By Lisa Ann Pinkerton
Originally published on Women in Cleantech & Sustainability
As women make inroads in the solar industry, it’s evident that the female contingent of the industry is passionate about carving out and defending their seats at the proverbial table. Lisa Ann Pinkerton takes a look at ten of the women whose dedication to solar power and advancements in the field are making a difference in the industry.
Anyone who’s tried to get a ticket to the consistently sold out Women in Solar Breakfast panels during Solar Power International knows the female contingent of this industry is passionate about carving out and defending their seats at the proverbial table. Whether it’s educating women on installing systems or empowering them to speak out against the “booth babe” culture at conferences, their dedication to solar power and advancements in the field are truly astounding. This list of top 10 women in solar only scratches the surface of the 100s of women who are making a difference for solar. Please add your nominations for our next list in the comments below.
1. Lynn Jurich – CEO and Co-Founder, Sunrun
Lynn Jurich has been instrumental in making solar simpler and more affordable. Recently, Sunrun acquired REC Solar’s Residential Division, AEE Solar and SnapNrack. The acquisitions are set to transform Sunrun into a vertically integrated residential PV company, covering financing, solar sales, design, installation, distribution, and mounting systems.
Jurich’s focus on finding simple solutions to daunting challenges goes beyond solar. It extends to her marriage to Brad Murray, co-founder of Tatcha (luxury cosmetics); the entrepreneurial couple has diligently and consciously built simplicity into their marriage.
They told Forbes, that, as a two-startup family, they decided at the beginning that only one of them would bootstrap a startup at a time, while the other worked at a steady job. Once the first startup reached stability, it would be the other’s turn. They have also instituted “core values” in the relationship that they keep posted in the kitchen: love, joy, and simplicity.
For her work at Sunrun, Jurich was named on Fortune Magazine’s list of top 10 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs in December 2009, and, with her co-founder Edward Fenster, Jurich earned a 2010 Ernst & Yung Entrepreneurs of the year. Currently, Jurich serves on the Sierra Club Foundation Board of Directors. Jurich was part of the founding board of the Startup American Partnership.
During the 2001 California energy crisis, Erica Mackie, a mechanical engineer, along with Tim Sears, had a vision for free, clean, solar-driven electricity that would be practical and accessible for the low-income communities that needed it the most. In this vision, GRID Alternatives, a non-profit solar installer, was formed in 2004. Looking at real-world economic challenges to solar power, GRID Alternatives takes a broader approach to solar that has helped set the stage for large-scale solar adoption worldwide.
As Mackie mentioned in WCS Women in the Spotlight series, she always wanted to have a social impact through her career and worked as a social worker before returning to school to get both a physics and mechanical engineering degree. After graduating, she hatched the idea to combine her experience in social work with her knowledge of engineering through GRID Alternatives, “an organization that could have real impact in low-income communities.”
In an article in The Daily Beast, Mackie said, “We envision a world where families, regardless of income, can have access to clean power and bills they can afford. For us we are really about solutions and it’s about solving a problem one family at a time, one rooftop at a time.”
Mackie holds dual degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Physics from Southern Illinois University.
3. Laura E. Stachel, M.D., M.P.H. – Co-Founder and executive director of WE CARE Solar
Dr. Laura Stachel’s story of how she went from unknown OB/GYN to one of CNN’s Top 10 Heros of 2013, starts in Northern Nigeria in 2008. She was studying ways to lower maternal mortality in state hospitals and was shocked at the deplorable conditions in state facilities, including sporadic electricity that impaired maternity and surgical care. Without a reliable source of electricity, nighttime deliveries were attended in near darkness, cesarean sections were cancelled or conducted by flashlight, and critically ill patients waited hours or days for life-saving procedures. The outcomes were often tragic.
Inspired into action, she founded WE CARE Solar with her husband, California solar educator Hal Aronson. Together they have designed and developed off-grid solar electric systems, called Solar Suitcases, for African hospitals, targeting the maternity wards, labor rooms, laboratories, and operating theaters. The “WE CARE Solar Suitcase” powers overhead LED lighting, charges cell phones, and includes LED headlamps that come with their own rechargeable batteries.
To date approximately 300 Solar Suitcases have been assembled and sent to 25 countries around the world, and plans are under way to significantly expand regional programs in Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Malawi.
