Twenty fellows and 10 senior fellows were announced this month as participants in the TED Fellow program, which was established to bring together innovators from around the world to address global issues. This 2018 class will participate in extensive training and networking — then they will give a talk at TED2018 in Vancouver in April.
There’s a Charlotte name on the 2018 list: DeAndrea Salvador.
Salvador is a 27-year-old, fifth-generation Charlottean who founded the nonprofit RETI (or Renewable Energy Transition Initiative) to educate local communities and leaders about energy conservation, which emphasizes behavior changes. Her main aim right now is to sustainably decrease energy costs faced by families living in energy poverty.
That’s one of her most often-used terms — energy poverty. According to the RETI website, energy poverty occurs when a household is spending more than 10 percent of its income on energy expenses annually.
Those in energy poverty have a harder time making ends meet, with a greater likelihood of living with food insecurity and housing insecurity, Salvador said.
She couldn’t stop thinking about the term when she was a senior at UNC Charlotte. She was pregnant. It was winter. And her thoughts kept returning to her childhood in the Yorkmount area of Charlotte, where she consistently recalls a neighbor with a modest income talking about how cold her home was.
Salvador was about to graduate with a degree in economics and a minor in anthropology. She was also learning about energy and environmental economics.
“It really just all clicked into place,” she said.
She had her son, established her 501(c)3 nonprofit, RETI, and participated in the 2014 SEED20 competition in Charlotte. She landed a partnership with the National Renewable Energy Corporation and more relationships within the sector, and she started to get funding to implement RETI’s educational goals.
One goal is to spread awareness about the fact that anyone can be an “energy hero,” or an energy conservationist.
“It’s really whatever you can do right now,” she said, depending on disposable income.
An energy hero could weatherize their windows in the winter with weather stripping or plastic film. An energy hero could install LED night lights, or use a programmable thermostat. An energy hero company could invest in renewable energy.
Now married, with two kids, Salvador hopes to take bigger steps with energy conservation in the future, like retrofitting homes. But she is patiently “looking at where can we start to move the needle even a little bit right now,” she said.
So far, RETI has spread its educational efforts through a series with the Boys and Girls Club, the Girl Scouts, churches, community centers and neighborhood associations. They have expanded to larger events, such as an Energy Hero Festival, activities with the Knights ballpark, an ImaginOn science festival, training environmental leaders at Hygge (home of her office), and working on educational framework and engagement with the North End Smart District to decrease energy costs. RETI is now working on an energy resiliency report to present to city leadership.
“It’s really just popping up at different places, getting creative about it,” she said. “…Though we are environmentally leaning — there is huge environmental benefit — at the heart of it is making families more comfortable and giving them tools to do so.”
She applied to be a TED fellow with the hope to collaborate with people doing great things around the world, and to learn how to implement structural changes in her work.
“I think that getting out of our silos and talking to people that are so different is really important,” she said.
Before the April TED talk, Salvador has more video chats and brainstorming sessions with the other fellows and organizers on her schedule. Like the others, she will have mere minutes to speak about an idea.
“They like for a talk to be something you can come away from inspired or really informed,” she said of the program directors.
She imagines her words will revolve around energy poverty, but she’s not worried about what she’ll say. As long as it offers one tiny spark for change, just like RETI’s educational approach.
“I’ve always worked with nonprofits and I know that change can be slow moving, but sometimes it does move,” she said.
You just need to see the bigger picture of what you’re working for, she said. For her, that involves a world that offers more choices for energy sources, that has a different way of charging for energy so it’s more equitable, and that uses energy efficiency measures for affordable housing preservation.
“It’s a lot of work,” she said, “but I see that bigger picture.”
Photos: Salvador.Photography // Physical Chemistry Design