Solar Pioneers
Solar Pioneers
Solar Pioneers

Solar Pioneers


New York

As members of the community, organized by local non-profit, Nehemiah Economic Development, Solar Pioneers overcome challenges of introducing new technology to bring >400 kW of solar to >100 homes within the 4,500 Nehemiah homes of Brownsville and East New York by 10/31/18. Solar Pioneers prepare for clean energy careers while supporting 30 local full-time jobs and >$3 million in local economic benefit.

Awarded:: Seed Funds, TA Voucher, Participant

Team Information

Team Lead
Malcolm Bliss
Team Lead LinkedIn Profile
View Profile
New York

Project Description

Project / Program Description

Level  Solar – Nehemiah Economic Development

Solar Pioneers Project

Solar in Your Community Team Application

Urgent Need
Nehemiah Economic Development (N.E.D.) and Level Solar apply as a team called “Solar Pioneers” to deliver a Solar in Your Community Challenge (SIYCC) project. N.E.D. and Level Solar have previously collaborated in outreach to serve the residents of Central and East Brooklyn in New York City, especially residents of Nehemiah Homes in the Brownsville and East New York neighborhoods.  

Solar Pioneers will address severe inequities in Brownsville and East New York. Brownsville is an area with a median household income of $27,000 where 36% of residents live below the federal poverty line.[1]East New York with median household income of $32,362 is similarly distressed.[2]Unemployment is high[3].At the same time, these neighborhoods face some of the highest utility electricity prices in the nation, with the greater New York area paying 36% more than the nationwide average.[4] As part of the Brooklyn-Queens Demand Management area, these communities face electricity shortages including the prospects of brownouts[5]and rooftop solar energy will help mitigate those shortages.

Until June 2016,it was unthinkable to residents of Nehemiah Homes in Brownsville and East New York that they would have access to solar energy. Nehemiah Homes are 4,500 affordable single-family housing units with estimated 16 mW of rooftop solar potential built starting in the 1980s with the support of non-profit organizations and the City of New York.  Through the NYSERDA-sanctioned Solarize Brownsville Program in 2016, Level Solar installed solar on more than100 Nehemiah homes. Solar Pioneers will use innovative strategies to continue the success of Solarize Brownsville to bring solar energy including savings on electricity and tax incentives to an additional 100 homes. This project will create a re-usable model that continues to serve Brownsville and East New York and can be replicated in other LMI communities nationwide.  

Exceptional Team

Having collaborated during the NYSERDA Solarize Brownsville Program and recently introduced N.E.D.’s “Solar Scholarships”, N.E.D. and Level Solar will continue to expand access to solar in the Nehemiah homes and establish a replicable program targeted for The Bronx and Yonkers NY, Boston and New Bedford MA, Newark NJ, and nationwide.

N.E.D. is a501(C)(3) not-for-profit community-based organization founded in 1994 for the economic development of the Nehemiah Housing Community. N.E.D has grown from a small group with no resources to include redevelopment of neglected properties and the provision of scholarships to local children. It is N.E.D's goal to transform vacant lots and abandoned buildings in Brownsville and East New York into affordable housing and further revitalize the community. 

Executive Director of N.E.D., Mawuli Hormeku, grew up in the Nehemiah homes with impactful memories of watching his father fight to improve the community. Mawuli is a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School, received his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Master's of Education from Boston College. He also holds an additional Masters of Arts in Educational Policy and Social Analysis from Columbia University's Teacher College. N.E.D uses a social entrepreneurship approach designed for LMI communities to provide incentives for work and education to youth by creating college pathway initiatives, workforce development, and merit incentives.

Level Solar is a mission-driven solar installer founded in New York in 2013 that has completed over 2,000 residential solar installations in NY and MA while retaining the highest customer experience ratings in the nation on and a 100%-positive, A+ rating from Better Business Bureau.  Level Solar is honored to have been selected by New York State’s NY Green Bank for multi-million dollar investments in support of the state’s renewable energy goals. As part of its core business, Level Solar maintains a working relationship with NY Green Bank and US Bank. These relationships provide financing to enable Level Solar to offer affordable solar energy with no-cost installations. 

Innovative Strategy

Youth ages 16to 19 supported by a stipend will work as Solar Pioneers within the Brownsville and East New York communities, engaging residents to build awareness and encourage solar adoption.  Residents will be more receptive to information about solar if they hear it from a fellow community member. The innovative strategy that will drive success is based on the following elements:

·        Employ a social-entrepreneurship, curriculum-based approach designed for LMI communities to provide a unique professional and education experience for youth from Brownsville and East New York who serve as Solar Pioneers. Achieve a goal of providing the 6-week Start-up Experience including N.E.D. certificate of achievement to 12 Solar Pioneers who continue to outreach after the Start-up Experience.

·        Focus on serving residents of Brownsville and East New York who live in Nehemiah homes suitable for solar and are receptive to outreach from members of the local community. Achieve a goal of installing solar on >100 homes during the period of performance.

·        Continue the offer of solar energy via an accessible[6],no-cost-installation Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) supported by NY Green Bank and US Bank, previously offered under the NYSERDA Solarize Brownsville program. Achieve a goal of providing solar energy at no cost to residents other than the cost of electricity produced by the solar panels.

·        Use Level Solar’s “Solar Advocate” application for mobile devices, which is fully tested and in early stage deployment, so each Solar Pioneer knows the status of all candidate solar homes that he or she has identified and to support viral adoption of solar. Achieve a goal that for every home to go solar, the Solar Advocate app is installed on at least one other phone.

