Trailblazing Women Igniting the Future of Solar Energy

Updated on August 3, 2023

Trailblazing Women Igniting the Future of Solar Energy

When it comes to the solar industry, most people perceive it as a “naturally male-dominated sector,” mainly because of the common perception that it involves lots of technical skills and hard labor work. Despite how we might view the industry, these women found themselves thriving. These women are leaders, and their grit, determination, and business savvy shine as bright as the sun that empowered them.

As cliche, as it may sound, these women showed that nothing is impossible. Their story and how they built their solar empire are valuable lessons for all young girls who aspire to follow in their footsteps.

A Glimpse of Change: Women’s Control and Influence

Women’s leaders in the industry are drivers of change. In previous years, only less than 30% of women were in the solar sector; today, the tide has shifted. We can now see more women breaking through the wall of a male-dominated industry workforce.

Know your numbers:

  • In 2021, the solar PV sector will provide jobs to 4.3 million individuals, with women holding 40% of these. This figure nearly doubles the percentage of women in the wind energy sector (21%) and the oil and gas industry (22%). Moreover, it surpasses the average percentage of women working in all renewable energy sectors, which stands at 32%.
  • In America, 90% of women are the chief decision-makers about buying solar panels and other home improvements, so it’s just normal that they enter the industry. Instead of discouraging young daughters, encourage them instead and break through the barriers of gender issues.

While women make up just 11% of the employees in India’s rooftop solar sector, we look forward to seeing this number change in the coming years.

Specifically, this underrepresentation of women is influenced by several elements, such as:

  • limited opportunities arising from safety and security issues at work sites
  • misconceptions about women’s abilities in certain roles.
  • inadequate HR policies that merely adhere to legal requirements
  • workplace societal norms and practices that disregard the specific needs of women
  • and employee awareness also contribute to this low participation.

Despite all that, these 20 women proved it all wrong!

20 Women Who Are Leaders in the Solar Industry

Here are 25 women who stepped up to their feet and showed courage to fight for their dreams and enter the solar sector like an unstoppable force.

  • Lynn Jurich

<b>Lynn Jurich</b>
Co-founder and CEO of Sunrun, a home solar panel installation company

Lynn Jurich is the co-founder and CEO of Sunrun, a leading provider of residential solar electricity in the U.S. In her role, she guides the strategic direction and operations of the company, propelling it towards its mission to create a planet run by the sun. She is responsible for analyzing market trends, financial reports, and performance data to set strategies while also establishing key relationships with energy sector leaders, policymakers, and stakeholders. Under Jurich, Sunrun has transformed the public perception of solar power, making it a mainstream and accessible energy solution.

Jurich began her career in finance, but while studying at Stanford Graduate School of Business, she saw the potential of the renewable energy sector and co-founded Sunrun in 2007. She spearheaded Sunrun’s innovative solar-as-a-service model, revolutionizing solar adoption by allowing homeowners to pay for the power produced, not the panels themselves. Recognized on Fortune’s 40 Under 40 list and one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business, Jurich is more than a successful CEO—she advocates for climate change solutions and women’s leadership in the solar industry.

  • Emma Foehringer Merchant

<b>Emma Foehringer Merchant</b>
A journalist covering the solar industry for Greentech Media

Emma Foehringer Merchant is a recognized journalist with a specialization in the renewable energy sector, particularly solar power. Her work for renowned publications like Greentech Media involves in-depth research, analysis, and reporting on the latest developments, innovations, and challenges in renewable energy.

With an academic background in International Affairs and Journalism, Merchant has built a successful career shedding light on the intricacies of energy policy, technologies, and markets. Her insightful reporting doesn’t merely cover news but delves into the sector’s complexities, making these concepts accessible to a wide audience. Her credibility and insightful commentary have established her as a respected figure in her field.

