This month’s veteran has a longer solar legacy than anyone we’ve interviewed so far. Jane Weissman recently retired from her position as President and CEO of IREC, starting her days at 5 a.m. for more than 20 years. But her experience in solar is even more diverse, including working in PV in the late 80s, and her involvement with NABCEP in the 2000s. Jane has been recognized with awards for her dedication to solar and policy. She said “It’s been quite a ride to be part of the transformation from Birkenstocks to blue suits and from patronizing head pats to political protagonists.” She’s a solid writer too.
Read excerpts below and listen to the full interview to learn more.
What was the solar industry like in the late 80s and early 90s?
When we started, people basically equated solar with tree huggers and off-grid living and hippies, and that was probably a fair assessment. Yet, the technology coming out was pretty impressive. But what was coming out in terms of papers for information was very technical. To move from the lab into the marketplace, you needed that bridge between the technical documents and the opportunity for consumers and state and local government agencies to be able to read about solar technology in a way that was understandable. That’s where we started trying to move a lot of the information coming out of the labs into readable information and action steps for decision makers.
I was also involved in, what I consider, a transformational national effort called the PV Compact, which was the opportunity to finally bring different stakeholders together. For the first time you had utility companies, the solar industry, regulators and consumer advocates together for the first in a non-adversarial environment. We looked at the issues and opportunities to move solar forward. That was critical in the early 90s to explain the technology to a host of potential customers. We had a series of workshops to bring information clearly, easily and accessibly to many people around the country.
What’s one of the challenges you see in solar today?
We’re beginning to get some significant opposition and that plays onto a lot of the regulatory work we’ve been involved in on the state level. I think some very deep pockets are going after the solar industry. In some ways, we’ve become a victim of our own success. This is part of success. The more successful you are, expect opposition. I look at this as a sign of progress even though it diverts attention and takes up resources that could be better spent doing other things.
You’ve written, “Inch-by-inch progress is sometimes painfully slow for us impatient foot tappers, patience is key for solar.” Why is patience so important in solar?
We all tend to individualize time to conform to our career or our lifespan. Is thirty years in solar a long time? Not when you look at how technologies get developed and tested and move into market. But when you’re in the middle of it, it’s easy to end the day saying, “What is taking us so long?”
Whenever you’re trying to shift business models and how things are produced and used, it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not just technology but what are the rules for using, connecting and pricing it? It’s frustrating, but that’s the reality of it. Impatience is good; it shows motion and being dynamic but it can be counterproductive if you skim over some of the important, deep-rooted issues that have to be addressed.
Read more about Jane in our Innovators and Influencers feature from 2016.
Check back monthly for a new episode of Ask a Solar Vet, in which editor Kathie Zipp brings you the unique perspectives and insights of those who have spent more than a decade in solar.