Building Resilience One Solar Panel at at Time

A nonprofit solar panel factory is being closely watched as a model for building community resilience.

Funded by a combination of state, federal, and local grants, foundational support, and hundreds of local donations, the CHERP Locally Grown Power(CLGP) solar panel factory in Pomona, Calif. is replicable in cities across California and the U.S. looking to create green jobs, energy resiliency and social justice in their communities. 

And MBEP is taking the lead in forming an energy leadership team, what CLGP calls a Core Energy Group, to replicate the turnkey solar factory in Monterey County. The addition of those middle-income green manufacturing jobs is a solid investment for the regional economy, which also stands to benefit from the addition of a$70 million microgrid coming to the City of Gonzales

CHERP’s technology promises safer, more efficient, and more durable solar panels. The factory and associated solar installations are expected to create more than 700 green sector jobs in disadvantaged communities, helping cut greenhouse gas emissions and stimulating local economies.

An initiative of the nonprofit Community Home Energy Retrofit Project, CHERP-Locally Grown Power combines state-of-the-art technology with a social enterprise business model and an agenda of environmental justice: Solar panels and equipment will be manufactured in a locally owned and operated factory by employees recruited and trained in conjunction with local workforce development agencies – focusing specifically on populations that have been most neglected by society: homeless, prison re-entry, at-promise youth, veterans, and those with physical or intellectual disabilities. The solar installation will be provided at no charge to 6,000 low- and moderate-income households, resulting in significant carbon emissions reductions while saving those households an annual average of $860 on electric bills. Low-income families tend to spend disposable personal income at nearby businesses, generating increased sales tax revenues and improving the local economy thanks to the multiplier effect of those dollars.

The renewable energy technology will be made available to schools, municipalities, and local businesses, further helping communities meet state mandates for climate change mitigation and energy resilience.

Becoming increasingly alarmed by the impact of the built environment on global warming, President and CEO Devon Hartman retired from the successful architecture and construction firm he’d helped run for 35 years to devote himself full-time to greening the building sector, starting CHERP to educate and inspire communities to move toward energy efficiency in their built environments.

“Buildings are the largest contributors to the proliferation of greenhouse gases on the planet,” said Hartman. “It was shocking to me, and I resolved at that point to do what I could to help work on this problem.” 

While Pomona’s factory, according to Hartman, is the world’s first nonprofit solar panel assembly factory, he hopes it’s just the first of many such locally owned production sites in communities across the country. His company, CLGP, is also working with community leaders and interest groups in Camden, New Jersey, the California cities of Victorville and San Bernardino, and the iconic manufacturing city of Detroit, Michigan,  looking to bring a non-profit solar panel factory to town, and in New Jersey, where five factories could soon be built. 

The smart solar panel technology being utilized by CLGP eliminates reverse conduction in solar cells, a major problem in solar panels which causes extreme heat as cells are forced into reverse bias. 

“Solar panels are a distributed energy resource, and now we’re making the factory itself a distributed energy resource,” says Hartman. “Our goals are to work on climate change, create local jobs, reinvigorate local economies, and focus on environmental justice issues.”

For its innovative and impactful model, the CHERP-Locally Grown Power project was recently awarded the 2020 Outstanding Sustainability Achievement Award from theSouthern California Association of Governments(SCAG), the nation’s largest metropolitan planning organization, which represents six counties, 191 cities, and more than 19 million residents.

The project, and the increased attention it’s receiving, emerge as discussions around climate change and energy resilience take on increased urgencies in the midst of wildfires and coastal sea-level rise, the economic impacts of the pandemic, and concerns about the safety and efficiency of centralized power distributed across wide distances.

“It’s a very timely message,” said Hartman. “This is about resilience.” 

Learn more in this video and read about the technology in this white paper and this article in Solar Power World.