Jan Scott recalls the moment when, during her teenage years, a pole-mounted solar array was installed at her grandparents’ house in the Navajo Nation. That’s when light switches in their home that were once faulty suddenly became reliable.

“This was a literal lightbulb moment,” she said.

This is also when, after seeing the impacts solar power had on her family, Scott’s interest in solar energy sparked. She now serves as a lead solar panel installer for Independent Power Systems—and is one of the few women to hold that title at her company and throughout the industry.

It’s rare to see women installing solar panels on homes and businesses. Women currently make up one-third of the solar energy workforce and account for an even smaller fraction of solar installers—5.5%. But as job opportunities in solar energy expand, Scott is among the female installers in Colorado’s solar industry who are working to grow their ranks in the Mountain West and beyond.

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Want to learn more about workforce development opportunities in solar?

Learn about programs funded by U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office that are helping to prepare and sustain a skilled and diverse clean energy workforce here.

Shining the Light on Solar Careers

To address the need for diversity and inclusion in the solar energy workforce, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) launched its Advancing Equity Through Workforce Partnerships program, which supports workforce partnerships that bring together employers, training providers, and community-based organizations to expand training opportunities for people like Scott.

For example, Red Cloud Renewable, a grassroots nonprofit organization on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, will use its SETO funding to recruit, train, and place Native American women in solar careers across the country. 

Another recipient, Amicus O&M Cooperative, is launching a partnership that will place newly trained workers in jobs and help existing workers move up in their careers, with the goal of increasing equity, safety, and professional quality in the solar operations and maintenance workforce.

Riley Neugebauer is one of the women who has paved the way for others to join the industry. Riley is a solar installer and residential electrical apprentice who works for one of Amicus’ member companies, Colorado-based Namaste Solar. Neugebauer hopes that as the solar energy industry grows, so too will the number of women who work as solar installers.

“It’s really varied in terms of the tasks and the skill set that you have to have, so there’s always more to learn about both the actual hands-on side of it and the conceptual, theoretical electrical side,” said Neugebauer. “You can really move yourself forward in your career in so many ways.”

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Women currently make up one-third of the solar energy workforce and account for an even smaller fraction of solar installers—5.5%. But as job opportunities in solar energy expand, Jan Scott and Riley Neugebauer are among the growing number of female solar installers in Colorado who are benefitting from great pay and benefits with a career they truly love.
Video by the U.S. Department of Energy

Supporting Women Working in Solar Energy

At the grassroots level, Neugebauer founded a networking group to help female installers connect, support, and learn from one another. She hopes this support can help women imagine themselves in installation roles, find mentors, and spread the word about solar job opportunities.

Female solar installer handling a solar panel on a roof with a male coworker helping in the background.

Jan Scott works on a residential solar installation project on a roof in Boulder, Colorado.

Photo by Joe DelNero, NREL

“I created this group, which is all about ‘How do we get more women in the trades?’” Neugebauer said. “But also, ‘How do we create more connection and networking for women so that it’s not as hard and doesn’t feel as challenging when you’re trying to get into a field that’s really male dominated?’”

She recognizes that construction jobs are not for everyone but sees solar power installation as a viable career path for women who want to engage in hands-on work, spend time outside, and experience job stability with room for professional growth.

Just ask Scott about job security. She credits her solar installation career with giving her financial peace of mind and allowing her to support two children on a single income.

“I want to show other women with my story, my background, that if I can do it, you can do it,” Scott said.

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