A career in the solar industry wasn’t always on Beth Copanas' radar. After years working as a K-12 science instructor, she got her first introduction through an internship with Berkeley, Calf.-based Sun Light & Power. From there she made the decision to commit to a career in solar, and worked with Energy Efficiency Solar in 2005. One year later she landed a full time position as an installer with Solar City, at that time a small startup with only 35 employees. With few women in the field, she learned that she would sometimes face difficult moments.
“I find that there is a general assumption out there that women don’t want to or can’t work in technically based or physically based positions. In my experience it is difficult to be the only woman and to have to constantly work against those assumptions. When I was installing I found myself working really hard to be the fastest installer on-site since I felt like I was representing women and didn’t want anyone to assume I couldn’t keep up. With that said, I have been fortunate to have many experiences with men across the industry who are very supportive of women working in solar. I am excited about GRID's Women in Solar Initiative, since I think that the more women can be involved in positive learning environments like GRID, then the more likely they will be to pursue a technical or field based position.”
After working as an installer Beth moved into a warehouse management position with Solar City. Soon she realized she had much more to learn, and the Atmosphere/Energy program at Stanford University was just the place to do that. With a M.S. in Civil and Environment Engineering she could be a competitive employee in the emerging field of renewable energy.
A Stanford-sponsored fellowship brought her to Colorado, where she worked with the Electricity Team and Rocky Mountain Institute in Boulder. This led to a full time Systems Engineer position with juwi solar Inc. Her education and experience came together as she was tasked to model predicted energy production by the utility scale plants as well as work on the DC design of the systems. As a liaison between the office and the field she gained experience in all departments. She had the chance to work with project management, procurement, accounting, operations and maintenance, construction, business development, legal and finance.
During her time in the Bay Area, Beth was introduced to GRID Alternatives. Now working at Ecotech Institute, she says “being a full-time solar instructor merges my passion for education with my experience in solar.” This passion is also what she enjoys about volunteering with GRID Alternatives, and why she continues to bring new groups of students out on job-training installations. “GRID installations combine my love for solar with a really fun learning environment that educates and empowers homeowner and volunteers. I really like working to help people understand more about where our electricity comes from and the conventional and renewable resources that can be used to generate that electricity."
As a woman who has carved her own path in a male-dominated field, Beth is a shining example of what women can achieve. It may not have always been an easy route, but it’s hers, and one she is rightly proud of.