WSP USA volunteers spent one full day working in the sun so that the sun will work for 25 years to reduce energy costs for a family in the San Francisco area.
A team of engineers, scientists, and consultants from WSP’s two San Francisco offices partnered with Generating Renewable Ideas for Development Alternatives (GRID) to raise funds to cover the cost of purchasing a dozen solar panels and other equipment. On July 22, that team installed the panels on the roof of the home of a low-income family in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco. GRID calculated that the family could save $29,000 in electric bills over the 25-year life of the solar panels.
“We raised the funds for the materials and to cover the GRID staff labor costs for the project, and then participated in the actual installation of the solar panels, hardware and wiring at the family’s home,” said Julie Sinistore, project director for the sustainability and energy team in the San Francisco office.
WSP employees who participated in the installation of the solar panels with Sinistore included Calie Gihl, Vanessa Luke, Yosef Yip, Sierra Laventure-Volz, Joshua Burger and Divit Sood.
Sinistore, who organized the community service project, said the WSP team was responsible for much of the labor required, including preparation of the roof, cutting and splicing the rails, and installation of the solar modules.
GRID is a nonprofit organization that makes renewable energy technology and training accessible to underserved communities. It brings together community partners, volunteers and job trainees to implement solar power and energy efficiency for low-income families, providing energy cost savings, valuable hands-on experience, and a source of clean, local energy that benefits the entire community.
Sinistore was originally planning to volunteer alone, but when she learned about GRIDs corporate-sponsored days – where up to 10 individuals from one company could do the install together – she thought it would be a good fit for WSP.
“This type of event really embodies the spirit of ‘think global, act local,’” Sinistore said. “Not only could we help a local family reduce their energy bills, but our effort will train people to work in the renewable energy sector, and the panels will generate 150,000 kilowatt hours of electricity over their lifetime.”
Prior to the solar panel installation, the WSP team led two fundraising events to offset the cost for the solar panels and other equipment needed for installation.
“One of our biggest challenges was to raise the money – even more challenging than the actual installation,” Sinistore said. “There were times when we were worried if we could reach our goal of $7,500. But we did it!”
Fundraising activities, organized by the firm's Developing Professionals Network, included a “penny war,” which collected close to $900 in loose change donations; and a “sweets and heats” event that combined a dessert baking contest with a chili cook-off.
The remainder of the funds were raised through a fundraising web page that GRID created for WSP, and through matching funds from the San Francisco office. The team exceeded its fundraising goal, collecting more than $8,600 for the project.
Following a safety orientation on the morning of the installation, the team split into two crews, with one working on the ground and the other on the roof.
“The ground crew unloaded the equipment and assembled the rails and other components that would be attached to the roof,” Sinistore said. “The roof crew started preparing the roof to install the panels by measuring and setting screws, installing the rails and inverters and preparing the boxes.”
When the panels were lifted to the roof, the roof crew measured where they would go on the rails, connecting them to the inverters and fastening them into place. After wiring the panels and cleaning the roof, the project was completed an hour ahead of schedule.
This was the first time many of the employees had a hands-on opportunity to work directly on an alternative energy project.
“We learned a lot about how solar is installed, how the panels will function during their service life and how wiring works,” Sinistore said. “By offsetting the production of electricity grid energy, these panels will not only reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but they will also reduce the blue water consumption (BWC), smog creation and particulate matter emissions from grid electricity.”
She equated the reduction in GHG emissions to 155,000 miles driven in the average passenger vehicle, the BWC savings to nearly 5,000 showers, and the avoided smog and particulate matter emissions equal 313,000 miles driven in an average car and 32,000 miles drive in an average diesel truck, respectively.
With the project completed, GRID is now assisting the homeowners to prepare for inspection of the panels. Once approved, the panels will be connected to the power grid and start generating power to the home.
As someone who works in sustainability, Sinistore said it is important to her to focus on ways she can help reduce human impact on the environment.
“By participating in this kind of event, I feel like WSP is ‘walking the talk’ in a way that combines our firm’s focus on sustainability, energy and built ecology,” she said.
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