Justine Sanchez, lead instructor for “NEC 2017 & 2020 Solar + Storage Requirements“, has installed solar electric systems, served as an editor for Home Power Magazine, worked as a PV technical trainer for Solar Energy International (SEI) and served as a consultant to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
But what she loves more than anything is teaching people about solar energy, and along the way, helping move the industry forward.
Sanchez, a self-described PV tech nerd, and now solar+storage program director for Mayfield Renewables, discovered her passion for solar as a physics major at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Awestruck by Solar PV
“As a college student, I came across PV and was awestruck,” she says. “The cells, the way they work with the sun, and putting them together into a system made me really excited.”
That excitement didn’t wane. At SEI in the late 1990s, she enjoyed being in the trenches, designing and installing systems.
“I very much enjoyed working in the field with hands-on problem solving, design work and fieldwork. This fed my tech passion. I was actually powering homes for people.”
In 1997 or so, SEI began offering women-only workshops about solar energy. As a workshop teacher, Sanchez was surprised and touched by the students’ response. Without men in the workshops, women opened up about their fears and worries.
The Satisfaction of Teaching Women-Only Workshops
“It was hard to get women to sign up for co-ed workshops,” Sanchez says. “And the ones who did attend were intimidated and hesitant to speak up. But in a women-only setting, you couldn’t stop them from talking. I had electricians break down, saying they had never felt comfortable before asking questions.”
Sanchez enjoyed face-to-face bonding with the students and teaching them how to use hand tools, along with electric drills and circular saws. She showed the students how to mount hardware, wire circuits and build battery boxes. The experience was empowering and fun, she says.
Many of the students didn’t understand the technology and science, and wanted to dig deep into the nature of electricity.
“It was wonderful,” Sanchez says.
In addition to teaching at SEI, she conducted electrical plan reviews for an engineering firm launched by SEI, focusing on large systems. Her technical editing experience at Home Power Magazine came in handy; it had taught her to focus on all small details, and how to double check the plans for code compliance and best design practices.
Now, working for Mayfield Renewables, she makes use of her experience in plan review. Sanchez also focuses on commercial and residential solar and storage systems aimed at increasing on-site resiliency.
Helping Others Streamline Commercial Storage Projects
At Mayfield, she has learned that designing commercial-scale solar+storage systems is time consuming and at times confusing.
“We were spending so much time on commercial energy storage projects. It was so intense and the scope of work is huge.”
While providing education wasn’t a priority at first for the firm, she and her associates realized that it was important to share the knowledge they had gained. Mayfield Renewables opted to teach designers and others how to streamline the process, and to help them understand the electrical and fire codes required for these systems.
Bottling her Knowledge
“I have all this knowledge and have experience writing. We decided to bottle it,” says Sanchez. “I wanted to best use my skill set.”
The teacher, tech nerd and system designer will soon begin offering a series of 2-hour HeatSpring energy storage system courses that aim to share the knowledge she has acquired. The topics include the 2020 National Electrical Code (NEC) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 855 fire codes. In addition, the courses will concentrate on energy storage system equipment for residential and commercial projects, energy storage design considerations and system sizing.
Will the Storage Industry Ramp up Too Quickly and Pose Risks?
While Sanchez is excited about the growth in the energy storage industry, she’s also worried about possible risks to electrical workers, homeowners and businesses.
“Due to the fact that my husband is a utility lineman, I am keenly aware of the risks he and other electrical workers face on a daily basis.” His crew, as well as first responders and other workers, could be adversely affected by any shortcuts the industry takes as it quickly ramps up energy storage deployment. Homeowners and businesses could also face the risk of poor installations or equipment failures.
As usual, Sanchez is passionate about what she’s doing–and the impact it can have on the industry.
“This makes me feel good and useful. As the energy storage industry evolves, I want to help it evolve,” says Sanchez.
Photo Credit: Mayfield Renewables