accessible to underserved communities. The bulk of our work is in California, but we have a presence in Colorado and the Mid-Atlantic region, and we serve native tribes all over the country. Most of our work is installing solar, and we really value the synergy between solar and energy efficiency.

Why is it important for underserved communities to have access to renewable energy?

Low-income families spend a higher percentage of their income on energy than other families. These savings make a big difference for them; it’s money they can use to invest in themselves. It’s only right and appropriate that these communities have access to the same energy technology that can save big corporations millions every year.

How do you help people save energy?

We incorporate energy efficiency into every project. Every client gets an energy-efficiency analysis. We let them know what measures they can take and then we refer them to programs that exist in their area to provide assistance with that. We incentivize it too, so instead of sizing their solar to 100% of their current electricity usage, we might size it to 90% to incentivize them to cover the other 10% through energy efficiency.

What energy-efficient things can people do to cover that 10%?

There are so many things people can do to save energy and most of them are very simple: switch your lights to LED bulbs, wash your clothes in cold water and hang dry them, plug things like your TV and computer into power strips and turn them off when you leave the house so they don’t use power when you aren’t using them. All of these things add up and help more than people think.

What drives you to keep going?

We are definitely making a difference on so many levels. The most immediate result is families saving money—that’s amazing right? We save them anywhere from $20 to $100 or more a month and that money goes back into their family. Then they get excited about it and tell their neighbors and their neighbor does it, and it goes on to increase awareness about energy efficiency—there’s a ripple effect.