It almost sounds too good to be true—clean, renewable energy stimulating economic activity in underserved communities across the United States. In addition, the solar panels built by CHERP Solar Works are some of the most technologically advanced on the market and will — wait for it — provide free solar power to the lowest-income households in US communities.
So wait, what’s the catch?
There is no catch. This non-profit organization wants to change the traditional relationship between energy providers and energy users. They want to put ownership back into the hands of society. To do this, they enlisted the help of Seneca Solar, which recently worked with local communities in the United States to help them own their energy assets.
“We see a continued shift of wealth from the lowest income households to the top 1 percent. We see that our environment continues to deteriorate at an unprecedented rate,” explains CHERP President and CEO Devon Hartman.
CHERP’s dream is becoming a reality. It recently opened the world’s first non-commercial solar module assembly plant in Pomona, California.
What is CHERP and what does the nonprofit do?
CHERP (Community Home Energy Revolution Project) began with the goal of creating collaborative partnerships with cities, counties, community organizations and contractors to promote sustainable building practices and reduce fossil fuel use in buildings in California and beyond. Now CHERP Solar Works builds solar panel factories around the US
“We build micro solar factories for nonprofits in underserved communities across the country,” says Hartman.
In an age of globalized energy production, CHERP wants to take it back to basics and work locally. By connecting with communities, employing local workers, generating energy in the community and providing energy to local households, CHERP wants its activities to benefit local communities as much as possible.
Hartman says the plan is to “keep the entire value chain within the local community so that the profit circulates within the local economic unit as many times as possible.”
One of CHERP’s plans is to provide free energy to 6,000 low-income families near its new assembly plant in Pomona, California. Studies show that low-income households in the area spend $90 a month on energy. This will create a monthly expense deduction
An additional $6.5 million in annual community income.
Advanced solar technology
CHERP also claims to make “the safest panels on the market.”
Its patented technology will eliminate the hot spots problem that plagues almost all solar panels manufactured today. Solar panels capture sunlight, but sometimes that sunlight is concentrated in one or two spots on the panel. Those “hot spots” heat up faster than the rest of the panel, reducing energy efficiency and creating a safety hazard and fire risk.
“Hotspots can not only heat up, but they can create arcs of plasma that melt any material on Earth, and we can actually set buildings on fire,” Hartman explains.
“Our panels will never create a reverse bias or hot spot situation and will be the safest panels on the market. If they don’t sense an inverter, they’ll automatically shut down within a millisecond, so they won’t generate power and kill firefighters who have to go into the building,” Hartman continues.
The whole operation at CHERP is a bit of an energy revolution. The organization also wants to see solar panel manufacturing return to the United States
American made solar panels
Solar panel technology was invented as early as 1954 by three scientists at Bell Laboratories in the United States. Since then, solar panel manufacturing has slowly moved away from the United States
“Right now, 94 percent of all solar panels distributed in this country come from overseas,” says Hartman. The big market leader in the production of solar panels is China. China owns more than 80 percent of the world share in the production of solar panels.
China is also far ahead in installed solar power capacity. China is expected to add 90 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar power in 2022, bringing the country’s total installed capacity to about 400 GW.
By comparison, the US added 3.9 GW of solar capacity in the first quarter of 2022, bringing its total capacity to 126 GW.
CHERP wants to increase America’s solar technology production, increase economic participation of underserved communities, and advance solar technology. If his ideas come to fruition, the nonprofit hopes to build factories in the United States to benefit local communities.
Image credit via CHERP