Solar Energy: Powering Schools and Learning in Ward 7

The future is solar at DC’s H.D. Woodson High School. Photo: Daniel Jones, GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic

Here’s a DC trivia question for you. Which site currently boasts the largest solar array in the District? You might be surprised to learn that the answer is Ward 7’s H.D. Woodson High School, located on 55th St. NE. With panels located on the building and on top of the school’s parking lot, H.D. Woodson has a solar photovoltaic (PV) system capable of producing some 670 kilowatts (kW)s of solar-generated power. This past spring, the school’s seniors learned more about solar PV installation and solar energy in general, thanks to GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic’s Solar Futures program.

16 H.D. Woodson students participated in the four-week Solar Futures course. The weekly two-hour sessions included presentations by National Renewable Energy Laboratory representatives who helped students test miniature solar systems, while GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic staff walked students through the solar installation process. A mock roof, complete with composite shingles, was brought into the classroom, and students installed rails, microinverters, cables and eventually solar panels on the mock roof for a hands-on learning experience.

Senior Dimant’e McLeod signed up for the program at the urging of one of his teachers. Initially, he was skeptical of the program. “I was thinking, ‘How could it help me throughout the rest of my life?’ I can say I know a bit about solar now,” McLeod said. But the class “just opened my eyes to thousands of other companies” that are working in the solar industry.

GRID Alternatives created Solar Futures to provide both classroom and hands-on education. With a focus on high school juniors and seniors, Solar Futures offers an opportunity to learn more about solar power while highlighting the solar industry as a career path. GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic, an affiliate of GRID Alternatives, launched the program in April 2019 at H.D. Woodson. Students receive a certificate upon course completion.

GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic is pleased with the program results to date. “Solar Futures aims to open career pathways in the fast-growing and well-paid solar industry and inspire the next generation to combat climate change,” said Nicole Steele, executive director at GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic. “Students in the program participate in a dynamic Solar 101 course to learn how solar energy works and receive hands-on opportunities to learn the technology and process of installation. We are currently in conversations with other high schools in the District to bring the program to their schools.”

DC Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee is pleased with the program and the opportunity it provides students, noting, “I am excited that our H.D. Woodson students were able to participate in a unique program that will prepare them for college, career and life. The GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic Solar Futures program is supporting our efforts to provide students with rigorous and joyful learning that allows them to explore potential career interests while thinking of ways to address key challenges facing our communities.”

Demand for solar PV installations in the District is growing. The Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 mandates that by 2032 all the energy sold in the District must be generated by renewable sources. As of 2018, only 5.9% was generated from renewable sources, so there is a big gap to fill.

H.D. Woodson is just one of some 50 District government facilities with a solar PV system, and more are in the works. There’s an active consortium of District government, nonprofit organizations and local solar companies working to ensure that the 2032 renewable energy goal is met.

Solar United Neighbors offers how-to guides for residents who are contemplating solar installations and organizes solar cooperatives that help reduce the cost of installations on homes and businesses.

Solar for All is a program of the District’s Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) that is working to provide solar electricity to 100,000 low-income households and reduce their energy bills by 50% by 2032. The Solar Works DC program provides job training for District residents to enter careers in solar and related industries. GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic is working with DOEE to implement these programs as well as the Solar Futures program.

So, consider installing solar PV on your home or office roof. You’ll save some money, promote renewable energy and perhaps provide a job for a DC high school and Solar Futures graduate. In the meantime, have fun testing your friends on their DC trivia skills!

Daniel Jones, communications and marketing fellow at GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic, contributed to this story.

Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer and a blogger for the DC Recycler,; Twitter, @DC Recycler. She is also a board member and the vice chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, but the perspectives expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.