Each quarter, we sit down with female leaders in the solar industry to learn more about their paths to success, their careers, and we ask for their advice to our network. This quarter, we sat down with Jane Weissman, President and CEO of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), where she has worked since 1994. In addition to being a true industry veteran, Ms. Weissman was Women in Solar’s first official member. Here’s what she had to say.
How did you get into the solar industry?
I came to renewables through a policy background at the city and state level. I worked for the City of Boston on a number of issues: tax reform, housing, and healthcare. From that, I had a good sense of local and municipal issues and how cities worked. I was part of the Mayor’s staff for almost 10 years.
My next career step was a turning point for me when that wonderful combination of experience, contacts, and the magic of luck converged. I was asked to get the Massachusetts Center of Excellence off the ground. My thought at first was to give it a year; there were other offered opportunities I was interested in pursuing. That was 1985 and I am still with solar. Everything clicked and I have thoroughly enjoyed these many years in the business. I have seen amazing growth. We have plenty to do moving forward, but significant gains have been realized.
Tell us about your getting started at IREC.
While working with the Commonwealth, I was a member of the Interstate Solar Coordination Council. (The name was changed to IREC in the early 90’s). I then moved onto the national scene participating in an effort to commercialize photovoltaics. Alongside a group of national stakeholders, we developed the PV-COMPACT. IREC became the natural point for state action as part of this.
What aspects of your job interest you the most?
One of the most exciting things about the job is the Team. IREC is blessed with incredibly talented people. Every day I learn from them. I feel incredibly lucky to be in such a fast-paced and innovative environment.
What have been some of the biggest policy issues that the solar industry is facing?
Our success has changed the playing field. Certain past approaches now have to be adjusted to this shifting environment. Every debate around net metering, higher penetrations onto the grid, and the value that solar brings is indicative that we are successful. But success brings vulnerability. We are no longer under the radar. We face increased scrutiny, justified or not. We must evaluate what are pillar policies that should be protected or altered. Let’s figure those out and move on.
Where have you seen the solar industry having the most success?
Success is based on visibility. I see success driving through a neighborhood and counting the solar homes. I see success when I turn on the TV or open the magazine and see ads for solar energy. It’s not unique anymore. This moves us toward real integration. Solar is becoming part of the expectation.
You’ve been in the industry for a long time. What are you most proud of?
I’m proud that we were at the forefront with net metering. When we started almost 20 years ago, we wanted to figure out how to get fair financial compensation for customer-sited generation. Now, I know net metering is one of the hot potato issues, but in the 90’s, we felt that without the policy in place, we would have a longer lead time getting started [with solar]. We pushed hard on that and were able to get systems net metered. Back then, penetration on the grid wasn’t an issue. It will be interesting to see how the debate will play out to balance on-site customer credit with the recognition and calculation that solar carries additional value and how this all works within the existing grid and the future one.
I am also very proud on the push we make for a skilled workforce. We strongly feel that having assurances and standards in place are critical. A competent workforce is the underpinning of a growing and resilient industry. The work we’ve done with certifications, training programs based on employer needs, and making sure people are taught the right skills in the right way, all leads to a market that gains traction and acceptance.
Do you have any advice for women starting a career in the solar industry?
We are seeing more women in the solar industry. That’s good but not enough. Our goal should be to encourage and promote women so they see that the solar energy sector is a good place for them to sit. Women coming into the industry – and also women currently in the industry – need more confidence in themselves and their abilities.
I encourage you to be confident. Realize the intellect and creativity you bring. Don’t be underestimated by yourself or others. Women should take calculated chances. Risks need to be taken. Sometimes failure leads to success. If you fail, take out the notepad and figure out another angle.
Anything else that we should know?
Women who have been in the business for a while or are in high-level positions have the responsibility to mentor and help more women get into this business and do well. Women in Solar provides a valuable forum and a strong voice for us all. I send a collective thanks to Women in Solar.