  • Nancy Pfund

<b>Nancy Pfund</b>Founder and Managing Partner at DBL Partners, a venture capital firm with many investments in solar and other clean technologies

Nancy Pfund is a notable figure in the renewable energy sector, serving as the Founder and Managing Partner of DBL Partners, a venture capital firm that seeks not only profitable investments but also positive social, economic, and environmental impacts. She has supported and financed several successful renewable energy companies, including Tesla and SolarCity.

Pfund’s journey began with a BA in Anthropology from Stanford and an MBA from the Yale School of Management. Following a career in investment and banking, she started DBL Partners, combining her financial acumen with a commitment to societal benefits. Her investment philosophy, known as “double bottom line” investing, seeks both financial returns and social/environmental impact. 

Her innovative approach has positioned her as a leader in impact investing, and she is renowned for her work advancing the renewable energy sector. Nancy Pfund’s investments have propelled numerous startups, driving both economic growth and progress toward a more sustainable future.

  • Dr. Aimee Curtright

<b>Dr. Aimee Curtright</b>A researcher at RAND Corporation, whose work focuses on solar energy among other renewables

Dr. Aimee Curtright is a respected scientist and researcher, specializing in energy, environment, and technology policy. As of the latest data available, she is a Senior Policy Researcher at the RAND Corporation. Her role entails conducting research, advising on policy, and providing evidence-based insights on various aspects related to energy and the environment.

Dr. Curtright holds a Ph.D. in Geosciences from Pennsylvania State University. Her academic background set the stage for her career as a scientist, researcher, and policy analyst. Over the years, she has worked on a wide array of projects related to climate change, renewable energy, and carbon capture and storage, among others.

Renowned for her expertise in energy and environmental policy, Dr. Curtright’s work is instrumental in guiding decision-making in these crucial sectors. Her research contributes to our understanding of energy technologies and their environmental implications, and her insights help shape policies aimed at fostering a sustainable and environmentally responsible future.

  • Maria van der Hoeven

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Former executive director of the International Energy Agency, she was influential in promoting solar energy on a global scale<b>Maria van der Hoeven</b>

Maria van der Hoeven is a prominent figure in the global energy sector, known for her former role as the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) from 2011 to 2015. During her tenure, she was responsible for steering the IEA’s work on energy technology research, statistics, analysis, and policy advice to ensure reliable, affordable, and clean energy for its member countries.

Prior to her role at the IEA, van der Hoeven had a distinguished political career in the Netherlands. She served as the Minister of Economic Affairs from 2007 to 2010, during which time she emphasized the importance of renewable energy and innovation in the energy sector. Before that, she was the Minister of Education, Culture, and Science. Her political and administrative acumen, coupled with her focus on energy matters, made her a strong choice for her subsequent role at the IEA.

Throughout her career, Maria van der Hoeven has championed sustainable energy policies and played a crucial role in encouraging the global transition towards cleaner, renewable energy sources. Her leadership at the IEA, in particular, marked a significant period of growth and transformation in the global energy landscape.

  • Dr. Laura Nelson

Executive Director of the Green Hydrogen Coalition, she has a background in solar and renewable energy policy

Dr. Laura Nelson is a recognized expert in energy policy and integrated systems, with an impressive track record in both academia and public service. Her work primarily involves developing and implementing energy policies, focusing on balancing energy needs with environmental considerations. Dr. Nelson’s deep understanding of energy systems, economics, and policy has made her a go-to expert in her field.

Beginning her career in academia, Dr. Nelson earned a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Utah, after which she held several positions in the energy sector before moving into public service. She served as the Energy Advisor to Utah Governor Gary Herbert and as the Executive Director of the Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development. In these roles, she was instrumental in shaping Utah’s energy policies, focusing on harnessing the state’s diverse resources while addressing environmental impacts.

Dr. Laura Nelson’s work and leadership in the energy sector are marked by a keen understanding of the interplay between energy, environment, and economy. Her expertise and experience continue to guide policy decisions, ensuring that energy development aligns with broader environmental and economic goals.

