Resources for Community Organizations

Empowering disadvantaged communities with clean energy technology

Two people install solar panels on the roof of a house while two others stand and converse near the house.

Young trainee installing actual solar panels as part of a class project for the new Solar Installation training at Launch Point. (Photo courtesy of Launch Point CDC, Inc.)

Are you a community organizer interested in learning more about launching a clean energy program? Would you like to launch a program, but aren’t sure where to start? Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)—in collaboration with Launch Point CDC, Inc.—is developing resources to support a transformative approach to community engagement and workforce development, tailored to uplift disadvantaged communities (DACs) as clean energy technologies are deployed. Drawing from PNNL’s extensive clean energy research and Launch Point’s 30 years of community development experience, these resources aim to aid community centers nationwide in launching their own clean energy technology programs.

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Why are clean energy programs important for DACs?

Four people talking outdoors
PNNL Researcher Ebony Mayhorn speaks with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee at a Launch Point "Back 2 School" community event. Launch Point engaged the community on heat pump technologies and disseminated educational materials. (Photo courtesy of Launch Point CDC, Inc.)

When all communities have access to clean energy and energy-efficient technologies, everyone wins!  

Residents may experience: 

  • Lower utility bills, thereby decreasing energy burdens  
  • Increased comfort within the home (temperatures closer to the thermostat setpoint, decreased drafts, moisture protection, etc.) 
  • Health benefits due to improved air quality

The community may benefit through: 

  • Economic development via access to new training and in-demand job opportunities  
  • Infrastructure upgrades that improve living conditions
  • Increased electrical grid stability, thereby reducing power outages during peak demand times and natural disasters) 

Including frontline DACs in efforts to increase access to such technologies can be the most efficient and practical road to access for all communities. This approach is essential for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to): 

  • Equity and justice: DACs are often disproportionately impacted by climate change, so their voices and perspectives are critical in ensuring equitable solutions to mitigate those impacts. 
  • Local expertise: Many DACs have community centers or organizations with unique, valuable, and diverse insights into local sustainability practices, traditional knowledge, and community-based solutions.  
  • Behavioral change: Engaging DACs can help shift behaviors and energy consumption patterns, enabling these communities to serve as role models and influencers for other communities. 
  • Local buy-in: For clean energy initiatives to succeed, they need local support. Actively engaging DACs from the start increases the likelihood of supporting and sustaining those efforts over time. 
  • Faster progress: The combined impact of all these factors can significantly expedite the adoption of clean energy technology programs at scale. 

Now that you know why energy programs are increasingly important for DACs, keep reading for ideas and resources related to community engagement and workforce training that will give you a head start in program development and implementation in your community.

Community engagement

Approach

(See community engagement approach checklist)

Flow chart of five steps for community engagement: Leveraging events, outreach material tailored for impact, gathering feedback, quantifying benefits of clean energy technologies, and finding pathways to affordability.

Leveraging events

Community organizations have long recognized the significance of local events in furthering connections and delivering vital information and assistance to community members. Leveraging planned community events provides a unique opportunity to discuss initiatives, supply information about available programs, build relationships, and provide assistance. These events serve as crucial touchpoints for expanding awareness, increasing demand, offering educational material, gathering input, and fostering a sense of community. 

Outreach material tailored for impact

Creating material for community engagement and education is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. People and communities are unique, so outreach and educational materials should be created to resonate with the backgrounds, experiences, and needs of the community members the organization serves.  

For example, Launch Point and PNNL collaborated on designing and deploying outreach material that was introduced during a Launch Point back-to-school event in Houston, Texas. During the event, the project team interacted with 400–500 attendees and disseminated the Captain Launch flyer (pictured below). The approach involved introducing a relatable character presenting easy-to-digest facts and addressing community-specific energy-related concerns. The intent of the tailored content was to ensure that the message reached, resonated with, and empowered Houstonians to take action. Use this template to create your own Captain Launch flyer.

Front and back of a sample flyer to demonstrate a strategy for community engagement. Flyer features a cartoon superhero.
View the full-size image

Gathering feedback

Feedback is the compass that guides progress, and success ultimately hinges on learning from your community. The process should include gathering feedback about community interests, needs, and aspirations. Creating an ongoing, open dialog helps refine programs and materials, ensuring that they remain relevant, effective, and aligned with the community’s evolving needs.

