This week’s Solar Women Summer Series interview, powered by RenewableEnergyWorld.com, features Anna Bowler, Office Manager at Soveren Solar, a solar design/install company specializing in grid-tied photovoltaics with a mission to help build sustainable communities through the development of local renewable energy.
Anna joined Soveren Solar in 2014 as an installer and currently works as the Office Manager for Soveren. Based out of southern VT, she has experience in permaculture and a degree in Political Science. She continues working for greater sustainability in the North East.
- As the price of solar plummets, it is getting harder and harder for utilities to ignore the benefits of reinvesting in clean energy production. It will take time to divest in coal, fossil fuels and fission based nuclear energy.
- “Without a basic knowledge of how to operate power tools, it (my first solar installation) would have felt like a whole new world. I would have loved to know more about DC power and PV panels, but that came with time.”
- George Harvey’s energy blog and Clean Technica always have good articles and are great resources for you to learn more about the solar industry.
SOLAR WOMAN: ANNA BOWLER
What do you do in solar? How’d you get into the industry? Do you have formal training in solar?
I currently work for Soveren Solar as an office manager. In the spring of 2014 I was freshly hired as an installer on a Vermont Community Solar site in North Springfield, VT. Now, that project has been online for about a year, and I am in the office overseeing the day to day work flow. I have not had any formal solar training, but working in the field as well as the office has taught me a great deal about the industry. Especially the world of group net metering.
Talk to me about community solar – how does it work? Why aren’t more states and companies doing community solar? What are the barriers?
Community solar is rather simple when it comes down to it. With Soveren’s Vermont Community Solar (VCS) program, we sell panels to individuals, businesses and organizations. Those panels are set up in one of our off-site projects and offset the buyers’ electricity bill. The participants receive solar credit directly on their utility bill. We take care of all the operations and maintenance of the project as well as insurance and inverter replacement. With this type of program, participants can sit back worry-free and watch their electric bill disappear without worrying about snow removal or racking repair. VCS is an idea for someone who wants to go solar, but doesn’t have land or adequate solar exposure. It is also an opportunity for people who want to invest in something that will have long term benefits. With group net metering, the solar credit can move with you when you change residences.
Some states (CA, CO, DE, IL, MA, ME, MN, NY, RI, VT, WA and D.C.) have adopted community net metering which allows for on or off-site solar energy production to be shared amongst a group of individuals, business and/or organizations (more legislative info can be found here). Other forms of net metering have been adopted in other states, but not to the extent of community solar.
As individuals and business are realizing the investment benefits of going solar, the popularity of community solar is spreading. However, it can be difficult for small business and individuals with little to no tax liability* to make the initial investment in a new photovoltaic (PV) system. This is why Soveren is working on a new system of panel ownership that will include a price reductions for VCS participants who cannot utilize tax incentives. Other community solar companies do provide options to lease PV panels, but may not ultimately end up in participant ownership. We are dedicated to installing VCS projects that empower the community and create long term energy resilience.
By continually being responsive to the needs of the community, the local utility, and our employees, we have been able to work through the problems and barriers that pop up. For other states that do not so readily accept group, or community net metering, the issue needs to be brought up with state legislators. If there is enough of a desire to localize energy production, a conversation will start.
* Federal and state tax incentives for new clean energy generating equipment can make going solar an easier investment for those who pay a lot of taxes to the IRS.
Any mentors or companies who have helped you and/or Soveren Solar grow?
The owner of Soveren, Peter Thurrell and his daughter Maria Bowen have both been an incredible source of support and information as I become oriented to the solar industry. Also, our electrician Simon Piluski has been a wealth of information on direct current (DC) wiring and electric production. Our local utility Green Mountain Power (GMP), has been an invaluable part of bringing Vermont Community Solar into fruition. Without their support and willingness to cooperate none of this would be possible. Darleen Phelps is queen of group net metering at GMP and has patiently answered all my billing questions and held my hand through the solar credit allocation process. Karly Carrera has also been invaluable during permitting processes and clarifying utility policies to which we must abide. These people have taught me a huge amount and I am very grateful for all the help they have provided me as I learn and usher more and more Vermont Community Solar online.
Do you plan to get your NABCEP certification – why? Any other certifications you’re hoping to get related to solar?
As things quiet down at the end of the install season, I hope to get NABCEP certified in sales and installation. I am always looking to learn more about the industry and better serve the community I live in. Fortunately 2015 has been a busy year so far for community solar and 2016 looks like it may be even busier. This provides wonderful opportunities for on-the-job learning.
What was your first installation like? Anything you wish you’d known before you got out there?
My first installation was mostly rack manufacturing. Soveren uses its own dual adjustable ground mounts, so that takes up the majority of installation time. Fortunately I did have a little bit of experience in construction and working with metal. Without a basic knowledge of how to operate power tools, it would have felt like a whole new world. I would have loved to know more about DC power and PV panels, but that came with time.
What did you want to be when you were 5 – any relation to what you’re doing now?
When I was five, I wanted to do everything: dance, speak every language, see every country, etc. Now, I teach dance and collect electrons to power people’s lives. I sort of speak Spanish and am learning Arabic. I continue to travel and look for new things to learn every day. I would like to think that my five year old self wouldn’t be disappointed.
What’s exciting you right now in the solar industry?
I am excited that the solar industry has grown so much in the past few years. Yesterday Governor Peter Shumlin “flipped the switch” on one of Soveren’s most recent VCS projects in Brattleboro, VT. He mentioned how clean energy jobs have been a significant part of job growth in the state (more info here). The fact that price drops in PV are translating to jobs in very exciting. People are also starting to think about energy generation in a different way. An example of this is a recent post I made about a petition to create a free market solar in florida. This may not be a reality today, but I no longer think it is far off.
Any tips, books, blogs or other resources you’d suggest for people hoping to get into solar?
I subscribe to George Harvey’s energy blog. Clean Technica always has good articles, but what I like most is hearing VCS participants get excited about their own solar production.
Financing for solar is becoming easier. Green Mountain Credit Union based out of Rutland has been giving our VCS participants loans secured by the panels they buy. This is revolutionizing the process of investing in solar. VSECU has also been providing solar loans.
Is your company hiring?
Soveren is not currently hiring, but we encourage people to send in their resumes. We are always open to someone who could be the perfect fit.
- Learn more about women in solar via RenewableEnergyWorld.com (the exclusive media sponsor of this summer series)
- Join us on July 13th at the Intersolar North America Happy Hour hosted by Women in Cleantech & Sustainability, Solar Marketing Group, Women In Solar Energy and GRID Alternatives.
- We’ll also be at the WISE Intersolar North America breakfast on July 14th!
- Check out the National Women in Solar Initiative webcast series hosted by GRID Alternatives and SunEdison
- Free Course: Basic Solar PV Design, Code, Economics, Sales, and Site Visits
- Free Course: How to Use Solar Leases to Grow Your Solar Business
- Learn the financial modeling background and perspective often lacking in deal negotiations by taking our Solar Executive MBA Training
- Study with Ryan Mayfield, Solar PV Technical Editor at SolarPro, by taking Megawatt Design
- Full Course: Solar PV Installer Boot Camp Training and NABCEP Entry Level Exam Prep