Chat with Abigail Ross Hopper | The Sunnyside Podcast

Chat with Abigail Ross Hopper

• Published on May 10, 2022

Episode Summary:

In this episode, Sharon Lee talks with Abigail Ross Hopper, a woman who was a lawyer trying to figure out how to be a professional and a mom, and who landed in the solar industry by accident. Here we talk about a little bit of who Abigail Hopper is, how she has worked hard to create spaces for women and people of color for them to find their voice not only in the solar industry, but also in the professional environment. Abby tells us how she has built her way up in the solar industry, what are some of the latest updates of the solar industry towards cybersecurity in terms of policies and strategies.

Insights from this Episode:

  • What brought Abby into the solar industry
  • What inspired Abby to bring women in the solar industry together
  • How being a woman impacted Abby’s career
  • How the impact of women has changed over the five years
  • Where Abby sees the most opportunity for young women in their careers
  • How does solar energy relate with cybersecurity
  • What does Abby see as a long term strategy for the US solar industry
  • Long term problems of the solar industry
  • Where is solar industry today
  • General information about SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association)

Quotes from the Show: 

  • “There is no one career path, specially for young women who are kind of struggling with: how do I be a mom and how do I be a professional, there’s no one way and there is also no timeline”– Abigail Hopper in “The Sunnyside Podcast”
  • “I love being a woman and I love the comradery I feel with a lot of my colleagues who are women. I love talking to young girl women or women early in their careers who are really trying to figure out how to be a mom and how to be a professional and how to shift back and forth in those roles over the curse of the day ”– Abigail Hopper in “The Sunnyside Podcast”
  • “Solar companies are just like any other rational economic actor, there’s nothing fundamentally altruistic about  them, they’re not necessarily motivated by just making everyone feel good about their energy use, you got to make payroll, you got to pay taxes”– Abigail Hopper in “The Sunnyside Podcast”
  • “Solar is going to be the predominant if not one of the predominant field sources in the next ten years”– Abigail Hopper in “The Sunnyside Podcast”

Episode transcript:

Sharon Lee:

Welcome to The Sunny Side, the podcast that makes solar energy relatable, accessible, and attainable. Join us as we journey behind the scenes with women taking amazing strides in all parts of the solar industry. I’m your host, Sharon Lee, and thank you for joining us today.

Sharon Lee:

Hello, and welcome back to The Sunny Side. I’m your host, Sharon Lee, and we are going to dive right into today’s episode. But first, let me take you into Sharon’s corner, talk a bit about what I’ve been up to since last episode. So, Velo Solar did a sales retreat up in beautiful Blue Ridge, Georgia, and we played golf, not well, but we played golf, and had fantastic food, talked a bit of planning.

Sharon Lee:

And from there, I went to the total opposite extreme, to the coast of Savannah, and had a meeting with clients, and some fantastic networking with the Chamber of Commerce. We went to a place called Starland Yard, which I had never heard of before, but it was very Savannah, very eclectic, food trucks and music, and very well-attended. It was a lot of fun just to go home and put on my boy-mom hat, and I cannot believe my older son just turned 15. I can’t even believe I said that so easily. That’s a hard one to take.

Sharon Lee:

But I took a group of his friends to Top Golf, so that was a big surprise for him. It was fun. Then, the rest of the weekend we spent at the baseball field with my younger son, tournament. So, I am sunburned and tired, but it was a great weekend. Now, I’m back on the belt line in Atlanta and ready to talk to today’s guest. So, please help me to welcome Abigail Ross Hopper. She’s the president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, otherwise known as SEIA. So, welcome to The Sunny Side. Hey, Abby.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Hi, Sharon. How are you?

Sharon Lee:

I am great, I’m great. We’re so thrilled that you’re with us today. So, let’s dive right in. Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, what brought you to the solar industry?

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Yeah. Well, thanks so much for inviting me to be here. It’s really an honor to spend time with you. How did I end up here? That is such a fine question. And to all those people who sketch their life out and their life plan out early on in their life and followed it to a tee, God bless you. I sketched my life plan out, and then it went dramatically off the rails quickly, just because my interests changed and my life changed and my situation changed, and I had three children.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

And what seemed like a really great idea when I was 20-something and had no children, did not seem like a great idea when I was 30-something and had three little kids. So, I fell into this energy world totally by accident. I was a lawyer in private practice. I was a divorce lawyer, actually, before I joined the forces of the energy world.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

And I share that because I think it’s really important for people to know that there’s no one way to get here, there’s no one career path. And especially for young women who are struggling with how do I be a mom and how do I be a professional, there’s no one way and there’s also no timeline. What makes sense when your kids are two is different than when they’re 12 is different when they’re 22. It took me a long time to figure that out. I’m still figuring it out.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

So, most recently I got here because I was ending my role with the Federal Government. I worked as a politico under President Obama. And as that job was coming to a close, as his term was ending, actually, the CEO job opened up, and I thought, “That sounds like an interesting opportunity.”

