The teams at HeatSpring and RenewableEnergyWorld.com are excited to kick off Solar Women Summer Series, a series of interviews featuring women who have taken HeatSpring’s solar courses and other interesting women doing important work in the solar industry. This week we feature Dr. Lidija Sekaric, Director of the Technology to Market Program at the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative.
THE GOALS FOR THE SOLAR WOMEN SUMMER SERIES:
1. ELEVATE THE CONVERSATION: Women are underrepresented in the solar industry (19%) and in our online solar courses (6%). We’ve created this series to elevate the conversation to get more women working in the solar industry and to complement great initiatives already happening in the industry. Initiatives we’re really excited about include Grid Alternatives’ and SunEdison’s National Women in Solar Initiative, the work that WISE is doing, and events like the Intersolar Opening Happy Hour.
2. EDUCATE MORE WOMEN IN SOLAR: We hope that the solar women we feature provide new insights for women considering the field of solar (solar jobs are annually growing by 20%). We also hope to boost the number of women enrolling in our courses. To-date, less than 6% of our solar students have been women. We don’t like that stat. We want to teach more women!
3. CREATE A MORE DIVERSE AND EQUITABLE INDUSTRY: Through engaging more women in conversations about solar and providing high-quality learning opportunities, we hope to contribute to a more level playing field for women looking to enter or advance within the solar industry.
SOLAR WOMAN: DR. LIDIJIA SEKARIC
Dr. Lidija Sekaric currently manages the Technology to Market program within the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative. Previously, she has served as a senior advisor in the office of the Under Secretary of Energy.
Read on to learn about her career path, her work within the field, funding opportunities available to environmentally innovative companies and exciting solar initiatives currently taking place.
- The solar industry has many entry points. There are many opportunities for people who know how a solar panel works, but also for really good salespeople and marketing mavens – customer acquisition is a good fraction of the system cost, for example.
- The SunShot Initiative’s Technology to Market builds on SunShot’s record of enabling groundbreaking devices and concepts in earlier stage programs
- Non-hardware or “soft” costs of solar remain a major barrier to greater deployment nationwide and can account for up to 68 percent of total system cost.
- The SunShot Prize: Race to 7-Day Solar aims to motivate local governments, communities, solar companies, and electric utilities to collaborate toward improving the “going solar” experience from permit to plug-in for all Americans
Q: Tell us your story – How’d you get into this industry?
A: I actually switched careers to get into solar energy. I was trained as a physicist (Ph.D. in Applied Physics) and did research in nanostructures and condensed matter physics, photonics, and materials for 12 years before I decided I wanted to impact economics and deployment of renewable energy. I switched to science and energy policy, broadly speaking, and got into solar when the SunShot Initiative was starting. In addition to the obvious impact, I was curious to find out if there were any fundamental barriers to driving down the cost of solar to become the most competitive source of energy. As a way of background, DOE started the SunShot Initiative in 2011 with the goal of reducing the cost of solar to be on par with other electricity sources by 2020.
Q: In your opinion, what barriers are preventing women from joining solar professionally?
A. It probably has something to do with the fields that solar draws from: engineering, finance, and construction (to name a few) all cite women’s participation as less than 20%. While it is a relatively young industry and faces some of the legacies of other fields, it is also an incredibly attractive industry for many workers, including women.
Q: How can the women who have taken or are planning to take HeatSpring solar courses become more involved with the SunShot Initiative?
A: Generally speaking, SunShot funds R&D across the solar value chain, but also training programs (indirectly) and deployment streamlining programs. Depending on their field of solar, there may be grants for academia, governments or non-profits, or the industry that can help with the given research or product development. Our proposal solicitations go out periodically and the best way to keep track of them is to subscribe to our periodic updates.
Q: Do you have any tips for women hoping to pursue a career/change paths in solar energy?
A: The solar industry has many entry points. There are many opportunities for people who know how a solar panel works, but also for really good salespeople and marketing mavens – customer acquisition is a good fraction of the system cost, for example. Or, if you have experience streamlining a process in your local government/jurisdiction, then you may want to look at what can be done in that space for residential installation. In innovation space, better modules, power electronics, racking, or even finance platforms all matter. The opportunities are really staggering with more than 173,000 people employed in the industry and 85% job growth rate over the last 5 years.
Q: Could you tell us more about what the Technology to Market program does?
A: The SunShot Initiative’s Technology to Market builds on SunShot’s record of enabling groundbreaking devices and concepts in earlier stage programs by primarily targeting the known commercialization funding gaps in bringing new technologies to market. We fund innovative products and business models across solar value chain in the industry (from start-ups to more mature companies).
All Technology to Market programs are tightly structured to ensure that recipients commercialize the funded technology and achieve technical milestones. SunShot also creates venues for helping the recipients form strategic partnerships.
Q: What do you see as one of the biggest barriers to the full integration of solar energy systems in the U.S., and how can the next generation of engineers/renewable building science professionals work toward this?
A: Although the cost of solar energy system hardware (i.e., panels, inverters, etc.) has dropped significantly, the non-hardware or “soft” costs of solar remain a major barrier to greater deployment nationwide and can account for up to 68 percent of total system cost. Specifically, “soft costs” break out into a few larger categories such as permitting, installation, interconnection, and cost of finance. Any of these can be tackled both through product innovation as well as process innovation.
Q: What is one (or more!) solar initiative currently taking place that you’re really excited about?
A: In September 2014, the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative launched the Solar Ready Vets program to connect our nation’s skilled veterans to the solar energy industry, preparing them for careers as solar photovoltaic (PV) system installers, sales representatives, system inspectors, and other solar-related occupations. The program expanded in April 2015 to a total of 10 military bases.
The SunShot Prize: Race to 7-Day Solar aims to motivate local governments, communities, solar companies and electric utilities to collaborate towards improving the “going solar” experience from permit to plug-in for all Americans. This competition offers a total of $10 million in cash awards to the best teams that bring process certainty and reduce the permit to plug-in time from current durations to a swift seven days for small PV systems or seven weeks for large systems. SunShot will provide seed funding to help support up to 20 teams during a set 18-month performance period that begins in September 2015, with applications due in July.
SunShot Catalyst is an open innovation program that aims to catalyze the rapid creation and development of products and solutions that address near-term challenges in the U.S. solar marketplace. Through a series of prize challenges, SunShot Catalyst makes it faster and easier for American innovators to launch cutting-edge solar companies, while tackling time-sensitive market challenges.
Q: Do you have a white paper or free tool that our community might find beneficial?
A: We fund many studies. I will highlight one of the most recent ones that our researchers have put out on shared (community) solar:
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has developed free tools such as PVWatts and System Advisor Model (SAM) that are widely used, as well.
Thank you, Dr. Lidija Sekaric! Be sure to follow HeatSpring Magazine all summer for our Solar Women Summer Series.
START LEARNING SOLAR TODAY:
- Learn everything about the basics of solar by enrolling in our Free Course: Solar PV Design, Code, Economics, Sales and Site Visits
- Launch your career in solar by taking our Solar PV Installer Boot Camp Training + NABCEP Entry Level Exam Prep course
- Enroll in our NABCEP PV Installer Certification Exam Prep
- Free Tool Download: 50 NABCEP Installer Exam Prep Questions
- Learn more about the solar industry via RenewableEnergyWorld.com