Today’s Solar Women Summer Series piece features Jane Pulaski, Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s (IREC) Web and Social Communications guru. In 2010, HeatSpring Magazine featured one of Jane’s pieces about IREC’s 2010 State by State Solar Licensing Database. Today, Jane joins us to discuss her experience in the industry, ways for women to get involved with IREC, her utilization of social media channels, and her mentors.

Jane Pulaski

Solar Woman: Jane Pulaski

Tell us your story – how’d you get into this industry?

It was the proverbial right-place-at-the-right-time, or as I like to say, I ‘least expected’ my way into this work. In 1995, I was working with Judith Carroll who managed the Texas renewable energy demonstration program. It was through Judith that I learned about IREC (she was once IREC’s chair). At that time, IREC was a member-based organization composed mostly of state energy offices. Texas was one of IREC’s dozens of state members. When Judith left the state, I inherited the program and enthusiastically became more involved with IREC. In 1999, when I left the state, IREC’s President/CEO, Jane Weissman, offered me a job to develop their workshop-in-a-box series of renewable energy materials. The rest, as they say…

Is your background in renewable energy?

I’m a recovering English major with an age-old fondness for renewable energy technologies. See question #1 for more info.

Tell us about IREC & the work you do specifically.

IREC, a 33-year young non-profit, has a reputation for identifying issues before they become issues (we published the first model net metering rules in 2003). Home to some of the smartest minds in the industry, we develop model rules, procedures and best practices in three key areas: regulatory reform, clean energy workforce, credentialing and quality training. If you’re in the regulatory space, no doubt you know of (and use) our rules for interconnection, net metering, and shared renewables. We were very early proponents for credentialing a highly qualified, well-trained workforce long before it became part of the clean energy conversation. If you’ve heard about the recent White House initiative to train 75,000 returning vets in solar, you know about the Solar Instructor Training Network, for which IREC is the National Administrator. All of our work, from regulatory reform to credentialing the clean energy workforce, is about making it easier for more people to access safe, affordable renewable energy technologies.

My main task is managing IREC’s web and social presence. I also edit three IREC newsletters (The IREC Report, The Credentialing Chronicle, the SITN Quarterly) and I help promote IREC’s annual 3iAwards, but mostly I’m a 24/7 web-focused worker which is a good fit for my personality. I love what I do and the IRECians I work with.

In your opinion, what have been the largest barriers preventing women from joining the world of solar professionally?

Sadly, I don’t think the paucity of women is specific to our industry. Look at technology. Historically, solar and its affiliate occupations (i.e., engineering, electrical, mechanical, legal, sales, installation, etc.) have been male dominated sports. Happily, though, the complexion of the solar industry has changed. More women pursue STEM curriculum in high school and university. Still more are in management, although few are in the C-suite. IREC’s President/CEO, Jane Weissman, was, for many years, one of a scant few women in leadership. And while the numbers are still small comparatively, I continue to meet and hear about more wicked smart women in this industry. I’m encouraged.

How can the women who have taken or are planning to take HeatSpring solar courses become more involved with IREC?

Yes! For starters, HeatSpring students and others getting educated and trained in the clean energy technologies should check out IREC’s deep inventory of resources for best practices in their careers. Dr. Barbara Martin’s Good Teaching Matters, one of the best resources on how to improve the quality of a training course.

From the Solar Instructor Training Network comes the solar energy education and training best practices, a compendium of national best practices for instructors in solar training, education and workforce development. This series gives educators the right tools to develop and implement quality-training programs to better prepare students with exactly the skills they need to enter the solar workforce. I’d be remiss in not mentioniong how training providers and trainers can pursue the IREC credential. IREC’s emphasis on industry validated, credible credentials is key in closing the skills gap between education and industry.

For the third year, IREC will be at Solar Power International’s industry trends booth in Anaheim September 14-17, featuring some of today’s deep thinkers in the clean energy space with insight, information, forecasts and recommendations on best practices that continue to shape the new energy economy. We’ll be sharing the booth with our friends at GreenTechMedia and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Look for details on our website soon!