If you are conducting formal research, you will need to abide by the protocols established by your organization, which may require the submission of an application for the approval of research involving human subjects. The Houston project's Institutional Review Board application was submitted as part of PNNL's Human Subjects Research protocol. Approval of the application allowed the project team to collect community feedback.

At the back-to-school event described above, the Launch Point team asked adults who received the flyer to complete a brief survey about their interest in energy-related topics and the usefulness of the provided material.

Pie chart that represents the distribution of answers to a survey question. Ten people surveyed said "maybe," another ten people said "no," and 37 people said "yes."
Answers to the question, "Was the Captain Launch flyer about lowering energy bills useful?"
Survey questions
  1. Are you interested in paid energy bill assistance?
  2. Are you interested in heat pump or solar to lower your energy bills?
  3. Are you interested in having your home air sealed and insulated?
  4. Was the Captain Launch flyer about lowering energy bills useful?

By integrating clean energy initiatives with local events and offering tailored educational materials, the designed approach was successful in reaching and engaging the community. The survey responses illuminated areas of improvement and helped the team adapt the approach to meet real-world challenges effectively.  

The Houston project exemplifies the transformative potential of community-centered strategies—but more feedback about the approach and engagement in future events are needed to drive ongoing program progress. Your program can create surveys using available services such as: 

Quantifying benefits of clean energy technologies

To better assist Launch Point in identifying energy technologies that could alleviate energy burden in the targeted northeast Houston community, an analysis was conducted to evaluate common retrofit scenarios. Five prototypical homes were defined based on prevalent characteristics, considering data acquired from Launch Point, local utilities, the local weatherization assistance program (WAP) subgrantee, and public surveys. Using the Department of Energy (DOE) Building Energy Optimization (BEopt) tool, 16 retrofit scenarios were evaluated for each home and were analyzed for their effectiveness in reducing the household's energy burden and increasing its carbon dioxide equivalent savings. Each scenario consisted of a combination of common retrofit technologies, including:

  • Air sealing (AS)
  • HVAC upgrades—with and without fuel switching (FS)
  • Heat pump (HP)
  • Photovoltaics (PV)
  • Heat pump water heater (HPWH)
  • Battery storage (BES)
Horizontal bar chart that shows energy-related cost savings in dollars per month for five different homes.
High and low electricity rates used: $0.17/kWh, $0.10/kWh. (View the full-size image)

The simulation findings suggest that communities with similar energy costs, energy burdens, and grid stability concerns may benefit from using HVAC FS, HP, and PV with BES to alleviate financial burdens and address resiliency issues. However, climate, infrastructure, and community needs are unique and tailored retrofit solutions should be explored to determine the best options for each target community. The following resources will help you conduct a similar BEopt analysis for your community: 

  • General BEopt training 
  • Using BEopt
  • Exploring Benefits and Affordability of Clean Energy Technologies in Urban Disadvantaged Communities (coming soon): This journal article, written by the PNNL team, delves into the modeling approach and results of the Houston project. 

Additional modeling resources that may be valuable are the National Energy Audit Tool (NEAT) and the Manufactured Home Energy Audit (MHEA). The WAP uses these tools to conduct pre-weatherization energy audits and are often used by local utilities for income-qualified weatherization programs. The following are user resources for NEAT and MHEA: 

Finding pathways to affordability

(Coming soon)

Workforce training

Approach

(See workforce training approach checklist)

Flow chart of steps for workforce training, including selecting curriculum, wrap-around services, recruitment, setting up hands-on lab, apprenticeship, and partnering for amplified impact.

Selecting curriculum

The curriculum selection process stems from a comprehensive understanding of industry demands and trainees' needs. In partnership with Launch Point, six-week and nine-week HVAC training courses were developed for the Houston project, each including a section on HPs.  

The Houston curriculum design blends theoretical insights with practical skills in both classroom and hands-on settings, ensuring trainees are equipped for success in new job fields. With the inclusion of HP training, trainees are well prepared for the clean energy jobs of the future and to pass the tests for their air conditioning and refrigerant licenses through the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

Like retrofit solutions, curriculum development will be unique to your community. The training course(s) you design should be climate specific and focused on community benefits, with particular attention paid to workforce needs by leveraging input from community members, trade organizations, and industry professionals alike. (See Partnering for amplified impact.) 