Abigail Ross Hopper:

I was not super well-versed in solar. It was not an area I’d spent a lot of time working in or thinking about, but the ability to be in this industry, and it was clear which direction it was going, and to lead a team of committed professionals sounded really appealing to me, and here I am.

Sharon Lee:

Well, you have taken this industry by storm. We are lucky to have you, that’s for sure. And I wanted to share more to the story. I found this bio of yours. It sounds like I’m stalking you. I found this bio of yours online. I absolutely loved it. It said, “She’s the very proud mom of three children, who loves to read, ride her peloton, do hot yoga, and lie on the beach in her not-so-free time.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

That’s pretty much all you need to know about me. You will find me in one of those places.

Sharon Lee:

I love it. Well, just to say, I can’t imagine a better one of my first guests being you because it’s just such a perfect fit since our audience isn’t only women, but our goal is to lift women up using this platform in the solar industry, which is most definitely male-dominated and spotlight their unique impacts and the mountains that they or we are moving every day. So, when it comes to that mission, I feel you have a gift. So, tell me what inspired you to begin bringing women of our industry together?

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Yeah, I appreciate that question. So, I grew up here in Washington DC, and I actually went to an all-girls school from when I was in 7th grade through 12th grade. It was a small school. There about 55 young women in my graduating class. Actually, I have the joy of having my two daughters go to the same all-girls school. It’s been pretty cool. One’s graduated last year and one’s graduating this year.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

So, I learned from a really young age both the power of women being together in their own space, and having people in my life, my parents and my teachers and my coaches say, “You can do whatever you want. You can be the Editor in Chief of the newspaper or the captain of the team or the president of this club or whatever.” And they’re all obviously leadership roles.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

So, I went through life just assuming that would be the case. I would be whatever I want, and I’m going to hang out with other women while I do it. I went to a very male… I went to Dartmouth, and you know Dartmouth was not that far into its co-educational existence. I had a couple 100 years of all-men and then maybe 20 years of women in the school. It was a fabulous experience, but it, again, reiterated to me how important it was to create communities of women.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

So, when I got into this role in particular, I was really surprised actually the first time I went to a solar event. It was probably one that we co-owned, and it took my breath away a bit how male and how White the room was. And I thought, “Oh, we need to create some spaces where women and people of color can just take a breath, take a breath.” And as you said, you said it eloquently, “Learn from each other, lift each other up, remind each other of the value of our contributions and really identify what our unique contributions are.”

Abigail Ross Hopper:

So, it started out very informally. I remember at the first SPI, no, I don’t think it was the first one, because that’s a blur. I was only in the job a couple months. But the second SPI, I just on the fly invited women over to my suite. I got a big suite. And it started kind of that, “Hey, what are you doing later? Why don’t you guys come over? And why don’t you come over, and why don’t you come over?” And at the end we had 75 women in my suite.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Then, I got a little more organized. “Okay, let’s do these events.” And for me, I just got back from Texas. We did RE+ Texas. And I had a women’s event in my suite, and I don’t know how many people are there, maybe 40 women. And those are always one of my favorite parts of any event I go to, because there are women from all different parts of their career.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

There was a woman there who was just out of college, and there were women CEOs and there were women founders and technical experts and finance experts. So, if you take away the fact that we’re all women, it’s an incredibly accomplished group of professionals, and then you add back in the fact that we also have this other shared lived experience, it’s really cool. And I partly did it for myself, to create spaces that I felt really comfortable and supported before I stepped back out onto the stage.

Sharon Lee:

You did it right. We were together in Atlanta for what used to be the Solar and Storage Southeast. And, yeah, after a long day of networking and sessions and all that, just to get together. And of course the organizing with the wine and sushi was topnotch. And I think the other thing was, everybody felt very comfortable with one another. We took our shoes off, we just talked just round table style, and it was really fantastic.