Dr. Stachel is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with fourteen years of clinical experience, holding an M.D. from University of California, San Francisco and an M.P.H. in Maternal and Child Health from University of California, Berkeley. She is a DrPH candidate at UCB, as well as Associate Director of Emergency Obstetric Research in West Africa for the Bixby Center for Population Health and Sustainability. Additionally, she serves on the Editorial Board for the Berkeley Wellness Letter and co-chairs an international working group on Energy and Health for the UN Foundation.
4. Katherine Lucey – Founder and CEO, Solar Sister
After 20 years working as an investment banker focused on the energy sector, Katherine Lucey looked toward rural east Africa where she saw the lack of access to clean energy both as an inconvenience and a massive hindrance. Forming Solar Sister, a nonprofit organization, in 2009, Lucey aimed to target the 590 million people, in particular the women, living in sub-Saharan Africa without access to electricity.
Using what’s described on their website as “an Avon-style distribution system,” Solar Sister distributes solar lamps and other clean energy products through a direct-style distribution network of women. In turn, Solar Sister provides women with the opportunity to become entrepreneurs and bring solar energy to their community.
As Lucey noted to Changemakers, “Advances in solar technology have created a tremendous opportunity to eliminate rural energy poverty. But the solution must address the needs of the women who are the key to the successful adoption of any lasting solution.”
Lucey earned her ABJ from the University of Georgia and her MBA in Finance from Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business.
5. Raina Russo – Visionary of #SolarChat, Co-Founder and President, EcoOutfitters.net
Raina Russo dependably organizes the live bi-weeky, interactive Twitter webinar #SolarChat as a valuable virtual solar forum. Russo, Co-Founder of EcoOutfitters.net, a solar referral service, aimed to join together solar and renewable energy industry experts with solar-curious consumers to discuss issues relevant to solar energy, solar PV, solar hot water, solar pool heating. Her goal is to make solar a reality for every home and business across the United States.
Now including hundreds of professionals, leaders, and interested consumers in the solar field, #SolarChat has developed into “the industry’s think tank” that engages in controversial, informational, and actionable topics related to solar and renewable energy and generates an average of 4.5 million impressions per online event. #SolarChat also holds “TweetUps,” in-person meetups for people active on the Twitter chat, that acts as networking events in conjunction with major solar industry conferences.
Russo holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Technion-Machon Technologi Le’Israel.
6. Julia Judd Ham – President and CEO, Solar Electric Power Association
Julia Hamm is the president and CEO of Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), a national non-profit devoted to helping its utility members make smarter solar decisions. She has been with SEPA since 1992, when the organization was Utility Photovoltaic Group, leaving for a brief period before returning to SEPA in 2004.
As she mentioned in an interview with Susan Sun Nunamaker from Sunisthefuture, SEPA focuses on creating a bridge between the utility and the solar industries. “We do a lot of work educating the two industries about the other … so that they can work more effectively in partnership going forward because we believe that without the electric utilities, it’s going to be very difficult for solar to truly meet its full potential.”
Prior to SEPA, Hamm worked as a senior associate at a leading consulting firm in energy and environment, ICF International, where she supported the US Environmental Protection Agency’s implementation of its ENERGY STAR program. She was named one of the Top 10 Women in Cleantech by earth2tech in 2007.
Hamm holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Cornell University.
7. Kristen Nicole – Founder and Executive Director, Women in Solar
In the summer of 2013, Kristen Nicole wrote an open letter to leading solar organizations condemning their nonchalant attitude towards gender equality and sexism at industry conferences, like as Solar Power International (SPI) and Intersolar North America. Her matter-of-fact, intelligent, non-emotional critic of gender politics as they play out at major solar industry events is a testament to her ability to organize and inspire the female contingent of the industry to stand in their power. Nicole’s letter titled“Enough is Enough” sparked a firestorm of public support from both men and women, as if people were simply waiting for someone to give them permission to express their displeasure at the “booth babe” culture that has been ever increasing at industry events.
She wrote, “… the undertones of this culture are rampant and adding unnecessary negativity in our industry and it is only getting worse. What is ironic, is that the industry has real issues with gender diversity, we should be attracting more young girls to solar and this culture is a huge deterrent. At the same SPI conference last year, the representation of female speakers on conference panels was less than 9%.
The solar industry has so many awesome women, but I am sure you will agree that this awesomeness does not reveal itself through our “nice racks.” In fact, most of us women in the solar industry haven’t gotten to where we are in life by being very “nice” at all — one could argue that most of us are 100% “bad ass.”
In addition to insisting the solar industry hold itself to a higher standard than other technology sectors, Nicole and her team organize annual Women in Solar Breakfast panels at SPI that consistently sell out year after year.
