October 05, 2022

Installer Spotlight: Sphere Solar Energy

Sphere Solar Energy

A school in Puerto Rico. An orphanage in Haiti. A rural village in Kenya. All three now have access to the benefits of renewable solar power thanks to Edwin Wanji and his non-profit, Sphere One, which aims to unlock clean energy education for communities all over the world.

Edwin is also the founder of Seattle-based solar installation company, Sphere Solar Energy. He started the company in 2015 to help Pacific Northwest residents access clean energy, as well as promote energy equity and social justice by driving solar adoption in international and local minority communities. Sphere Solar has already installed more than 3.5 megawatts of solar for local homes and businesses across the region.

Edwin Teaching - Caguas School

 

An interest sparked

Edwin knows well what it’s like to live without reliable access to energy. Growing up in Kenya, he attended boarding schools that had sporadic electricity at best, which often made it impossible for the students to study in the evenings. A naturally curious kid and hands-on learner, Edwin figured out how to create makeshift lights from used batteries and lightbulbs, which first sparked his interest in energy resilience. “I was always trying to fiddle with things to figure out ways to get light,” he said in a recent conversation with Enphase. “It really showed me the necessity of energy. After 6 PM we were in darkness.”

After he graduated, Edwin spent some time traveling abroad and working in construction and mechanical engineering. In 2008, he landed a maintenance job with the City of Seattle, where he continued to gain experience working with mechanical and electrical systems. It wasn’t until he was hired by a solar installer that his interest in energy was fully rekindled, and he started personally installing solar systems for his friends in the area. He quickly realized how gratifying it was to build energy resilience in his community, and he wanted to expand his reach to those that need it the most.

Promoting global energy equity

Marginalized and frontline communities disproportionately bear the negative health and economic impacts of fossil fuel pollution and climate change. These communities also tend to lack the resources and opportunities to access clean energy and its benefits. With Sphere One, Edwin is determined to fight these inequities, one project at a time. “My goal is to find the people most affected and most marginalized by climate change and focus my efforts there, where they can have the greatest impact,” he said.

For example, a 9 kW solar array paired with batteries now provides reliable electricity to a rural environmental school in Puerto Rico, where the electrical grid infrastructure was destroyed by Hurricane Maria in 2017. “The school had lost power for about 14 months,” said Edwin. “It was important to us to find a way to ensure energy resilience for the students and teachers, regardless of grid issues in the future.”

Sphere One is currently working on building a solar-powered well for a school in Kenya, where the students spend hours every week walking to a gas-powered well or risk their health drinking contaminated water from a local river. “This is a really remote part of the world with few resources,” Edwin commented. “A solar-powered well will make a huge impact for the health and future of these kids.”

Edwin collaborates closely with local and global partners to identify target communities and finance and build projects. Funding comes mostly through donations and grants, but Sphere Solar also contributes a set portion of its profits to financing Solar One’s international projects.

Edwin Teaching - Caguas School

 

Community-led impact

Edwin’s community-driven ethos is deeply engrained in Sphere Solar, which has led initiatives in energy equity, clean energy education, and workforce training in local minority and marginalized communities. Sphere Solar partners with local schools and youth organizations to educate students that may not otherwise have the opportunity to learn about renewable energy, and it runs hands-on internships and workshops to foster interest in clean energy jobs.

Earlier this year, Sphere Solar commissioned a 32.5 kW solar system on a community building for the Suquamish Tribe, a Native American group located in present-day Washington. The ribbon-cutting ceremony featured hands-on educational activities and discussions with solar professionals, as well as a traditional music performance and freshly made Native American fry bread. This multicultural, integrated celebration perfectly epitomizes the social inclusion, energy equity, and community collaboration that Edwin hopes will become more common.

Partners in long-lasting quality

As an Enphase Platinum level installer, Sphere Solar has a long track record of delivering high-quality systems paired with quality customer service. “I first became interested in Enphase microinverters in part because they were covered by a 25-year warranty when most of the industry only offered 10-year warranties,” Edwin commented. “That tells me that my clients can rely on these systems to last for the long run.”

As someone energized by human connection, Edwin also values his longstanding partnership with Enphase. “I’m a big personal believer in building meaningful relationships,” he said. “I appreciate that Enphase has provided us with the quality and support we’ve needed throughout the years.”

Caguas School Batteries

 

One project at a time

Sphere Solar’s admirable work is a good reminder that a solar array can not only power a home, but it can also enable students to study, power wells that deliver clean drinking water, and even transform an entire village.

Through Sphere Solar and Sphere One, Edwin remains dedicated to promoting social inclusion and community empowerment. “There’s still a big gap around energy equity, which means there’s lots of opportunity for improvement to support local and marginalized communities,” he said.

“I’m happy to work on these small grassroots efforts to contribute to the cause, one project at a time.”

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