By Micah Gold-Markel, founder of Solar States
Spencer Wright started life on the hard streets of North Philadelphia, born in an apartment near the corner of Broad and Girard streets. Spencer overcame long odds to eventually work on the Philadelphia Stock Exchange for many years. However, he stayed grounded in his humble beginnings and recognized that he wanted to change course and somehow both make money and give back to the community he came from.
So Spencer found his way to solar. He started as a warehouse clerk at Infinite Solar in Philadelphia and was then hired at Zep Solar as East Coast technical trainer. Spencer quickly rose through the ranks and piloted a quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) program during his time there. When Zep was acquired by SolarCity, Spencer traveled the country, becoming one of the best QA/QC experts for residential solar in the United States.
But Spencer was still not satisfied. While there is no doubt that solar is bettering communities across the globe, Spencer still yearned to make a more direct impact. After years with SolarCity, Spencer struck out on his own and formed the for-profit company Harness the Sun in New Jersey to train disadvantaged youth and adults how to install solar.
I met Spencer for the first time at a solar training session in New Jersey. We immediately bonded over the importance of quality solar installations and our mutual love for Van Jones’ book The Green Collar Economy. I had been teaching solar installation at YouthBuild Philly, an organization that takes students who have dropped out of high school and trains them in a vocation while simultaneously helping them complete traditional classroom learning to earn a GED. YouthBuild also happens to be located right across the street from Spencer’s birthplace.
Soon after, Spencer started volunteering at YouthBuild, where he helped build relationships inside the Philadelphia public school system, the Philadelphia Energy Authority and at nonprofits OIC Philadelphia and the Energy Coordinating Agency (ECA). Spencer has now taught and held graduation ceremonies for over 30 public school students, many of whom are now interning or working in the solar sector. Additionally, through OIC Philadelphia and ECA, Spencer has trained numerous adults who were unemployed or underemployed. Spencer is bringing much-needed diversity, both racial and economic, to solar. He’s living the model of The Green Collar Economy to ensure that “the green wave lifts all boats.”