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It’s easy, entrepreneur Mark Davis explained, to pinpoint a particular moment when he knew that he and his company, WDC Solar, were on the right path for the right purpose. 

“I got the call from the Obama administration, and they invited me to his final State of the Union address,” Davis said. “I sat in the booth with [Michelle Obama]. … I met with a couple of directors of agencies, and then to top it off with dinner at the White House, and then that special ride down to the Capitol — I’ll always remember that moment.” 

The invitation had a special resonance for Davis because it was Obama’s first presidential run that initially inspired him to pursue a business opportunity in the solar industry. The campaign’s emphasis on renewable energy struck a chord with him, and he started talking to people and studying the solar industry. 

“This whole idea of using solar to combat climate change, and to create jobs and reduce energy costs for low-income people living in the District of Columbia — that’s why I got into it,” Davis said. 

When he first founded WDC Solar in 2009, the Ward 8-based company became one of the first solar installers in the District. He pushed city leaders and agencies to establish the incentives and programs needed to get the industry off the ground locally. The financial infrastructure that makes solar thrive in D.C. today — such as installation options for low-income homeowners and a strong market for selling energy credits — just didn’t exist yet. 

“The biggest hurdle probably would be just staying in business, and through the downs, just remaining focused,” Davis said. “Staying focused on solar, and being committed to it.”

Davis honed that sense of determined commitment in his previous career: before becoming an entrepreneur, he was an NBA player with the Washington Bullets. Asked what lessons he took from playing basketball into the world of solar engineering, he replied instantly: “dedication and hard work.” 

“You got to stay in there, and you got to keep practicing every single day,” he said. “There’s no free lunch.”

Today, WDC Solar has installed solar panels on thousands of homes. Working with the D.C. Sustainable Energy Utility and the Department of Energy and Environment through the city’s Solar For All program, the company installs panels for free to low-income homeowners.

WDC Solar has grown tremendously over the last 14 years; in addition to residential installation, the company now designs, engineers and builds solar panel systems for commercial buildings and offers maintenance services to keep them running smoothly. 

Doing that kind of work, Davis pointed out, requires a professional workforce in a field that remains relatively new. That’s part of why WDC Solar also offers a training program, which it offers for free to low-income residents. 

“There’s still a shortage of experienced solar professionals,” Davis said. “Training is a way that we can try to overcome that.” 

But building a stronger workforce isn’t the only reason WDC Solar has offered solar training opportunities for more than a decade, even when Davis had to fund the programs with his own money for the new startup. It’s also part of the Anacostia-based company’s community-centric philosophy. 

“Training is just so expensive when you go to these classes that they have around the country for solar, and a lot of people who want to get in the industry can’t afford that training,” Davis said. 

“We wanted to make sure that we did our part, and giving back to the community is something that we’ve always done. It’s just who we are.” 

Kayla Benjamin covers climate change & environmental justice for the Informer as a full-time reporter through the Report for America program. Prior to her time here, she worked at Washingtonian Magazine...

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