Sharon Lee:

But you’re exactly right, there were women from all walks of their career, and everyone felt comfortable to share. So, kudos, that was very well done. So, I was going to ask you how being a woman impacted your career. So, maybe we can segue there.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Yeah. That’s an interesting question. Maybe I’m breaking the rules, but you sent these over in advance. So, I had a chance to really think about that a bit, whether being a woman, how it impacted my career. So, before I was in the energy industry, I was a lawyer in private practice for a decade, and then I was Deputy General Counsel for the Public Service Commission. I worked for the governor of Maryland, and then the President.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

It impacts everything, because that’s my lived experience is that I am a woman, so I don’t know how else to be in the world. But definitely I’ve experienced lots of the same kinds of things that unfortunately a lot of other women have had to experience, about both just of being interrupted and spoken over and having my ideas not assigned to me, but also touched and groped and all those other really unpleasant things, being assumed that I was the person there to get the coffee rather than the executive they were there to meet with.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

It’s amazing when I think about it. And those things still happen. Almost every time I’m on the road, choose your own adventure of those things I just said, happens. It happens in a different way now because I’m at a different position of power than I was when I was earlier in my career, but it still happens. And that’s what makes me realize like we need to still have places that feel more safe, because it does. Don’t they know I love being a woman?

Abigail Ross Hopper:

And I love the camaraderie I feel with a lot of my colleagues who are women. I love talking to younger women or women earlier in their careers who are really trying to figure out how to be a mom and how to be a professional and how we shift back and forth in those roles over the course of the day, much less your career but the day itself.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

I was a little behind schedule this morning because my teenager wouldn’t get out of bed and I had to take him to school. So, it’s still a daily occurrence for me. Now, I feel I’ve really formed some different kinds of relationships with some of my colleagues, and I really appreciate those opportunities.

Sharon Lee:

Right. And I think that the collaborative nature of women helps keep our sanity through all of that and helps you deal with the guilt of all of that, and I think, yes, just keeps us keeping one foot going in front of the other. So, it’s interesting, the solar industry, I feel it has advanced so much, but it’s a very young industry overall.

Sharon Lee:

So, I was thinking about how has the impact of women evolved over the last five years, which is a big portion of the entire industry, but do you want to speak to any changes you have seen?

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Yeah, sure. So, I got here, and by “here”, I mean both the solar industry and SEIA, a little over five years ago. So, I can tell you that in the last five years we have welcomed more women into the solar industry. We do a study. We don’t do it every year, we do a job study every year, and then we are also do a diversity study every couple years, both are happening this year.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

But when we look over the job study, we do basic demographic information, including how many women, how many people of color are in our industry. So, since 2015 there’s been a 39% increase of women in the solar industry. We now represent about 30% of the workforce. So, that’s better. It was I think, 20-something when I got here.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

So, as my old boss, the governor used to say, “It’s a graph moving in the right direction.” I don’t think it’s moving quite quickly enough for my taste. And certainly our representation around people of color is not nearly as high as 30%. Then, if you start looking at where in the industry are women and people of color, are they business owners, are they CEOs, are they project managers or are they installation crews?

Abigail Ross Hopper:

That’s what the diversity study that we’re conducting this year is going to give us a lot more information, as well as pay equity and understanding how the solar industry is doing with regard to pay equity. So, there’s more data to be mined and more lessons to be learned.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

I think for most companies, my experience has been that there’s an intentionality around addressing these issues. Doesn’t always mean they know exactly what to do or doing it perfectly, but there is a desire to change.

Sharon Lee:

And that’s the first step, for sure.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Yep.

Sharon Lee:

And from that standpoint, where do you see the best opportunities for young women to start their careers?

Abigail Ross Hopper:

I’m a big believer in “find what you love and go for it”, and, “your first job isn’t going to be your last job.” You and I can both, I’m sure Sharon have had more than what role. So, I have a daughter who’s in college and one daughter who’s about to be in college, and they think a lot about what that first job is going to be like, which is so important. But I try to remind them that it’s a step into whatever industry they’re choosing. And neither one of them has expressed any interest in going to the solar or energy.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Anyway, it’s just to step into the chosen field. So, I would say for women earlier in their career who are looking to either get into the industry or navigate their way upwards, find something that interests you, don’t hold out for the perfect job, get in the door, because I really do believe that once you prove yourself, so many other doors will open.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

And find those people that are invested in your success. It can be any male, female, non-binary, does not matter. People that are invested in your success. And that doesn’t necessarily mean they have to have a formal title of mentor or boss or some construct. I just don’t have time in my life to participate in things that have that level of formal construct, but I do feel like I am invested in the success of a lot of different people.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