Recruitment and wrap-around services

Of the recruitment techniques employed by Launch Point, flyers and “word of mouth” have been the most successful aspects of the team’s outreach. Once interest is expressed, the program implements a prescreening process that involves completing a general application for training; assessing an applicant's background, interests, readiness, and service needs; and selecting classes that may interest them. A case manager outlines the applicant's existing skills and competence, determining their eligibility and ability to complete the course. 

Each applicant's readiness for training is determined by their eligibility, willingness to start promptly, and competence. It is important for the recruitment materials to advertise the assistance available for applicants and trainees that address common barriers to program entry and successful completion. Courses should also be designed with flexibility in mind. To help transition from applicant to trainee, trainees were provided with literacy and basic math refreshers, and mentoring. Social services included job readiness coaching, mentoring, and guidance to help trainees overcome challenges in the HVAC industry.

Launch Point notes that to be successful in training, participants may need services prior to entering the program, such as:

  • Mentoring 
  • GED courses 
  • Basic mathematics refresher 
  • Job coaching 

Use this template to create your own recruitment flyer.

Setting up hands-on lab

Four people looking at HVAC equipment.
The hands-on lab serves as an experimental hub that nurtures practical expertise and fosters a deeper understanding of HVAC systems. (Photo courtesy of Launch Point CDC, Inc.)

Theory comes alive through practice. The hands-on lab is a crucial bridge that transforms knowledge into real-world skills. It allows trainees to engage with HVAC technology, troubleshoot real scenarios, and build the confidence needed for their employment. 

In Houston, the course instructor noted that trainees were intimidated by course materials and equipment. This highlights the importance of having comprehensive courses that include hands-on training, so that trainees can become comfortable and confident before they are expected to perform in the workforce. The lab serves as an experiential hub that nurtures practical expertise and fosters a deeper understanding of HVAC systems. It also serves as a trial run of sorts, allowing trainees to experience the reality of the work without fear of failure. Here is a list of equipment purchased for the Launch Point hands-on HVAC training lab. This list may be used to set up a similar lab in your community.

Apprenticeship

Launch Point has successfully partnered with a major collaborator to secure business opportunities for the apprenticeship and job training program. Five students have been entered into the program, and the placement office will continue to connect them with employment opportunities. Additional information and resources are coming soon.

Partnering for amplified impact

Partnering with local organizations, businesses, and educational institutions enhances the depth and reach of workforce training initiatives. Additionally, partnership is essential for addressing gaps in funding and providing concrete pathways into the workforce. Harnessing collective resources creates a synergy that benefits trainees and strengthens the community ecosystem.

Forging Ahead

Program development continues with a commitment to continuous improvement by taking the following steps:  

  • Learn from community engagement at future events 
  • Establish long-term, collaborative feedback loops with engaged community members 
  • Create concrete paths to affordable clean energy technologies 
  • Integrate advanced technology in workforce training courses 
  • Enrich training with cutting-edge tools, simulators, and renewable energy equipment to better prepare trainees for the dynamic demands of the industry 
  • Create inclusive programs that address the barriers to entry that community members may be facing 
  • Provide precursory mathematics basics and aptitude training to inspire, motivate, and foster success for all workforce training course participants 
  • Update recruitment and educational materials in response to feedback 
  • Expand program paths

As Launch Point continues to develop its programs, its focus is on developing pre-training courses, securing meaningful job placements for trainees, furnishing them with tangible prospects for enduring career success, and providing a comprehensive roadmap to realistic retrofits that bring communities beyond a minimum-cost approach.  

Guided by the partnership of PNNL and Launch Point, this project hopes to provide a comprehensive, packaged solution so community centers nationwide can cultivate enduring change. The roadmap to success is marked by holistic support, comprehensive training, and partnerships that transcend classroom confines. Together, we pave the way for a future replete with education, empowerment, and unbounded opportunity. Join us in bringing communities forward without pushing them out.

Resource list 

See the full list of resources linked throughout this page:

Contact us

If you are interested in launching a similar clean energy program in your community, please contact:

Ebony Mayhorn 
Ebony.Mayhorn@PNNL.gov