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Company Launches Foundation to Bring Solar Energy to Schools Without Electricity

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One company can't provide electricity to the 1.4 billion people in the world who don't have it, but SolarCity's latest initiative ensures that it will make a major impact in improving access.

The San Mateo, CA-based solar energy provider announced this week that it will donate a solar power system to a school without electricity for every residential megawatt (MW) of power it installs in 2014. The firm believes it will install 475 to 525 MW next year.

The United Nations Development program estimates that 291 million children worldwide attend schools that have no electricity. 

"If you can bring electricity to rural areas, people who were once isolated are less so," Ben VandeBunt, a SolarCity board member said. "I think if we do this right and we do this well, I think we can do it over and over and over again and really have a big impact on a lot of people."

SolarCity has already installed a solar system at a school in Nicaragua that previously lacked electricity. The company plans in installing many more as part of its Give Power Foundation. Video screenshot credit: SolarCity

SolarCity launched its Give Power Foundation by partnering with buildOn, a nonprofit that has builds schools in underdeveloped communities around the world. The entities initially plan to focus on schools in Haiti, Mali, Malawi and Nepal. 

“The United Nations has set the ambitious goal of ensuring that everyone in the world has access to electricity by 2030, while fighting climate change, and we are deeply committed to making this happen through the Give Power Foundation,” said Hayes Barnard, SolarCity’s chief revenue officer and president of Give Power Foundation. “Now, every SolarCity customer will play a part in giving light to a community in need.”

Video screenshot credit: SolarCity

Each donated system comes with a battery backup. SolarCity has already installed a system a school in Nicaragua that doubles as a community center at night. Volunteers from a local village helped install the panels, providing energy to an area with no power grid.

"A lot of the seniors want to get educated, a lot of the elders within the organization want to get educated, and it also is a nice facility in the evenings for them to gather and celebrate," Barnard said. "That's why I think bringing electricity to some of these parts of the world that never had it before is so exciting and meaningful."

SolarCity operates in 14 states in the U.S. and has a goal of doubling the number of American homes with solar arrays by 2016. Its network includes at least 75 builders.

The company announced last month that it was reducing prices in Arizona as a response to a newly passed fee for customers of the state’s largest utility.

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

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Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."