And sometimes that might mean we have a conversation every couple months where they’re, “Hey, I have this thing, this question, or this situation, what do you think,” and I’ll tell them what I think, or it might mean that when I’m in their city, like when I’m in Atlanta, I see you. It doesn’t mean when we’re not in Atlanta we don’t have to talk every Thursday at 12:15, because neither one of us have lives that would allow for that, but we’re invested in each other’s success.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

And that to me, it’s like a huge freedom to know that I don’t have to follow some rigid mentoring program so that I then have this outcome. It’s, I’m going to utilize the relationships I have and I have created, and that totally works for me. I don’t know if that works for everybody, but it works for me.

Sharon Lee:

Well, I think it is really important to think about that and know who those people are in your life and be meaningful about those things. That’s what you said, when you’re in Atlanta, you do this, or you find ways to make those as enriching as you possibly can, and that’s intentional from your part. Then, you’re doing your part and you hope that the other side will do it as well. So, I think that’s fantastic.

Sharon Lee:

But let’s shift gears a bit, talking about the solar energy in general, state of the world, and how it relates to cybersecurity. So, first, how did your recent cybersecurity conference go?

Abigail Ross Hopper:

It was great. So, last week in Texas we had Secure Renewables ’22. It was the first of its kind event that we put on, all around ensuring that solar is the most secure technology on the grid. That is our goal. And we had FER Commissioner, Willie Phillips, attended in person. Yay, he was all in person. We had the Deputy Director of the White House, cybersecurity office. We had a great collaboration with Idaho National Labs.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

And it was funny, I will say, so I was on the stage last Tuesday morning with someone from the lab, and then the Deputy Director of the White House office and Commissioner Phillips was sitting in the audience, and I looked up and I realized there was security, the guys in the dark suits with the earphones in, and I thought, “Oh, this is a cyber conference.”

Abigail Ross Hopper:

We’re talking about state policy in Georgia, we don’t have security in the corners. It was funny. But it was a great event. And the reason it was a great event was because it really did bring together government, industry, and the labs, to identify what the challenges are and how we’re going to get there. We were really focused.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

One of the specific outcomes was ensuring that the industry, A, understands that cyber is in our best interest. It is not merely a bandaid we need to slap on because some regulation told us we had to, it is a way of thinking and ensuring that business continuity, and that we can continue to grow our industry.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

If we have a huge cyber event in the solar industry that contributes to the grid going down, all of us as entrepreneurs are going to be really in trouble, because we will really struggle with adoption going forward. So, it’s in our business interest to address this early on. And it’s so much cheaper. It’s like so many things. An ounce of prevention will save a lot in the future, and I think it was really effective in that way.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

The other thing I noticed, and I mentioned this from the stage when I was up front, the room was so much more diverse. We drew from a different population. Usually it’s a lot of policy people, sales people that come to our events. This was a bunch of cyber professionals, not a world I usually hang out in, because I don’t understand what they’re talking about mostly.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

It was a lot more women and a lot more diverse audience than I normally see at our shows, and it made me think, “Oh…” We talk a lot about cyber across industries, it’s clearly a growing sector, and it’s reflected in that workforce. It’s cool.

Sharon Lee:

That is very cool, something I would never have even thought about. That was a nice revelation. Well, I think that you have answered my next question about taking a step back and helping our listeners to make the connection between solar energy and the strength of cyber security. So, I think that you did that from the standpoint of the impact to solar. But how can solar help the security in the [inaudible 00:19:14] going to the opposite direction? Does that make sense? Did I ask-

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Yeah. You made total sense. How do we keep our technology secure, but also what do we add to the security of the nation’s energy mix?

Sharon Lee:

Right.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

And I will not say anything everyone else hasn’t said, but certainly the invasion of Ukraine has put such a fine point on the role that energy and access to energy plays in our foreign policy. And I know we’re going to talk about manufacturing in a moment, and we should talk about that, but if we think even just about fuel source, we don’t have to import the sun from anywhere else, we don’t have to hope that a government is friendly with ours to utilize that resource. There’s lots of hardware that we need to talk about, and software, but fuel source, we’ve got that one covered.

Sharon Lee:

Right. Okay. Check that one off the list.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Yep.

Sharon Lee:

But that’s a good segue directly into manufacturing, specifically US manufacturing and supply chain disruptions and jobs, how that is impacting everything. But we need long-term policies and changes to those policies to get there. So, what would you recommend? What do you see as short-term things to get us going in the right direction and what do you see as a good long-term strategy?