  • Abby Hopper

<b>Abby Hopper</b>President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)

Abigail Ross Hopper is the President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), where she manages the association’s efforts to expand the use of solar energy and foster its sustainable growth in the U.S. Her role involves overseeing federal and state policy, research, communications, and industry leadership.

With a career anchored in energy policy and regulation, Hopper has extensive experience, including as the Director of the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Maryland Energy Administration. Her work has been pivotal in advancing energy policy and the growth of the solar industry, making a significant impact on the transition towards a sustainable energy future.

  • Katherine Lucey

CEO and Founder of Solar Sister, a social enterprise providing solar technologies in Sub-Saharan Africa<b>Katherine Lucey</b>

Katherine Lucey is a social entrepreneur and the CEO and Founder of Solar Sister, an organization that empowers women in Africa’s rural communities by training them to become clean energy entrepreneurs. In her role, Lucey oversees the strategic direction and growth of the organization, aiming to eradicate energy poverty while fostering gender equality and community development.

Before establishing Solar Sister, Lucey had a successful career in investment banking, specializing in the energy sector. The transition to social entrepreneurship was inspired by her vision to combine her energy expertise with a deep commitment to empowering women. Through Solar Sister, she has created a model that not only brings clean, affordable energy to remote communities but also fosters entrepreneurship, and in turn, economic growth.

  • Mahua Acharya

<b>Mahua Acharya</b>CEO of Convergence Energy Services Limited (CESL), involved in promoting solar among other renewable energies in India

Mahua Acharya is the CEO of Convergence Energy Services Limited (CESL), a prominent organization in India dedicated to promoting renewable energy, including solar power. As the CEO of CESL, she plays a crucial role in advancing sustainable energy solutions and driving the adoption of solar and other renewable technologies across the country.

Under Acharya’s leadership, CESL focuses on implementing various initiatives to accelerate the deployment of clean energy infrastructure, promote energy efficiency, and support the transition to a low-carbon economy. Through her expertise and strategic guidance, she contributes to CESL’s mission of driving sustainable development and meeting India’s renewable energy goals.

Acharya’s position as the CEO of CESL underscores her commitment to promoting renewable energy, particularly solar power, as a key solution to address India’s energy needs while reducing carbon emissions and promoting sustainable development.

  • Gwenaelle Avice-Huet

Executive Vice President of ENGIE, and CEO of ENGIE North America, overseeing solar projects among others<b>Gwenaelle Avice-Huet</b>

Gwenaelle Avice-Huet is an accomplished professional in the energy sector, serving as the Executive Vice President of ENGIE and CEO of ENGIE North America. In her role, she oversees a diverse portfolio of projects, including solar, and plays a critical role in driving the company’s strategic direction and growth in the North American market.  

With a wealth of experience in the energy industry, Avice-Huet has held various leadership positions within ENGIE and has been instrumental in advancing the company’s renewable energy initiatives. Her expertise and vision contribute to the development and implementation of sustainable energy solutions, including solar projects, to meet the evolving energy needs of the region.

As the CEO of ENGIE North America, Avice-Huet leads a dedicated team, collaborating with stakeholders to drive innovation, expand renewable energy generation, and promote a sustainable energy transition. Her leadership in the solar sector and broader energy industry is recognized, contributing to ENGIE’s reputation as a global leader in clean energy solutions.

  • Anne McEntee

<b>Anne McEntee</b>CEO of the Renewable Energy Businesses at GE Power

Anne McEntee is an esteemed professional in the renewable energy sector, holding the position of CEO of the Renewable Energy Businesses at GE Power. In this role, she leads and oversees GE Power’s renewable energy business division, which focuses on developing and providing innovative renewable energy solutions worldwide.

With a strong background in the energy industry, McEntee brings extensive experience and expertise to her role. She has played a pivotal role in driving the growth and expansion of GE Power’s renewable energy portfolio, including wind, solar, and hydroelectric power. Under her leadership, the company strives to deliver sustainable energy solutions that address the world’s energy challenges and support the global transition to a cleaner energy future.

