Solar project provides education opportunity to community

In Baltimore Maryland, the partnership between Empowerment Temple and Groundswell continues to bring community solar projects centered in education, economic empowerment, and a higher level of resilience to the community surrounding the place of worship. 

The 10,000 member African American Episcopal Church hopes that these new projects will make a difference in the community by using the installation to educate those around the church on the benefits that solar infrastructure can bring to their community with a focus on STEM learning.  

“With the solar, the Smartflower™ we can get more engaged once the school opens up,” said Brother Michael Simmons, a leader at Empowerment Temple. “The public school systems, including our own charter school, can come to see that.”

Simmons said that the students at Empowerment Academy have already begun to learn about solar through conversations about the 350 kW solar installation on Empowerment Temple’s roof, and the recently installed Smartflower™ is expected to further enhance learning opportunities since it will be more easily visible at ground level. 

This education is fundamental to Groundswell’s work in the community, which focuses on providing opportunities to people in the surrounding community. Simmons has personally led the way by becoming a LEED Accredited Professional, making training easier to access to other members of the community.

“The whole concept was to provide training, which Brother Mike has already gotten certified in the green technology training,” said Lenwood Coleman, Groundswell Vice President of Solar Development and Operations. “As an ambassador, he can now speak to and train the community, which means that there's a relationship they can connect to.”

With 350 kW of solar energy generated on Empowerment Temple’s roof installation alone, training opportunities for both adults and students take on a clear, visible importance. Both Simmons and Coleman said they were excited about the learning potential the solar projects at Empowerment Temple will unlock for students at Empowerment Academy and their families.

“Normally, it is the children that enact the change, and by being a CDC [Community Development Corporation] at a school that is tied to Empowerment Temple, the children are normally coming home with these new ideas that they bring their parents into, which makes for an easier transition at home,” Coleman said. “The children learn that you should sort your plastic recyclables into a separate bin. They learn that in school, and in their training programs under the CDC youth programs, and that is where you find more of the change taking place faster.”

The students are able to carry this information back to their families, creating a community that is knowledgeable about everything from solar energy to recycling.

Empowerment Academy had to close earlier than usual for the spring 2020 semester due to COVID-19, but Simmons said Empowerment Temple has high hopes for the upcoming school year. When schools reopen, Simmons said that students will learn the science and mathematics behind the Smartflower.

Additionally, Empowerment Temple and Groundswell are currently coordinating with the City of Baltimore to provide solar battery storage at the church as a resiliency hub. This means that the church will provide the community with a central location during disasters where community needs can still be met if power from other sources goes out. Through this effort, community members will still be able to charge phones, store medicine, and have other essential needs met even during a disaster.