Abigail Ross Hopper:

So, when I took this job a couple years ago, I did not fully appreciate how much of my life would involve trade and tariff discussions. I really had no idea. When I first got here, I launched on this a 100-day tour where I traveled all around the country and I met with a bunch of our members in all different places and talked about what they needed and what was working for them and what wasn’t working for them and how could we be of even more help and what do they need from the US Government and the State Government, and all this great conversations.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Then, on literally the 100th day, I had this job because it was going to be the 100th day I would synthesize all this and communicate it back out, that’s when the first 201 petition was filed, on the 100th day, and I thought, “Oh, God.” And it totally hijacked most of everything for all of us. And that has been, it feels like, a continuous cycle, obviously, that we’re in again.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

But what it made me realize and made a lot of us realize was that all of these trade cases, they’re symptoms of a larger problem and a larger question. And the larger question is just what you ask, how do we create a strong, vibrant, robust domestic manufacturing base in the US? I don’t know of anyone who’s against that. How do we do that?

Abigail Ross Hopper:

I am of the very strong opinion that tariffs are not the way to do that, and I think the evidence has born that out. We’ve had tariffs in place for the last 12 years and we still are asking ourselves the same question, how do we build this? So, we started here at SEIA a couple years ago, we created a manufacturing division in our organization.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

We have a number of manufacturers who are really active in helping us answer that question of, what do they need? It’s not, “Hey, political scientists,” or, “Hey government lobbyists, what do you think we need?” It’s, “Hey, you’re a manufacturing company. You are thinking about where to invest capital and under what terms you’ll invest your capital, and what do you need? What kind of business and political climate do you need?”

Abigail Ross Hopper:

So, from that, we worked really close, actually, with the Senator, from your great state, Senator Ossoff, to help draft the SEMA, the Solar Energy and Equipment Manufacturing Act, I think. But it is a number of different pieces to the puzzle, because like any challenging puzzle, you’ve got to put all the pieces together. If it was easy, we would’ve done it a while ago.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

But one of those pieces is to send a clearer signal to the manufacturers and say, “Hey, we’re going to support you. We’re going to do that both through investment tax credit of your initial investment in building your factory, but also in production tax credit so that there is an incentive for each thing you build.”

Abigail Ross Hopper:

But we also need to send a really clear signal of the tax credit, that long-term extensions of the solar investment tax credit, so that manufacturers know there’ll be a market, there’ll continue to be a market for what they’re producing.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

And those two things, in concert, we think will send the right market signals. We certainly don’t want to federalize the manufacturing in the United States, but we do want to say, “Hey, this is a priority for all the reasons we all know, including cyber, and so we are going to invest our time, money, and resources in making sure it happens.”

Sharon Lee:

So, that leads into the extension of the ITC [inaudible 00:23:49] is a perfect… And that goes beyond manufacturing, but it goes hand-in-hand with exactly what you’re trying to do in looking at long-term stability issues for the industry.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Right. So, before, I told you I was a divorce lawyer, which I was for five years immediately before I got to energy. I was going to say, if you want to meet after work, sometime I can give you advice on your divorce, not yours, but one’s… It’s amazing how handy that information is. People need it a lot, unfortunately, myself included.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Anyway, before that, I was a corporate in securities lawyer, and so I represented big companies and large organizations that were either investing capital in businesses or were businesses going public, or whatever. So, I bring that lens to the work I do here. And the message on the Hill and to capitols is, solar companies are just like any other rational economic actor. There’s nothing fundamentally altruistic about them. They’re not necessarily motivated by just making everyone feel good about their energy use.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

You’ve got to make payroll, you’ve got to pay taxes, you’ve got to turn a profit for either your investors or your shareholders. We’re all a capitalist here, and so what I need and what my companies need from the government is stability. They need stability, and they need predictability, and they need to understand what the rules of the road are so they can talk to their investors, talk to their shareholders, about how to allocate capital.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

We could be selling widgets, we could be selling pencils, we could be selling grapes, I don’t know why I picked that one, they all want the same thing. They want stability, they want known timelines. It’s the same things. So, the long-term extensions of the investment tax credit is not because we think we’re good and we’re better than other technologies, although we certainly bring attributes that other technologies and fuel sources can’t bring, but it’s because we’re rational economic actors and we need certainty in order to deploy capital.

