This week Atlanta was one of 15 cities to celebrate the annual National Women in Solar Energy week. Organized by the non-profit, Women In Solar Energy (WISE), #nationWISE is a multi-city roundtable discussion that focuses on the development of women in the solar industry. Attendees in Atlanta represented a broad range of solar professions including non-profits, utilities, finance, installation and development and operations.
One of the big takeaways? The future is bright for women in the solar industry. In 2016, women represented 28% of the solar workforce. This is up from 18.7% in 2013, and is continuing to climb.
Last year, the solar industry added 51,000 American jobs (now a total of 260,000 jobs) and grew at a rate 17 times higher than the national economy. Solar jobs have increased by at least 20% per year for the past four years. Here in the Peach State, Georgia is the 3rd fastest growing solar producer in the country. Event attendees had the opportunity to hear from women that are playing a key role in this booming industry.
The event kicked off with CEO and founder of Solar Sister, Katherine Lucy. Solar Sister, founded in 2009, is a non-profit that empowers women in sub-Saharan Africa to become clean energy entrepreneurs. While the majority of the attendees in the room are focused on expanding solar power on a larger-scale, Lucy brought an entirely new perspective to the table, highlighting the value of having access to something as simple as a single lightbulb. Solar Sister trains female entrepreneurs to sell solar products to their community, many areas of which electricity is not available. Lucy shared inspiring stories about the significant improvement solar lights are making for women and their communities across Uganda, Nigeria and Tanzania. Solar Sister has empowered women while also bringing life-changing, affordable clean energy to their communities. The organization now has 2,700 Solar Sister women entrepreneurs and Lucy hopes to expand into many other countries in the near future.
Next, SACE’s own state liaison and clean fuels director, Anne Blair, moderated a panel of women with successful solar careers in Georgia. The panel included Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, chief resilience officer for the City of Atlanta, Katie Ottenweller, attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center, Robin Lanier, distributed generation principal with Georgia Power, and Jakky Shanahan with United Renewable Energy LLC. These women discussed their work experiences and offered advice to women interested in the industry. They shared the many obstacles of working in a male-dominated field, and encouraged young women to be confident, seek mentorship and training opportunities to learn more about the industry, and to dive right in. The industry is still very young open, and accessible for engagement. The Atlanta event concluded with a happy hour networking experience for women to connect and build relationships.
While women are making more of a dent in the industry than ever before, there is still plenty of work to be done to ensure that women can advance in the solar energy field. The only way the solar industry can reach its highest potential is by making sure businesses and organizations are bringing a diverse workforce to the table – and a huge part of that means more women.
SACE was proud to be a part of the Nation WISE event in Atlanta to celebrate women’s contributions and opportunities in the solar industry!