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Coppin, Morgan, UMES among HBCUs looking to increase access to solar

7.2.10- BALTIMORE, MD- Lila Holzman, Project Lead from Astrum Solar, a solar installation firm in Maryland, carrying a solar panel accross the lawn of Jeff and Michele Manning. Photo by Maximilian Franz/ The Daily Record

In this file photo, Lila Holzman, project lead from Astrum Solar, a solar installation firm in Maryland, carries a solar panel across the lawn of Jeff and Michele Manning.  (Maximilian Franz/ The Daily Record)

Three of Maryland’s historically black universities were selected in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar in Your Community Challenge, designed to find ways to bring solar energy access to low- and moderate-income households.

Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, will collaborate as part of the HBCU Clean Energy Consortium, with up to $1 million on the line as part of a national competition.

Under the Solar in Your Community, competitors will develop a business model that can increase financial access to solar energy. Even after subsidies from energy companies, panels can cost thousands of dollars for consumers.

The consortium was created in January and signed an agreement with the Department of Energy in January to find ways to increase the number of  HBCU graduates working in STEM fields, bring alternative energy sources to communities in need and increase HBCU participation in economic innovations in the energy industry.

The Department of Energy estimates that the “efficiency” industry, which includes solar, added 300,000 new jobs in 2016.

“It seems like the solar sector is exploding across the country,” said Ellis Brown, director of Morgan State’s Community Mile, which will be participating in the challenge. “You can learn to install solar panels fairly easily.”

He anticipated creating jobs for people who might never earn a degree but could find a good job working in the industry.

The same industry expansion could help benefit students at Morgan State. Brown said the school has explored adding solar majors, minors or certifications.

However, it also said there has been a gap in which communities get served by solar energy, a gap the challenge hopes to address.

“The idea behind it makes such sense,” Brown said. “We can help low-income people keep some dollars in their pocket.”

Morgan State University has already implemented solar energy into the school’s surrounding community through its Community Mile program.

In 2016, school volunteers used a city investment of $200,000 to install panels on local homes, an impetus for what the HBCU Clean Energy Consortium is doing now.

The challenge will run through October 2018 and will pick a winner in January 2019.

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