Sharon Lee:

Exactly-

Abigail Ross Hopper:

So, if you give me a one year extension, a two year extension, that’s better than nothing, but I can’t make the long-term business plan, and we can’t plan to quadruple our workforce, which is what we need to do, on a two-year extension. No one’s going to do that, and no one should do that. That’s poor business strategy.

Sharon Lee:

Right. So, which is good, methodical, good long-term business decisions. But let’s shift gears just a bit and talk about some statistics, because I do think that when it comes to solar, I think that we can talk all day long about things that we need to do and policy changes that we need and that, but there’s a lot of success stories about where solar is today versus years ago. Do you want to share some successes and what people might not know about where solar is today?

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Yeah. There is so much good news in the solar industry. I just had a chat with my team this morning, because we were talking on a Monday, sometimes Mondays are challenging, and it was one of those IT Mondays too, and the laptop wouldn’t turn on and the emails weren’t downloading to the phone and where are we supposed to be anyway?

Sharon Lee:

I’m glad you’re here.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

I’m here. I found I’ve got it all worked out. If this had been a 9:00 meeting, we would’ve been in trouble. We just reflected this morning in our executive team meeting at SEIA that the reason we are being challenged on the trade front, the reason that other interests are coming after us, the reason that sometimes it feels like we’re constantly under siege, is because we’re succeeding, right?

Sharon Lee:

Right.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

People don’t put targets on the back of losers. They just don’t waste their time. So, we are winning. We are a real market risk. If you look at any projection, solar is going to be the predominant, not one of the predominant fuel sources in the next 10 years. So, those entities that we threaten, and fill in the blank, on the entity, are coming after us. I just said, “We live in a capitalistic world, it’s competition, and we love competition, and that’s totally fine. It’s totally fine.”

Abigail Ross Hopper:

So, I’ll start there. We’re winning, even though in the day-to-day maybe it doesn’t feel like it sometimes. But if we think about, well, how do we know that? We talked about the projections, and it’s all clear, if you look at any projection from any organization.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

But if you think about what’s happened in the last few years, we look at sources of new electricity generation, and solar is either number one or number two source of new electricity generation year-over-year over the last five or six years. If we look at the pace of our growth, we’ve continued to grow year-over-year at just incredible rates, even in a year that was challenging, even a year where we all had COVID, even in a year where we couldn’t get, fill in the blank, it was challenging.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

The trade petition, I think that threatens it in the near term, and that’s a serious risk, but it’s pretty amazing. I think a lot about what the world will look like. I have a 14-year-old son, and when my 14-year-old son and your 15-year-old son are our age… But I think it’ll be normalized. I live in DC, and so sometimes I drive on 95 and there are those humongous transition corridors, and we don’t even see them. We didn’t even notice them because they’ve been there and that’s just how it is. I don’t notice solar panels anymore. Some people do, but I don’t.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

I notice wind farms because we don’t have a lot of them here on the east coast, but I think all that is going to get normalized. So, I’m really clear about where we’re headed, and I think the market is very clear about where we’re headed. I think what’s still up for grabs is the pace of that transition. Some of us think it should happen more quickly, others more slowly. I think the planet needs it to go a lot faster. So, that’s what I’m super focused on.

Sharon Lee:

I think that’s fantastic. And you can tell, you’re a force to be reckoned with, so I think that’s just fantastic. So, let’s talk about specifically SEIA and some of the things that it is doing on an ongoing basis, policy-wise, strategy, the front and center, things that they’re doing to move things forward.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Yeah. So, SEIA is such a cool organization. There’s about 55 employees, maybe, which some people think is a lot and some people think is little. I think it’s just right. No, I don’t know. We’re having a hiring spree. We’re hiring a lot of people. So, if anyone needs a job me up, yeah… But we do the traditional trade association work, which is, the way I describe it to people who aren’t familiar with trade associations is that we really are the point of the spear. We are the ones who are out there pushing so that you don’t have to.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

You might not want Velo Solar’s name associated one-on-one with a particular position or a particular advocacy stance, but it needs to be said, and that’s my job. My job is to say it. And it could be on the Hill here in Washington, it could be in the White House, it could be at the Department of Energy, it could be at the State Capitol in Atlanta, it could be at your Public Utility Commission. We do different venues.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

It could be at PJM. But we are the voice of the industry, so this aggregated group of companies that speak with one voice and are more powerful than one company speaking by itself. So, we have a federal affairs team, we have a regulatory affairs team, we have a state affairs team. That’s all pretty fun.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

