In early March 2023, Solar Washington interviewed Jack Newman, a long time member and board member who is Solar Washington's Immediate Past President, about his connection to solar. Jack has been thoroughly immersed in solar for years and he offers valuable insight and recommendations.
Solar Washington: Jack, when, how and/or why did you become interested in solar?
Jack Newman: Solar technologies really caught my interest during a project I worked on with the Global Brigades in Honduras, where a rural cloud forest community with no access to the utility grid was using 20 Watt solar modules from the early 90's to power a small community center hub with charging stations for cell phones. Talk about durability! Our team supported a 9 km water pipeline retrofit in the town of El Zurzular, which has great solar exposure and featured a small energy dashboard communicating the benefits of solar energy. The nexus of clean energy and education is fascinating, and led me to develop an educational solar powered kiosk while attending University of Washington called the 'SunDawg'.
I also had the opportunity to help support the UW Solar student organization, as well as co-found another organization called Green Development & Sustainable Practices. As a result, I was fortunate to receive the Mary Gates Leadership Scholarship for our SunDawg project, which led to the development of a multi-disciplined engineering and design course called 'Mobilizing Energy', which was facilitated by UW architecture professor and architect Rob Peña, to unite architects, engineers, and construction management students for clean energy education focusing on the development of mobile solar power applications. This project helped me get a foot in the door at Seattle City Light, where I spent about 4 years in the customer energy solutions division before joining a local solar contractor called A&R Solar. Working at A&R opened a lot of doors for me, and taught me the nuts and bolts of solar contracting, which helped me into my next role as net zero energy manager at the International Living Future Institute, and now at Sazan Group, where I work as Director of Clean Energy Solutions. I've bounced around enough to know that solar is here to stay, and the need for affordable, equitable, resilient clean energy deployment that incorporates workforce development training is a critical focus for the industry. One of my main goals at Sazan Group is to work with tribal and indigenous communities, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and various project partners to develop microgrid systems that leverage grant funding resources. It's exciting to help facilitate the process of applying for (and winning) a competitive grant that can pave the way for a shovel-ready project.
SW: Why did you join Solar Washington and what do you expect from Solar Washington?
JN: I joined Solar Washington to explore how education can support new members of the community getting a foothold in the rapidly evolving clean energy industry. I think SW is making a positive impact on this. Last year we rolled out the first ever 'Clean Energy Career Fair' after the Solar Summit conference, and several people have followed up since then to confirm they landed a job as a result of attending it. I loved hearing that! I expect Solar Washington will continue to play a key role in facilitating multi-sector dialogue, supporting strategic planning opportunities, and educational engagement on clean energy issues that arise in the near future and beyond. I also expect a growing need for consumer protections in Washington State around solar, primarily with the Inflation Reduction Act increasing access to solar benefits.
SW: What is next for you regarding solar?
JN: Up next is a broad range of strategic energy planning projects, microgrid feasibility studies, grant applications, conference presentations, Owners Representative support throughout the solar installation process, and more work with tribal communities to strengthen community resilience / climate adaptation measures. 2023 is my final year serving on the board of directors, so I am also focused on helping our nominating committee identify new candidates to join in and support Solar Washington's educational mission. Are you interested in getting involved? Contact me via [email protected]
SW: Can you share any lessons you learned during your solar experience?
JN: Many of the projects I've worked on are targeting net zero energy, Living Building Challenge or LEED certification, promoting community energy resilience, workforce training opportunities, or simply pursuing compliance with the latest Washington State Energy Code requirements. The greatest lesson I've learned is that regardless of these overarching goals, there are valuable funding resources out there to help get projects successfully completed; now more so than ever! However, when we look back at the historic allocation of renewable incentives, grants, and funding resources, it can be disappointing to see how many communities have been left out. So, I hope organizations like Solar Washington will continue to help people learn more about what's on the table right now as they consider solar for their home, business, or community, and help provide the keys to unlock financial resources that can bring your project online.
SW: Do you have any advice for anyone considering solar right now as a career or as a source of energy in Washington?
JN: My best recommendations are to get active with a community-based or solar-centric organization (E.g., Solar Washington - become a member), explore educational materials that offer accreditation (such as NABCEP, CEM, LFA, LEED), attend career fairs, monitor job posting websites, and consider applying for an entry-level job in the energy industry. Try to set a long range career goal, and take steps to support your development of the foundational knowledge that will promote you achieving it. I really appreciate what South Seattle College 'SBST', Building Operator Certification (BOC), and Northwest Indian College (NWIC) programs are doing to promote workforce development, lots to explore and I'm available to help support if interested!