As the CEO of the Renewable Energy Businesses at GE Power, McEntee is instrumental in shaping the strategic direction of the division and driving its continued success. Her leadership and commitment to advancing renewable energy technologies contribute to GE Power’s position as a key player in the renewable energy industry.

  • Dr. Marie-Hélène Aubert

A consultant on climate change and renewable energy<b>Dr. Marie-Hélène Aubert</b>

Dr. Marie-Hélène Aubert is a respected consultant specializing in climate change and renewable energy. She has played a significant role in advising governments, organizations, and institutions on strategies to address climate change and promote the transition to renewable energy sources.

With her extensive expertise in the field, Dr. Aubert provides valuable insights and guidance on policy development, energy planning, and sustainability initiatives. Her work focuses on identifying effective solutions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, enhance energy efficiency, and promote the adoption of renewable energy technologies.

Dr. Marie-Hélène Aubert’s contributions as a consultant have made a tangible impact on global efforts to combat climate change and promote sustainable development. She continues to play an important role in shaping policies and initiatives that advance the goals of a low-carbon future.

  • Amy Davidsen

<b>Amy Davidsen</b>Executive Director, North America, at The Climate Group, she leads renewable energy initiatives including solar

Amy Davidsen holds the position of Executive Director at The Climate Group. In her role, she leads various renewable energy initiatives, including those focused on solar power. The Climate Group is an international non-profit organization that works with businesses and governments to accelerate climate action.

Amy Davidsen’s leadership involves driving collaborative efforts to promote renewable energy adoption, sustainability, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. She works closely with stakeholders to develop and implement strategies that advance the clean energy transition in North America. Through her role at The Climate Group, Davidsen plays a key role in shaping policies and initiatives that drive the expansion of solar power and other renewable energy sources.

  • Dr. Sarah Kurtz

A researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), she’s a leading authority on solar cells

Dr. Sarah Kurtz is a renowned researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), where she has established herself as a leading authority on solar cells. Her expertise lies in the performance and reliability of solar cells, particularly focusing on crystalline silicon materials. Dr. Kurtz’s groundbreaking research has significantly contributed to enhancing the efficiency, durability, and cost-effectiveness of solar energy technologies.

With her extensive knowledge and experience, Dr. Kurtz has made substantial contributions to the understanding and advancement of solar cell technology. She has disseminated her findings through scientific publications and presentations, shaping the field and driving innovation in the quest for more efficient and sustainable solar energy systems.

Dr. Sarah Kurtz’s expertise and dedication have solidified her reputation as a key figure in the field of solar energy research. Her contributions continue to have a profound impact on the development and application of solar cells, playing a vital role in the ongoing pursuit of cleaner and more sustainable energy solutions.

  • Dorothy Thompson

Former CEO of Drax Group, she led the company’s transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy

Dorothy Thompson is a highly respected leader in the energy industry, known for her transformative role as the former CEO of Drax Group. During her tenure, she successfully guided the company through a significant transition, steering them away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.

Under Thompson’s guidance, Drax Group underwent a remarkable shift by embracing biomass and renewable energy sources. She played a central role in the conversion of the company’s power station, driving the adoption of biomass as an alternative to coal. This strategic move positioned Drax Group as a major renewable power generator in the UK and made significant contributions to reducing carbon emissions.

Thompson’s visionary leadership and commitment to sustainability have left a lasting impact on the renewable energy landscape. Through her efforts, Drax Group emerged as a leader in the clean energy transition, exemplifying the possibilities of a more sustainable and environmentally conscious future.

  • Julia Hamm

President and CEO of Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA), she promotes clean energy, including solar<b>Julia Hamm</b>

Julia Hamm is a notable professional in the clean energy sector, serving as the President and CEO of the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA). In her role, she actively promotes clean energy, including solar power, and drives initiatives aimed at advancing the integration of renewable energy into the electric power system.

As the head of SEPA, Julia Hamm leads the organization’s efforts to facilitate collaboration among utilities, technology providers, and other stakeholders to drive the adoption of clean energy solutions. She works to develop strategies, share best practices, and promote innovative approaches that accelerate the transition to a more sustainable energy future.