We also have a research team, because no matter what policymaker I go to speak to, he or she or they want to know how it impacts their jurisdiction, whether it’s their county or their state. So, our research team tells me there are X number of solar workers in Georgia and there’s X number of companies, and the five biggest markets are Y, and the places it’s going to grow the most are X, W, Z.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

And just that data is so critical to our advocacy efforts. So, we have a whole research team. Obviously we have a comms team that tells the story. And we have a membership services team that really makes sure our members know what’s up. But some things we do that people aren’t as familiar with, we have a codes and standards team.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

So, if you think about all of you out there in the world building solar have to comply with building codes and construction codes and safety codes. And if they’re being drafted by people who are either not knowledgeable about solar, or worse, are hostile to solar, they’re going to make your job so much more difficult and expensive. So, we have technical experts who advocate in those venues and take positions.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

We have someone on our team that is helping us develop a nationwide program for [inaudible 00:32:20] recycling. Again, as we think about areas of risk for the industry, we can’t handle and figure out the recycling issue. That’s not going to be good. We’re also thinking about, obviously things like trade, but also the security and the character of our supply chain, and so we have someone on our team that’s working on helping us become a certified organization so we can promulgate standards so that all of our installers and all of our companies are living up to a certain standard that will help with government compliance requirements.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

So, that’s part of what I love about being in this organization, just as an organization, is that we are small enough and flexible enough to earlier respond to what the industry needs. We just brought on a new VP of Equity and Workforce development. So, as we think about quadrupling the solar workforce, A, how are we going to do that, and who are we going to employ, and how do we make sure it’s as equitable as it needs to be?

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Now, we have someone who’s an expert in that and can help us and help our companies navigate pretty unexplored territory. So, that’s what SEIA does. Oh, and we put on a lot of events.

Sharon Lee:

That’s what you’re more known for, but it’s amazing what all’s done behind the scenes, and that’s fantastic. And this was a perfect opportunity to segue into a spotlight on the RE+ Southeast that’s coming to Atlanta, what is it, May 11th and 12th?

Abigail Ross Hopper:

That sounds right, that sounds right. I will soon be in your great city. So, as you know, we were talking about this earlier, we’ve rebranded to RE+ to really reflect the fact that almost everyone in this industry is taking a solutions-oriented approach and not necessarily a technology-oriented approach. Customers want clean, reliable, affordable energy, and we know that solar and storage are pillars of that but not the only pillars, and so we want our shows to reflect that.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

So, we are coming in for RE+ Southeast, and I’m sure there will be a women’s reception, all-women. But it’s one of our biggest shows. The Southeast is just such a booming market. It’s a different market, obviously, than some others, like just in Texas, different than Texas. We were in the Northeast, very different than the Northeast. But that’s why we do the regional shows is because those variations are important. It’s not going to really help you if all we talk about are deregulated states in your great State of Georgia.

Sharon Lee:

And speaking of those events, when we were in Atlanta last time we were talking about, this is a random question, about what you were reading, and you were reading, for fun, a Liane Moriarty book, and we both love her as an author. So, I have to ask, what are you reading right now for fun?

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Oh, my gosh. So, I always have one book on my phone, on audible that I listen to, if I’m driving or on the airplane. I did on the airplane the other day. So, I just downloaded a new mystery. It’s a debut mystery, because when I’m listening, that’s about all I can manage. I don’t have the attention span for real literature. Blood Sugar by Sascha Rothchild. It’s really good.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

So, that’s what I’m listening to. And what I’m reading, I just finished a book, I was away last week, I was in Florida on spring break with my son and his best friend, and I finished a book about that one thing that I can’t remember, and then I started reading another… I’m sure it’s that book I found out Goodwill. Isn’t that funny?

Sharon Lee:

That’s fantastic.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

I forgot what it’s called. But the thing I find so interesting about it is that the main character is really into plants and flowers and the meaning of flowers, and it’s one of the ways she communicates with people is she’ll give someone a rose because it means X or a orchid because it means Y and I don’t remember what it is.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

But that’s what I love about reading is it lets my brain go to places that do not involve solar policy or energy policy or politics, and just have a nice little break. But I have quite a stack on the side of my bed as all the time. What are you reading right now?

Sharon Lee:

So, I just finished, have you ever read Kate Quinn? I love historical fiction.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Oh, I love… Me too.

