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05.17.22

By: Hilary Sigler, External Communications Coordinator


In March 2022, SOLV Energy partnered with the Heart of America Foundation, Dometic, Goal Zero, Live Action, Construction Innovations, Mylo Fowler and Cal Poly students and faculty on Cal Poly’s Skip the Grid project in the Navajo Nation. This project brought together students from diverse areas of study under the guidance of the SOLV Energy team and partners to put Cal Poly's philosophy of "learn by doing" in action, together.

Skip the Grid is a continuation of the Lightmakers Project that was developed in 2019 with the goal of providing solar-powered electricity to homes in the Navajo Nation at no cost to the owners. Through this initiative, SOLV Energy and partners installed solar-powered systems that provide convenient, affordable refrigeration in Navajo homes lacking access to the grid.

Before traveling to the Navajo Nation to install the systems, the Cal Poly students analyzed energy demand, coordinated material transportation, created user manuals in the native language and raised awareness of the inequalities the Navajo people face each day.


Skip the Grid provided a very special opportunity for SOLV Energy team members and Cal Poly grads, Brandon Baxter and Jessie Klemme, to share their professional experience with students from their alma mater.

Brandon Baxter is a SOLV Energy Assistant Project Manager and graduated from CalPoly in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Management and Protection. Jessie Klemme is a SOLV Energy Project Manager and graduated from Cal Poly in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering and Construction Management.


Q: What was your takeaway from Skip the Grid?

BB: This was an eye-opening experience for me, and all involved. It was something that you do not see every day. It was different than anything I seen or experienced before.

JK: Each day, we work with panels in the 100,000+ scope. It is amazing to see what an impact just 4 panels can have on a home and a family. We take our power for granted, and in other areas it is a luxury. No powerlines cross the vast expanse of the Southwest, and the land is beautiful because of it. In the Navajo Nation they have respected the land and worked with it. It was a great feeling to be able to provide families a source of comfort while still maintaining the beauty and respecting their cultures.

Q: What tasks did you work on during this project?

BB: I was there to assist in supervising and assisting the CalPoly students on the installation of the solar panels.

JK: I was a mentor on Team Gold. My purpose was to help guide the Cal Poly students to a desirable outcome. I tried to be as hands off as much as possible, but I provided support and an extra hand especially when we were running cable, lights, battery assemblies with the interior set up.


Q: What was the experience like to work with current students from your alma mater?

BB: As an Cal Poly alum, it was awesome to see the students work in real time. It reminded me of how I was in college. They have a refreshing, "Save the World" mentality, which provided the experience with a sense of enthusiasm and motivation to do more for the families. The great thing about Cal Poly is having the opportunity to participate in real-world, hands-on experience, the students managed the majority of the process from start to finish.

JK: I am always excited whenever an opportunity presents itself to work with Cal Poly. The motto, “Learn by Doing” is engrained in the students and it aligns with what is needed in our ever-changing solar industry. Being able to think on your feet and to adapt is a critical skill where Cal Poly alumni excel. It was great listening to what each of the students was interested in, how the programs have grown since I graduated, and which collegiate competitions Cal Poly has seen successes. I was able to finally meet a summer intern in person that SOLV Energy recruited through the Society of Women Engineers at a virtual campus event. While she was assigned to a different solar site, being able to meet her before the internship and again after was interesting. I was able to hear about her experiences with SOLV Energy in an informal setting almost as a third party. While I loved hearing about all of the students’ stories, it was just as impactful to try to mentor them in the short period of time. I wanted to leave them with as much insight as I could and become a resource for them. Now I am looking forward to how Cal Poly builds their Renewable Energy Program!

Q: What do you hope to see from the students and Skip the Grid in the future?

BB: I want this to project to become something that happens a few times a year. I would love to see this project as a staple in the community that will continue to make an impact for years to come.

JK: I hope the relationship with SOLV Energy, Heart of America, Dometic and Cal Poly continues. If this becomes a regular course offered, then there is pipeline of students that will be exposed to the renewable field. More importantly, there would be continuous support in bringing solar to the more remote areas in our nation. I think this program was a great bonding experience for all involved!

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