Hamm’s expertise and leadership in the clean energy industry have made her a respected voice in the sector. Through her work at SEPA, she actively contributes to the growth and advancement of solar power and other clean energy technologies, playing a significant role in shaping the clean energy landscape.

  • Isabelle Kocher

<b>Isabelle Kocher</b>Former CEO of ENGIE, one of the largest electric utility companies, during her tenure she promoted renewable energies, including solar

Isabelle Kocher is a notable figure in the energy industry. She served as the former CEO of ENGIE, one of the largest electric utility companies globally. During her tenure, she played a significant role in promoting renewable energies, including solar power, as part of ENGIE’s strategic direction.

Under Kocher’s leadership, ENGIE made substantial efforts to transition towards cleaner and more sustainable energy sources. This included investments in renewable energy projects, such as solar, as well as initiatives to reduce carbon emissions and promote energy efficiency.

Kocher’s commitment to renewable energy and sustainability has been evident through her advocacy for the energy transition. Her leadership at ENGIE contributed to shaping the company’s renewable energy portfolio and fostering the integration of solar power into their operations.

  • Mariana Mazzucato

A professor in the economics of innovation and public value, she’s a strong advocate for green innovation and solar<b>Mariana Mazzucato</b>

Dr. Mariana Mazzucato is a renowned professor in the economics of innovation and public value. She is recognized for her expertise in the field of economics and her advocacy for green innovation, including solar energy.

As a prominent academic and economist, Dr. Mazzucato has extensively studied and written about the role of the state in fostering innovation and driving economic growth. She emphasizes the importance of public investments in research and development to spur green innovation and advance sustainable technologies like solar power.

Dr. Mazzucato’s work and research have contributed to shaping policy discussions on promoting green technologies, including solar energy, as part of a broader sustainable development agenda. Her advocacy for the public sector’s role in driving innovation aligns with efforts to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.

  • Sally Benson

Co-Director of the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University, her work includes research into renewable energy sources, including solar

Sally Benson is a respected figure in the fields of energy research and academia. She has served as the Co-Director of the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University. In this role, she leads and contributes to research projects focused on renewable energy sources, including solar power.

With her expertise in energy systems and geology, Benson has made significant contributions to the understanding and development of renewable energy technologies. Her research encompasses various aspects of renewable energy, including solar energy conversion, energy storage, and grid integration.

As the Co-Director of the Precourt Institute for Energy, Benson plays a critical role in advancing interdisciplinary research and collaboration to address the challenges and opportunities of renewable energy. Her work contributes to shaping policies and driving innovation in the renewable energy sector.

  • Erica Mackie

Co-founder of GRID Alternatives<b>Erica Mackie</b>

Erica Mackie is a prominent figure in the field of sustainable energy and co-founder of GRID Alternatives, a non-profit organization focused on making solar power and job training accessible to underserved communities. Mackie’s leadership and dedication to renewable energy and social justice have earned her numerous awards and recognition. The “Green Building Super Hero Award” bestowed upon her by the US Green Building Council in 2010 is a testament to her impactful work and commitment to sustainable building practices.

Through GRID Alternatives, Mackie has pioneered efforts to bring the benefits of solar energy to low-income communities while also providing job training and opportunities in the clean energy sector. Her visionary leadership and passion for equitable energy access have been instrumental in driving positive change in the renewable energy industry.

Conclusion

Women’s influence in the solar energy sector has become more visible over the years. Their power and determination to reach their dreams is a story worth telling our family and friends, particularly the young daughters.

While it may be scary and challenging to work in such a male-dominated industry, or even start a business in the solar energy sector, let us remember that these women went through it all and succeeded.

Theirs is a story worth telling over and over again.

Image sources:
Unknown. Copyright holder of the picture is the Dutch State., GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons
Garitan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Jérémy Barande / Ecole polytechnique Université Paris-Saclay
Twiter, LinkedIn

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