Using above strategic elements, Solar Pioneers will during the Start-up Experience and thereafter reach out to residents of Nehemiah Homes to inform them of the benefits of solar. For residents who are interested, Solar Pioneers will record name and contact information using the Solar Advocate mobile application so that Level Solar can follow-up to schedule an in-home consultation.  Solar Pioneers will be supervised by N.E.D. and receive their SIYCC-seed-money-enabled stipend of $250 per week from N.E.D augmented by a $250incentive from Level Solar provided to the Solar Pioneer for each home he or she identifies that goes solar during the period of performance.


The Solar Pioneers Program consists of a curriculum-guided series of steps that will be run once in 2017 and once in 2018, as indicated in the following Gantt chart and table.  The curriculum provides guidance through each step.

Please visit this link to view the Gantt chart: 


Curriculum Guided Approach

Recruiting & Selection

·   Identify Solar Pioneers with aptitude and interest for outreach

·   Work with the N.E.D. network including  Workforce 1, Job Plus, NYCHA Residential Economic Empowerment &  Sustainability, Brooklyn Public Library-Stone Ave, Central Brooklyn Economic  Development, Frederick Douglas Academy,  Brownsville Academy, Brooklyn Ascend High School, LaGuardia College, Community Board 16. 

Start-up Training 

·   Deliver 20 hours of inside training  using the following modules: Fundamentals of Solar, Theory of Public Outreach,  Public Contact and Safety, Solar Pioneer Process, On-Message Fidelity, and Mobile  App Proficiency.  

Start-up Mentored Outreach

·   Integrate 20 hours of mentor-led  field experience with one experienced Level Solar mentor for every two Solar  Pioneers.

·   Solar Pioneers make contact with 100  residents per week to educate them about solar and use the Solar Advocate Mobile App to request service for interested residents.

·   Solar Pioneers work in pairs for more effective engagement and accountability. 

·   Daily skills development and  work-support session with field supervisor.

Ongoing Outreach

·   Solar Pioneers use skills gained  during Start-up Experience to continue identifying solar homes during the  course of their other work or studies with on-call support and assistance  from Level Solar


·   Using a radius strategy, Solar  Pioneers engage residents in the vicinity of installations.

·   No-cost installation with  best-in-the-nation customer experience.


The following financial support from Solar In Your Community Challenge will enable this incremental outreach and solar impact. Without funding from SIYCC or other outside funding this outreach, impact, and innovation will not occur.

Please visit this link to view the financials: 


Solar Pioneers has a goal of installing >400 kW of solar on >100 homes, the great majority of which are low-to-moderate income. Achieving this goal will save money for residents as reflected in the local economic impact table below and avoid 22,700 tons of carbon emissions over the life of the installations.  

The program will provide a unique and invaluable experience for the participating Solar Pioneers. The experience will orient them to participate in the clean energy industry for the rest of their careers and provide them with valuable skills they can bring to the job market in the near term. 

The Solar Pioneers model including the use of the Solar Advocate mobile app is re-usable in Brooklyn beyond the period of performance and targeted for repeated use in The Bronx and Yonkers NY, Boston and New Bedford MA, Newark NJ, and nationwide.Each new use of the Solar Pioneers model offers the potential to deliver more benefits and many mW of solar deployment with hundreds of mW of solar potential nation-wide. Any prize money awarded will be put toward development and application of models for solar adoption in LMI communities and further development of the Solar Scholarships program.

The estimated local economic impact resulting from Solar Pioneers effort during the period of performance is shown in the table below. Benefits from repeated use of the Solar Pioneers model will be many times the impact shown below and will increase the more the model is employed.


Impact From Solar Pioneers During Period Of Performance Over 20 Year Horizon*





Economic  Impact Of LMI Housing On-Premises 





Economic  Impact Of Local Level Solar Employment





Grand  Total




* See for supporting information

Advancing the Solar Market

Solar energy has been available disproportionately to higher-income households. With agreements resulting in over 100 installations, the NYSERDA-sanctioned Solarize Brownsville Program indicates that an accessible, no-cost PPA combined with the social entrepreneurship approach designed for LMI communities by N.E.D can be an effective way to reach unserved households. 

Solar Pioneers will go beyond the results of Solarize Brownsville using the innovative strategy and plan described above to bring money-saving solar to communities in need. Given success in Brownsville and East New York, the Solar Pioneers model is targeted for continued use in Brooklyn beyond the period of performance and for repeated use to unlock solar potential across The Bronx and Yonkers NY, Boston and New Bedford MA, Newark NJ, and hundreds of mW of solar potential nationwide. This project will advance the solar market through a social entrepreneurship model designed for LMI communities that provides invaluable work experience and career opportunity in a fast-growing industry, uses mobile application technology, and brings an accessible, no-cost PPA to underserved markets. 

[1] Hunter College, “Healthy Brownsville” May 2016,  pages 9 and 11;

[3] 16% Unemployment. Community Health Profile 2015 p.6,

[4] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Average Energy Prices ”November 2016,

[5]BKreader “Brownsville’s Dwindling Power” 2/24/16;Reuters U.S. “Heatwave Causes Brownouts in NYC” 7/22/11;Reuters “Con Edison Trims Voltage… ” 6/20/12

[6] No income or wealth qualifications. Solarize Brownsville program has demonstrated that residents of Nehemiah Homes can meet the required credit score of 650.

Application Video
Application Video
Project Updates

Solar Pioneers are meeting regularly and preparing to reach out to participants.