This week’s Solar Women Summer Series interview (powered by features Kristen Nicole, Founder and Executive Director at Women in Solar Energy (WISE).


Kristen Nicole is a solar industry and power systems professional. Her research focus has been on strategies to address the power systems integration and variability challenges associated with solar energy and other renewable technologies. She has contributed to national efforts in grid integration research, including the application of solar resource forecasting in transmission systems and new power electronic technologies and applications for distribution system and microgrid integration.  Kristen attended Boston University for her BA and The George Washington University for her MBA.

The mission of WISE is to advance women in all aspects of the solar energy industry. We’re excited to meet the WISE team at Intersolar North America in just a few short weeks! They’re hosting a happy hour and breakfast.


  • All of the programs and efforts at WISE support recruiting women into the solar energy industry and retaining and advancing women already in the industry – they are developing K-12 programming and have recently announced a handful of workforce development partnerships
  • If you are going to work in solar, jump into the technical and get trained. There are a lot of opportunities for new business, but like anything, you need to understand the basics to innovate and see opportunity for efficiencies.
  • The solar industry is ultimately the electricity industry, so educate yourself on the history and operation of all of it. Regulatory process and reform, Enron and regulation/deregulation, rate cases, electrical engineering, construction, get out in the field.
  • Anything worthwhile, different or risky has always been in some form of a team and requires some support personally or professionally.


Q – How’d you first find solar? What made you decide to pursue it as a career?

A – When I was in working in Peace Corps in Bangladesh in 2005, I was there primarily to teach English language skills, but the infrastructure needs of the country to support the larger population were immediately evident. There were needs in all areas of governance and infrastructure development that would create efficiencies and improve the quality of life for the population. Working one on one helping a teenager with basic English skills felt futile in a country with so many needs at the time. I wanted to help everyone somehow.  There were three stark events that for me were prime motivations for me to enter this field: 

First, the family I lived with was a woman whose husband worked in Italy, so she was raising two small children basically on her own with very little support, a young girl around the age of 8 and a 5 year old boy. The older girl would help her mother with all of the chores around the house, cooking, cleaning (with kindness and a smile) and at the end of her long day she would sit down to do her homework and the power would go out.  I would watch her most nights complete her homework assignments by candlelight, in earnest, and it broke my heart.  She possessed a natural curiosity about life, learning and about me – she was kind-hearted, a good friend, responsible and patient with the world around her. A child like that deserves every opportunity to pursue her dreams in life.

Second, our neighbors down the street in Bangladesh. There was a wise, sprite, charming older woman in her 70’s who lived alone while her son pursued a career in Switzerland. He would send resources and visit his mother often. She always paid her bills on time and her son ensured that she had the means and that this was the case.  One day when I went to visit her, her son was in town, and they were dealing with a problem where the local town official had rigged the distribution system and was stealing the electricity she was paying for. The official lived in a walled off, 5,000 sq ft private home, compared to this woman’s simple apartment. There was no recourse for them, none.

Third, one night I was with my host family and we went to visit a relative in urban north Dhaka in Bangladesh (Note: most of Bangladesh feels quite urban as it is the most densely populated country in the nation, but this was “in the city” compared to where we lived). We traveled in the evening and by the time we arrived it was dark. I cannot even describe how chaotic the hospital was: open doors, people coming/going, shipments and supplies all strewn about, people screaming and bustling. It felt more like a nightclub than a hospital, and as we started up the central staircase pushing past people, the power went out and it was pitch black. All you could hear were the strange sounds of people moaning, bustling, commotion and no generators went on.

I will never forget how helpless I felt in each of these scenarios and my work has been driven by these memories. I came back to the states to work in infrastructure development and quickly had to “specialize”  for me it was between a focus in electricity or water. These experiences coupled with my uncle’s career as an electrician (I was strongly influenced by him growing up) made electricity infrastructure a compelling and motivated career choice for me. As I started specializing and researching generation resources, renewables were an instant fit and interest, and by 2008 I was poised with focusing in either solar or wind development. My grad-school mentor and very dear friend is a solar woman, she is a few years older than me and at the time had a few years of solar sales experience and said “you should do solar, I’ll help you” and that was it.

Q – Why’d you start WISE? What was the motivation behind starting WISE?

A – There were a lot of reasons, but it was just time for WISE, it needed to exist and I felt compelled to step up since I had the vision, skill-set and know-how to get the work done.

I have always been one of those inspired Madeline Albright types (I of course have opinions on her policy work), but her famous quote, “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” has always resonated with me.  I feel very strongly that as a woman it is my responsibility to help other women and I will always feel this way. So, I found myself working in solar in DC. I was involved in about five different women’s groups and I felt like none of them were directly and effectively helping me get ahead in my career in solar.

There are always gender dynamics at play and I started to notice a few things happening that impacted my work and the general electricity and solar energy industry experience, however I was busy working so I would take note of things or events, but there was this undercurrent I kept feeling.  As the years went on, this undercurrent felt stronger. I started thinking about this topic, talking to people, understanding what was already being done in this area, and it just kept growing.

Q – What is WISE doing to get more women into the industry?

A – WISE is doing a lot – we have been very busy this year. All of our programs and efforts support recruiting women into the solar energy industry and retaining and advancing women already in the industry.  We are in many instances the first point of contact for diverse candidates who hear about or are interested in solar energy, and we take this role very seriously.