When she’s not empowering the solar community to stand behind the awesomeness of professional women, Nicole is a Manager at Gridco Systems, a Boston-based startup developing dynamic power distribution system control solutions. Nicole is also a member of the IEEE, sits on the board of Drop of Solar, holds a seat on the American Meteorological Society (AMS) Renewable Energy Committee, and is involved with numerous industry working groups (e.g., IEEE 1547, CA Rule 21, and FERC SGIP on interconnection of distributed energy resources). She is also an alumni representative for the International School of Beijing (ISB) in Beijing, China and holds an MBA.
8. Claudia Wentworth – CEO, Quick Mount PV
Claudia Wentworth started working in the solar industry in 2000 after 20 years in the green building and construction industries. In 2006, Wentworth along with her husband, Stuart Wentworth, createdQuick Mount PV. As CEO, Claudia Wentworth manages the strategic direction and operations needed to realize their vision of providing quality, made-in-USA roofing products across the United States and abroad.
A rapidly growing company, and the market-share leader in roof-penetration products, Quick Mount PV has taken advantage of the current expansion in the solar field and has differentiated itself through the way it manages growth, cash flow, and accountability. In turn, Quick Mount PV offers better quality, better products, and better customer service, which has causedtheir business to explode. Over six years, from 2006-2012, Quick Mount PV experienced 4,000 percent growth, as astronomical amount for a start up company.
9. Eden Full – Founder, Roseicollis Technologies and inventor of the SunSaluter
At 21 years old, Eden Full is the youngest solar innovator on our list. A junior in Mechanical Engineering at Princeton University, on the side she has transformed the solar industry through herSunSaluter. Her invention is a non-toxic, inexpensive, recyclable device made out of metal and bamboo that allows solar panels to follow or track the Sun without the use of an electric motor. The SunSaluter includes rotating solar panels that track the sun using mechanical water flow, giving users 40 percent more electricity and the bonus of clean water.
Taking two years off from Princeton as part of the Thiel Fellowship’s inaugural class, Full worked in Kenya, Indonesia, and Egypt to demo the SunSaluter and expand her startup, Roseicollis Technologies. There, Full saw the disadvantages that more than 50 percent of the population faced; without access to electricity and clean drinking water, 3.4 million people died yearly from water-related diseases. Taking these two problems into account, Full developed the SunSaluter, an integrative product that could be deployed in the developing world to over 2.5 billion potential users.
As Full mentioned at the Techonomy 2012 conference in Tucson, Arizona, “What we want to do is reduce not only the amount of water-borne diseases using a filter that’s built into the SunSaluter, but we also want to reduce the payback for these systems and reduce the amount of maintenance that people need to go through in order to use it.”
Full was named one of the Top 30 under 30 in Forbes’ Energy category in 2012 and 2013 and was Ashoka’s Youth Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012. The SunSaluter won the Westly Prize, and Mashable/UN Foundation Startups for Social Good Challengeand was awarded the runner-up prize at the 2011 Postcode Lottery Green Challenge.
10. Bernadette Del Chiaro – Executive Director, California Solar Energy Industries Association
Bernadette Del Chiaro joined CALSEIA in 2013 after serving her tenure as the Director of Clean Energy and Global Warming Programs at Environment California. While at Environment California, Del Chiaro was the leading advocate for the Million Solar Roofs campaign, which created the nation’s largest investment in solar power in history, and also led the Clean Energy LA campaign, a successful coalition effort that aims to establish a standard for 20 percent renewable energy by 2017 at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
A non-profit trade association, CALSEIA looks to support the use of all solar technologies and establish a sustainable industry for a clean energy future. At CALSEIA, Del Chiaro aims to work with California lawmakers to legislate zero emission homes in California by 2020, which will also drive photovoltaic demand in the state.
As she mentioned to PV Magazine, “Solar needs imaginative and bold people who are willing to do the work and these people are in this room.”
Del Chiaro earned her Bachelor in Science from the University of California at Berkeley.
Lisa Ann Pinkerton is founder of Women in Cleantech & Sustainability and President of Technica Communications. Lisa Ann is a former award-winning broadcast journalist who reported for National Public Radio, PBS Television, WPXI-NBC, American Public Media, and Free Speech TV.
Disclaimer: Any opinions expressed in this blog by persons not affiliated with PV Solar Report reflect the judgment of the author and not necessarily that of PV Solar Report.