Guest Blog: Powering Communities, Empowering Women with Solar

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October 20, 2017
Erin and SIS Amaris Lujano admiring their hardwork

Erin Shaw has logged nearly 200 volunteer hours with GRID Alternatives, and currently serves as Field Project Operations Intern at the Bay Area office. Before joining GRID, she participated in the Bay Area’s 3rd Annual Women in Solar Training.

I heard about GRID Alternatives’ Women in Solar (WIS) PV Essentials training week at an all-women WeBuild install, another of GRID’s initiatives to remove barriers to employment in the solar industry. WIS PV Essentials is a week-long introduction to solar skills, careers, and the larger industry, geared toward making the industry more accessible to women entering the field.

While I had already volunteered on about ten GRID installs before, I was interested to learn about career development opportunities and work on my skills in a beginner-friendly, all-women environment.

My main exposure to solar was from working at a software startup that focused on energy storage. My product management role gave me a good sense of the concerns and challenges of solar projects (even without the extra piece of storage), but I wanted to gain some practical experience with energy systems. My job at the software startup didn’t last, and as soon as I had the time, I signed up with GRID right away.

Our training week began on a Monday, and each day was a little different from the one before. This is what our week looked like:

Day 1 -  Seven of us met at the GRID HQ office in Oakland for an introduction and welcome. We got an overview of the tools and steps involved in a solar installation, and visited the practice roof to start getting comfortable with handling tools and finding rafters. Many of the women had never been on a roof before, so this was a good warmup for working on a homeowner’s roof.

Day 2 - We met in Richmond to install a 2.1 kW system under the guidance of two of GRID’s Solar Installation Supervisors (SIS). What differed from a regular install was the level of context and explanation provided by the SISs and other GRID staff who came to support. I understood more of the how and why of solar design, electrical code compliance, junction box wiring, and other things that do not necessarily get covered in depth during a regular install.

Day 3 - Our second install, also in Richmond. Again, the attentive and patient SISs really accelerated my understanding of the installation steps and best practices.

Day 4 - A panel of women from renewable energy professions came to share their experience with us.  Their backgrounds ranged from PV installation to battery storage to clean energy communications. My main takeaway was that the renewable energy industry needs a variety of skills, including management and soft skills as well as technical competence. The most powerful advice was to be creative and tenacious in how you pursue your energy career. This nascent industry needs you in ways that might not be obvious right away!

Day 5 - GRID’s VP of Communications gave some eye-opening feedback on how to present ourselves in a way that makes potential employers want to know more through elevator pitches. We then met with recruiters at a private job fair and practiced pitching our 30-second summaries of who we are and what we want to do in energy. The process gave me valuable insight on how to present my background and tell why I’d make a good employee for my dream company.

We also met a lot of GRID staff: the founders, Erica Mackie and Tim Sears, system designers, communication specialists, international coordinators and partnership developers. Seeing the diversity of skills needed to run GRID was a motivating way to round out the week. I came away more confident that I could find the right career in renewables for me, and tap into the network of professionals at GRID and beyond to pull off this career transition.

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GRID’s Women in Solar Program is working to build a diverse, equitable and inclusive solar industry by providing pathways to technical careers for women, as well as people who identify as non-binary genders and feel they belong in our community of women. If you are interested in learning more, email trainingba@gridalternatives.org. You can also view photos from this Women in Solar training cohort on Flickr by clicking here.