The Honnold Foundation Fights Injustice with Renewable Energy


SEATTLE — There are 1.3 billion people worldwide who lack access to energy. As the demand for energy increases, more and more fossil fuels will be required to meet these needs. There has been a shift in focus to renewable energy in order to help meet the energy needs of billions worldwide. Alex Honnold is a professional rock climber hailing from Sacramento, CA. Like many rock climbers, he has adopted a life of simplicity, often living out of his van in order to pursue his passions full-time. With the help of fellow climber Maury Birdwell, the Honnold Foundation was born, and it has become a global force for bringing renewable energy to the third world.

The Honnold Foundation Makes an Impact with Its Solar Projects

The idea is simple: use renewable energy sources to help bring an end to energy poverty around the world. The foundation’s main function is to seek out organizations it describes as “bold and ethical” and provide them with grants to bring solar energy to impoverished areas of the world. The Borgen Project spoke with Dory Trimble, executive director of the Honnold Foundation. Trimble explained how the foundation receives its funding: “The foundation is supported by a broad network of donors, many of them from the outdoor community, as well as by Alex Honnold himself. When we first started, Alex donated a third of his annual income to the foundation–and today, he continues to provide a significant gift each year.”

Trimble then discussed the functions of the foundation: “Our impact is centered on the nonprofit partners we support–we provide them with grant funds, and they go off and do amazing things. We’re especially proud of our partnership with GRID Alternatives.”

The Honnold Foundation website notes that “Since 2001, GRID Alternatives has installed more than 9,500 photovoltaic solar electric systems, helping low-income families save over $300M in energy cost savings over the 25-year lifespan of the solar energy systems.” Not only has GRID been able to help low-income families save money on their energy costs, but it has also helped the fight against climate change: “The systems are expected to offset over 820,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent to planting over 17 million trees.” Furthermore, GRID has a volunteer system that trains people in the techniques of solar panel installation. Alex even joined the team himself to help with a project.

In an interview with California’s Adventure Sports Journal, the foundation’s co-founder Maury Birdwell talked about what the foundation actually does: “We act essentially as a back-end support system for our partners. By connecting them with the right people, providing funding, and/or giving them broader exposure, we try to enable projects that might have struggled otherwise or not gotten as far. We recognized early on that there’s a lot of talented, passionate experts out there and the shortage is not in good ideas, but making them happen.”

Expeditions Bring Solar Power to Rural Angola and Ethiopia

In 2015, the Honnold Foundation worked in Angola, where electrification rates are at 43 percent in cities and less than 10 percent in rural areas. Angola is a country targeted as having a high potential for renewable energy. Goal Zero, a company focusing on providing solar-powered products, ran a story on its blog about the expedition. Both Alex and Maury went to see the state of affairs in the country with their own eyes and bring some solar tech along with them to try and bring the solar movement to Angola. With their partners at SolarAid and Elephant Energy, they were able to install 100 home solar systems and strike an agreement with the Energy Minister to order 3,000 more.

What does the future hold for the Honnold Foundation? Trimble discussed the foundation’s plans: “The foundation is currently planning an expedition to Ethiopia to help raise funds for our work there with the Solar Energy Foundation. We’ll be going on a human-powered adventure, riding bikes between different service areas and chatting with project beneficiaries along the way. SEF [Solar Energy Foundation] is doing super innovative work in Ethiopia–they were the first people in the country to offer pay-as-you-go solar–and we’re proud to be supporting them.”

Ethiopia is located in sub-Saharan Africa, an area that has about 600 million living in energy poverty. Ethiopia itself has about 74 percent of its people living in energy poverty and it is a country ripe for renewable energy opportunities. Featured on the Honnold Foundation website is the story of Samson Tsegaye, SEF’s Ethiopia County Director. Growing up in the impoverished nation, Samson went on to become an engineer for a construction business. After witnessing the power of solar technology in Germany, Samson began his own mission to bring solar power to Ethiopia. This eventually led him to SEF and subsequently the Honnold Foundation, who has given SEF grant money to continue Samson’s work in Ethiopia.

The Honnold Foundation is a global force for good on multiple levels. Not only is it providing solar energy for those who normally would not be able to afford it, saving countries millions in energy costs, but it is also reducing the overall carbon footprint of those individuals and countries. It has all been accomplished through the generosity and selflessness of two individuals who found similar passions in rock climbing and providing renewable energy to those deprived of it.

– Zachary Farrin
Photo: Flickr


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