Sharon Lee:

So, Rose Code is her latest, and so I just finished. That is probably not her best, but it was still very good. And most of her writings are based on true story things. My favorite of hers was the Alice Network, and that was a real life… these were women spies back in World War I. No one expected females to be doing something like that. But just the fact that it was based on a true story, there was truly an Alice Network, and it was really fantastic. It’s not light though. So, it’s not one of those beach reads but…

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Yeah, yeah. No, I get bored with the beach reads. What was the author’s name?

Sharon Lee:

Kate Quinn.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

All right, I’m adding it to my list.

Sharon Lee:

Yeah, she’s fantastic.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

One of my favorite historical fiction books, have you ever read, there’s two, 1,000 White Women?

Sharon Lee:

No.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Highly recommend it. It’s about a time when our country was just forming when, obviously this didn’t take place, but when the US Government, in a way to colonize, basically, the native Americans gave them a 1,000 white women to marry and have children with to change their culture. It’s really fascinating. Highly recommend it. Then, have you read The Red Tent?

Sharon Lee:

Yes.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

I just reread it recently after-

Sharon Lee:

I would need to reread it. It’s been a long time since I read it, but-

Abigail Ross Hopper:

I reread it and it was so fabulous. Anita Diamante, I love anything she writes, anything she writes.

Sharon Lee:

I’m trying to think if I have, I don’t think I’ve read anything else that she has written, but she is… What a fantastic… Again, I love taking something that is true to life and bringing it to life.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Yeah. She has a really great book about the founding of Harvard, and again, historical fiction. She has a great book, I think it’s called The Plague, about the plague and the community, and it’s feels relevant at the moment, unfortunately.

Sharon Lee:

Too close to home. Not going to read that one now.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

All right, don’t read it, don’t read it. Yeah. I love reading.

Sharon Lee:

I do too. Well, I tell you what it has been great talking to you today. And if people want to know more about SEIA, your events, policy initiatives, things that you all are undertaking and that sort of thing, tell them where to find you.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Yeah. And job openings.

Sharon Lee:

And job openings. Yes.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

It’s really easy. It’s SEIA.org. S-E-I-A.org. That’s where all of our stuff is, our job listings, our policy positions, our media alerts, all of our contact information. And I would encourage people if you’re at RE+ or any of our events, please, please, please reach out to me, and I’d love to meet

Sharon Lee:

Sounds fantastic. Well, thanks again for being with us today and for sharing your thoughts.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Sharon, thanks for doing this. You’re really doing a service, and it was a pleasure talking with you.

Sharon Lee:

Fantastic. All right, we’ll see you in Atlanta.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

See, you in Atlanta.

Sharon Lee:

Bye-bye.

Abigail Ross Hopper:

Bye-bye.

Sharon Lee:

Thanks for listening to The Sunny Side Podcast. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. You can also email questions, suggestions, and compliments, to sharing @velosolar.com. The Sunny Side is produced by the Podcast Laundry Production Company, and executive produced by Sharon Lee.

Sharon Lee:

Sharon Lee taps over a decade of solar sales experience, having led the creation of a solar division for a leading manufacturing/construction firm, resulting in over 17 MW of solar in its portfolio as well as solar ultimately becoming its highest grossing revenue vertical. Lee has been involved in the GA Solar Energy Association, serving on the board of directors as the marketing chair, organizing the annual conference, as well as vice chair, and ultimately the first female chair of the organization in 2015. She is also a charter member of the Professional Women in Building chapter of the Greater Atlanta Homebuilders Association, a member of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), and Women in Solar Energy (WISE). Lee earned her B.S. degree in communications with double minors in marketing and psychology from Middle Tennessee State University, after spending three years at the University of Tennessee in the pre-health curriculum. Lee is the mom of two boys, ages 14 and 11 and a rabid college football fan. She and her husband, John, spend most of their free time at the baseball or football fields, unless they can steal away for a quick round of golf.

Abigail Hopper:

Abigail Ross Hopper is the President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, the national trade organization for America’s solar energy industries. She oversees all of SEIA’s activities, including government affairs, research, communications, and industry leadership, and is focused on creating a marketplace where solar will constitute a significant percentage of America’s energy generation. Before joining SEIA, Abby was the Director of the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, where she led the agency that oversaw the leasing and development of all offshore energy, from oil and natural gas to offshore wind. Abby graduated Cum Laude from the University of Maryland School of Law and earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Dartmouth College. She is the very proud mom of three children and loves to read, ride her Peloton, do hot yoga and lie on the beach in her (not so free) time.

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