Finally, IREC publishes three newsletters: the IREC Report, the Credentialing Chronicle and the Solar Instructor Quarterly. You can subscribe here. And we’re active in the social space on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Any favorite books, movies or resources to help someone interested in learning more about/joining the solar industry?

How much time do you have? I spend a large part of my day on websites, reading newsletters and online magazines from our colleagues at Renewable Energy World, GreenTechMedia, SolarWakeUp, Utility Dive, The Energy Collective, CleanTechnia, and SolarFred (that’s the short list). I watch videos and attend webinars. It takes time to mine and massage nuggets of content, not just from our deep resource inventory but from any and everywhere. If you’re interested in solar, you’re in luck: there’s rich solar content aplenty.

What social media channels should solar professionals be following? Do you have favorite accounts or sites?

For IREC, I use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn daily because those networks work well for us to share our work and that of our friends and colleagues. I like Twitter’s instantaneousness, but it can be a heavy feeder. Facebook isn’t as fussy. LinkedIn is an easier entrée into social for those who are tentative about the platform. All three work for us. It’s really all about knowing your organization, it needs and finding the right social platform to engage. It’s more about being social, not just doing social.

What social platforms should solar professionals follow? Depends. Work in sales? Teach? Raise awareness? Want loyalty or connect with family and friends? Pick one. Or two. If you’re in business, you’re on social. Social platforms have forever altered the way we communicate. Don’t you wonder what social will look like in five years? I do…

What sort of tools are you developing now?

We recently released two landmark reports on distributed energy storage and grid modernization designed to prepare regulators and communities for imminent changes to the electric grid. Working with our colleagues at ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability, we produced a comprehensive solar power purchase agreement (PPA) toolkit to help local governments overcome common PPA challenges and costs by providing a full suite of legal resources and related documents. We’re updating the invaluable Solar Career Map, an interactive map of 36 solar occupations in four sectors, charting possible progression between them and identifying the high-quality training necessary to do them well (to be released at Solar Power International 2015). As a brand, we’re constantly thinking about how IREC’s products and services impact others and make lives better. We want our work to nurture a discussion about what we have yet to do to fully realize a new energy economy for all. We still have much work to do. There are no shortcuts to excellence.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

I’m working on being right here, right now. Thinking too far ahead makes me anxious.

Any tips for women looking to follow in your footsteps?

Figure out where your heart is, or as Joseph Campbell opines, follow your bliss. Work with smart, passionate people who immeasurably enhance the way you see the world. Anytime you’re doing what you love, you’re making the world a better place. Not doing that now? No worries. Because of impermanence, any and everything is possible!

Are there specific people/mentors who are helping you succeed? What was the best advice they gave you and what would you tell a young professional looking to find a mentor?

So many help us along our path in big and small ways. I’ve had the great good fortune to work with three significant mentors (all women), classic leaders who actively recruit, mentor and nurture many of our next gen clean energy thinkers. It’s not often we get the chance to work alongside equal opportunity transformers. They’re honest and supportive. They praise others while deflecting it from themselves. They’ve got a killer sense of humor, take responsibility for mistakes, and honor the dignity of others. They find the right people for the job. They listen. Perhaps most importantly: they give you the room to grow. They are, as Jim Collins calls them, ‘clock builders,’ those visionary leaders who innately understand that it’s the organization itself and what it stands for that will endure long past any one individual, idea or thing. Look for people and organizations that nurture that culture. You’ll know it when you find it.

The science behind solar and renewable energy can be difficult to communicate to laymen because of jargon/industry-specific language… what is it like constantly writing about it?

Every industry has specific language and acronyms. For solar and renewable energy generally, the issues are complex; the information highly technical…

Our approach to everything we produce is to demystify the content, clarify its relevancy and explain why it matters to you. We’re bullish on transparency and accountability. It’s in our DNA to create content and objective analyses firmly rooted in best practices and standards based on unique technical insights.

On the social side of the house, compressing our message to <100 characters is both art and science. I spend a lot of time crafting IREC’s social posts, mindful of the message and their collaborative, interactive nature. We are, after all, inherently collaborative, interactive creatures.

Thank you, Jane!


Additional Resources