On the recruitment front we consider our work being relevant through the entire pipeline of women in the industry, including girls at a K-12 level and women overseas.  We are very pleased to announce that our K-12 programming has peaked the interest of a large solar energy company who has become our educational partner.  We are developing a full program that will be formally launched in 2016, so stay tuned for that.  On the workforce development front, we have recently announced a handful of workforce development partnerships, including the North Carolina Clean Technology Center, where we are collaborating to offer discounted training programs and membership for women interested in solar energy.

Solar is growing at 20 times the rate of the overall U.S. economy, so all of our programs and efforts are designed to appeal to top and diverse talent to choose a career in solar energy, it’s a fantastic field to work in.

Q – How can people get involved with WISE?

A – First, as an individual we strongly advise women to become formal members to grow and contribute to the WISE network, every person really helps us in a big way.  Once you become a member, you have access to and can contribute to a growing host of member-resources, including jobs, expertise and “short-cuts” or lessons learned. We have some members who join us because they are transitioning in their jobs and need help, and equally we have many who join our network to lend their expertise to other women.  Our volunteer members, who step up and take on program areas and volunteer their time and expertise to help build WISE are what inspires me to keep at it.

Second, encourage your company to support WISE or sponsor a WISE event.  We host fantastic fundraisers throughout the year, so get your marketing or policy departments to write WISE into your annual budget. Talk to your CEO and other leadership about supporting WISE. Visit our website and sign up for our newsletter.

Q – You recently held a roundtable for women in solar – what were the takeaways from that roundtable?

A – We had several resounding policy take aways, items we heard over and over in our feedback sessions of areas for improvement or “wants” of industry participants.  The main asks were:

  • Paid and expanded maternity and paternity leave policies
  • Flexible schedules
  • Transparent and paid training opportunities
  • Recruiting and resources for career starters, university students and young girls.

However the main outcome of the #NationWISE Roundtable was our industry Pledge. It is really important to us that we not only collect accurate feedback to inform everyone on the state-of-the-art industry to drive the direction of our resources, but that we take responsibility at WISE to push on solar energy industry leadership to join the cause and demonstrate results in creating an industry we want to work in. There are a lot of articles on women and stats, and telling that story is important, but then what? We are action-oriented at WISE and want to focus on impacts and outcomes.

Q – What’s the biggest opportunity you’re going after right now at WISE? Personally?

A – The biggest opportunity we are going after right now at WISE is our #NationWISE program.  Getting that research effort funded to improve our surveys, data collection and feedback processes is essential in telling the story of the industry and drives our work. We are often asked how many women are in the solar energy industry, and we are able to provide one statistic from the Solar Foundation’s annual survey, but that’s it.  Gender pay gap? Yeah it’s a problem, yeah it probably exists, but no one has the info so how do you even begin to address it. The gender breakdown, the human resources experience, gender pay gaps,… all these other statistics are essential to learn at an industry market trend level.  We applaud companies, like SunEdison, who are taking the time to look internally and take stock of some of these things. As an industry we have great stats on YOY growth, pricing and market trends, $/W, futures, installed capacity, pipelines in various segments, but the market trends on the human-side of this industry lags, and I am not referring to “labor costs”. Labor is not a cost number, it’s people and there is a story there about quality of life. There is a host of knowledge within our industry that we aren’t tapping into in a significant way.

Personally, for me, I’ll feel good about this work when we are able to provide actionable quality-of-life value, not just to working professional women in the US, but to factory workers in China, solar energy entrepreneurs in India, or electricity consumers in Africa. Its very important to me that WISE members not-only get or give help in their immediate circles, but feel connected in the global economy.

Q – Any tools, books, or resources you’d recommend for women interested in working in solar you’d suggest?

A – If you are going to work in solar, jump into the technical and get trained. There are so many people who work in this industry who have had zero formal training in solar.

  • Even if your direct job function doesn’t require you to know project finance or how to negotiate or structure a PPA or design estimate production, learn the tools. OpenDSS, SAM and PVWatts are free tools for anyone to learn about solar.
  • Solar is technical and there is lingo, so it only helps to educate yourself.  Read the NEC and familiarize yourself on all the codes and standards you can, UL and IEEE, understand reliability and failure points in all of the pieces of equipment, learn about atmospheric science and solar irradiance.
  • The solar industry is ultimately the electricity industry, so educate yourself on the history and operation of all of it. Regulatory process and reform, Enron and regulation/deregulation, rate cases, electrical engineering, construction, get out in the field.

There are a lot of opportunities for new business, but like anything, you need to understand the basics to innovate and see opportunity for efficiencies.

Q – Are there other companies and/or people you respect who have helped you advance in your career or grow WISE?

A – Definitely. Anytime someone gives me a chance, hears me out, inspires me, lends advice to help me on whatever it is I am trying to accomplish or learn, I am grateful for all of these moments. Honestly, even people who have crossed me, I have to be grateful of what I learned from negative experiences in my career.  I am grateful everyday of these small gifts that people give and they may never know how much their time, actions or words impacted me.

It’s important to show respect for everyone it always comes back around. I’ve definitely made my fair share of mistakes, we tend to be very hard on ourselves and on others in business, that’s the nature of work, but we are all just human and we should avoid compromising our character, compassion and kindness for money, ambition or ego.  Life is funny that way.

I’ve never accomplished anything in my career on my own, and certainly not at WISE. Anything worthwhile, different or risky has always been in some form of a team or required some support personally or professionally.

That solar woman who told me to get into the industry, Sarah Truitt, my mentor, she took me under her wing in grad school, hired me at the Department of Energy and introduced me to the love of my life. She’s been my solar career angel and my very good friend. I am not sure what I did to deserve someone like that looking out for me, but I am very grateful for her friendship.