One UNC club is making impacts on local communities through renewable energy.
“We're a group that works to solarize affordable housing across North Carolina. That's the first part of our mission," SolarEquity President and UNC junior Will Nichols said. "And then second part is ensuring that our members are educated on the importance of renewable energy as we enter into a more sustainable future.”
While limiting local carbon emissions through their projects is one goal of SolarEquity, one of the main motivations for the club is climate change’s disproportionate effect on low-income communities.
“They emit the least amount of carbon, yet are affected the most by rising temperatures,” Nichols said.
Additionally, the club strives to simultaneously provide these communities with solar power while also reducing homeowners’ energy bills.
In order to carry out these solarization projects, SolarEquity serves as an intermediary between solar panel companies and housing developers.
“We do that by offering expertise on rebates and tax incentives, and we facilitate the donation of solar panels from these solar companies to the housing developers, and then also pay for the physical install of the solar panels,” Nichols said.
Nichols said he started SolarEquity during his sophomore year. He said that working with the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club led him to an internship with Habitat for Humanity, where he worked to solarize houses.
Since the club’s founding, it has grown to around 20 to 25 active members and now comprises four main committees.
Evelyn Dalton, UNC junior and SolarEquity’s networking committee chairperson, said helping low-income communities is one of the things that drew her to the club.
“I just thought it was cool to do it through a new way through solarizing their homes,” Dalton said. “Once I realized the benefits that it provides to the families and how great it is for the environment, and all of the growing research and infrastructure and people getting behind it — I got really excited about it.”
Malin Muckenfuss, a UNC junior and the club's finance co-chairperson, said he enjoys how the club strives to recruit members with different skills.
“I had no idea what the realm of solar and renewable energy and all that was, which I think is another really cool thing about what Will got going here, bringing people from all over with different kinds of backgrounds,” Muckenfuss said.
One of the main projects the club has facilitated so far has been solarizing Habitat for Humanity homes with 260 solar panels donated by Strata Clean Energy. Many were installed on homes on Odie St. in Hillsborough.
“With those 260 panels we've been able to Solarize 14 Habitat homes to date, which has been really exciting,” Nichols said.
SolarEquity also hosts a biweekly speaker series on topics relating to renewable energy, as a part of their education initiative.
Earlier this year, the club gained official nonprofit status.
“This past July we filed as a 501(c)(3), which is really exciting considering it's going to allow us to acquire capital to fund the physical installation of the different solar panels that we're installing,” Nichols said.
He said this new status provides the club with an additional element of legitimacy, and they are now able to form formal partnerships with other organizations as well.
The club is a member of the Rotaract eClub for the Environment, which allows them to pursue international projects such as working on small scale solarization in Côte d'Ivoire.
“Our members are really involved in helping out with all of the different projects, so it's not like you just show up,” Peyton Jenkins, UNC junior and head of marketing and communications for SolarEquity, said. “It's more something like you're gonna show up and you're gonna do work that's going to be really impactful, and you're gonna have something to show for it.”
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