Lighting Up America With Solar Energy

Steph Speirs and Stephen Moilanen, Solstice Initiative
Presented byPresented by Kia
Mar 7, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Tasbeeh Herwees is a journalist and writer from Los Angeles. She has written for Good Magazine, The Majalla, TruthDig, L.A. Currents, and others.

This profile is part of TakePart’s “Re-Visionaries” series, in which we highlight people who are shaking things up—and making a difference—in their field and community.

Steph Speirs and Stephen Moilanen want to light up America with solar energy. Their company, Solstice Initiative, helps people get access to solar energy cheaply and efficiently. They bridge the gap between communities that need solar energy and the companies that provide it by harnessing the power of community. They talked to TakePart about their projects.

TakePart: What is Solstice Initiative?

Steph Speirs: The problem that we’re trying to solve is that 80 percent of America can’t put solar on their own roof for a ton of different reasons, like they are renters or they have a tree covering their roof or they’re low-income. But solar is cheap enough that for the first time in history right now it could actually help everyone if they could access it. Solstice is the first provider of community-based solar power to all Americans that cannot install it on their own roof. We offer something called community solar, which is the option to buy a portion of a shared solar farm and switch to solar. That way, you don't have to worry about installing anything on your roof, there are no up-front costs, and you save 10 to 15 percent off your electricity bill every single month.

TakePart: How did you start it? What is your origin story?

Stephen Moilanen: We went on a research trip during graduate school that was a project where we partnered with any Indian [organizations] that were looking to grow the use of solar micro-grids in rural parts of the country. These solar farms provide electricity for the first time to villages that didn’t have electricity at all. So we went on this trip for 10 weeks. When we came back, we thought, surely if we could bring solar power to the most far-flung regions of the world, we could do it here in the United States.

TakePart: What makes it unique or innovative or different from other companies trying to provide solar or other organizations that are trying to do similar things in different ways?

Speirs: There’s no company that’s doing exactly what we’re doing. No other company is leveraging the power of communities, and no other company has quite the experience to do that either, meaning a community-organizing background. By our partnerships with community organizations, we are opening up distribution channels for community solar that have never existed before. For instance, we are in talks with a couple of corporations who want to do work with us to offer community solar to members of their communities or folks around their office.

TakePart: What’s the next step for Solstice Initiative in terms of growth? How will a $5,000 prize help you with that development in growth?

Speirs: A generous gift of $5,000 would allow us to basically get a couple more projects on the ground in Massachusetts or New York, which would help up to a couple hundred people get solar.

TakePart: What inspires you or motivates you to go back to work at the initiative?

Moilanen: It’s always struck me that this is a battle worth fighting. I think that one of the things I’ve also realized is that I’m really gratified to do this work on a daily basis. Every day, there’s a new problem to be solved. It’s exciting to be in a job with an organization where you’re required to use your brain a lot and use your brain in different ways.

Speirs: I’m excited to work at Solstice every day because I remember that the people who need solar energy the most in this country are currently the least likely to get it. Energy equity and increasing access to solar is really a social justice issue. It can have a tangible benefit in people’s lives and let them use their money for other productive needs.

TakePart: What makes Solstice Initiative a “Re-Visionary” company?

Speirs: What “Re-Visionary” means to me is that it’s a person who is willing to use innovative means to tackle a social or environmental problem in a way that no one’s ever succeeded at before. It’s someone who rejects the status quo and continuously imagines the world as it should be, not as it is, [and then] works to bring that vision into fruition. The path to social progress has been forged by innovators like this—and hopefully we get to join their ranks.