Interview with Avni Pravin, Program Associate, Low-income Inclusion Program Associate at Solstice

by Margo Bailey, Community Outreach Manager, United Nations Association of Greater Boston

Avni Pravin is excited about the latest project to be completed at Solstice, an alumni of Impact Hub Boston. The project, which was financed by Sunwealth and built by Team Solar, is the company’s first-ever 100% low-to-middle-income project serving 14 families in Southern, MA. What does this mean? Solstice has given 14 deserving families the opportunity to get a 20% guaranteed discount on their energy bill by subscribing to a community solar project. The project, along with all of Solstice’s work, ties closely with United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

Community solar projects are designed to give those living in areas where solar panels aren’t feasible – such as rental apartments or in homes that do not get enough sun exposure – the opportunity to participate in off-site solar farms. The solar energy generated on these community farms gets fed back into the grid, and the solar farm’s subscribers are paid via credits on their electric bill. Companies like Solstice make this possible by managing the logistics with utility companies and solar developers for community members. 

Pravin has long been an advocate for environmental justice and joined Solstice after completing her masters degree in environmental studies at the University of Oregon. She studied urban flooding and its disparate impacts on low-income communities and communities of color, sparking a deeper interest in program implementation. Solstice was a great fit after graduation. Solstice was co-founded by Steph Speirs and Sandhya Murali, two female social entrepreneurs who have worked in developing countries to power remote communities with clean energy. Upon the realization that people in the U.S. also faced inequitable energy access, Speirs and Murali started Solstice as a for-profit technology start-up and non-profit providing energy justice. 

Avni Pravin holds a sign saying "7" Affordable and Clean Energy"

Avni Pravin of Solstice

Can you explain Solstice’s value proposition for businesses and for society?

For solar developers, Solstice provides unique value through their algorithm, the EnergyScore, which is used in place of a FICO credit score to determine eligible customers. While FICO scores only take into account the negative actions of customers, the EnergyScore also takes into account positive payment behavior, such as paying a bill on-time. In other words, if you pay your bills on-time for two years before being late to pay one bill, the EnergyScore will factor in your on-time payments in order to determine your score. This holistic score is more inclusive, making an additional 5.5 million customers in MA and NY eligible to enroll in solar fardens [fractional units] via Solstice’s services. 

For society, Solstice makes clean energy more accessible to low-income communities and helps households lessen their environmental impact. The EnergyScore is also a key factor here, as it shows that many low-income people have overwhelmingly positive payment behavior with only the occasional late bill. This opens up many more opportunities for people who are unjustly locked out of the current community solar market due to unnecessary and exclusionary FICO score requirements. 

Further, low-income communities also bear the largest energy burden. They do not have the disposable income to invest in the up-front costs of clean energy and they are the most susceptible to economic damages during environmental disasters and service outages. By providing them an affordable way to access solar, Solstice gives these communities more reliable, clean energy that also ends up being cheaper.  

There are many targets within SDG 7; which of them do you focus on?

Our work most closely relates to the following Sustainable Development Goal Targets:

  • 7.1 By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services
  • 7.2 By 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

What is your second-favorite SDG and why?

SDG 5: Gender Equality because I know from experience that the framework for this goal is strong and the programmatic work–like what is being done with microloans for female entrepreneurs–is of great interest to me.

Any calls to action? How can our readers make your work more impactful?

Take Back the Grid is a fantastic organization to follow. Currently, they are working to expose the corruption and profiteering of investor-owned utilities in Massachusetts, and advocating for publicly-owned utilities with more equitable and democratic oversight systems. They also advocate for a unionized, decolonized, and decarbonized energy system going forward. 

Additionally, if you want to go solar yourself, you can fill out an interest form here: https://solstice.us/go-solar/

Even if there isn’t a solar farm near you today, we’ll add you to a waitlist and let you know when one gets built that you can join!