Coaching and Promoting Teams in the Solar In Your Community Challenge

The US Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technology Office is wrapping up the Solar In Your Community Challenge soon. The Challenge was an inspired effort to stimulate new approaches to solar power that can benefit low-income individuals and communities, public agencies, and non-profits.

About 170 teams took up the Challenge, ranging from very grassroots first-time volunteers to experienced professionals and local government agencies. Some teams got small cash grants while most got technical assistance from consultants.

I was honored to serve as a coach for ten of the teams, providing whatever advice I could. With some of my teams I did my best simply to learn from them, and keep up with their progress. With others it was a process of mutual learning about the myriad challenges and barriers that they encountered on their journey.

One common theme throughout was the challenge of deficient government policies that created unnecessary barriers. Whether it was convoluted HUD finance rules or insanely complicated methods of valuing grid connections, bad policy was the leading cause of death for a number of otherwise excellent ideas.

That itself is a significant finding of the Challenge, and should be fed back to local, state, and federal policymakers. I doubt many policymakers are opposed to low-cost, zero-emission energy that reduces energy poverty and creates local jobs. But regardless of intentions, the effect is the same. Please keep your solar policies simple, and make sure they work in the real world.

I was also commissioned to write a series of articles about teams in the Challenge. I didn’t pick the teams based on their success, since the Challenge was still underway, but rather based on the novelty or appeal of their strategies. I hope they can serve as a resource for others pursuing similar dreams.

The cash prizes will be awarded this spring, and I am rooting for two of my teams to win it all. But win or lose, I hope that many teams got some or a lot of benefits from the Challenge.

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