Meeting the Biden-Harris administration’s goal of a carbon pollution-free electricity sector by 2035 will require more people with technical expertise and leadership in clean energy. Cultivating the talent to get us there is a priority for the Department of Energy—and it’s why fellowship programs like the Solar Energy Innovators Program (SEIP) are so important.
Launched in 2017, SEIP supports qualified candidates at all career levels as they spend one to two years developing and executing research projects with host institutions—public utility commissions, utilities, and grid operators—pursing solutions to solar energy deployment challenges. Many the program’s alumni have accepted permanent jobs at their host institutions, and others got permanent jobs doing similar work.
SEIP benefits the fellows and their host institutions: It sets fellows on a career path and provides institutions with additional capacity to explore and implement innovative ideas that support the clean energy transition. Together, they work on projects related to community solar programs, solar and energy storage interconnection, rate design, grid modernization, and more.
Feedback from fellows indicates SEIP significantly helped their careers. For example, Stephanie Eyocko earned a master’s degree in Energy, Resources, Environment, and Economics and became a fellow at the Maryland Public Service Commission (PUC). There, she helped design methods to evaluate how distributed energy resources affect the state’s grid. She learned how to read rate filings, developed stakeholder engagement skills by leading an internal work group, and discovered the impact PUCs have on the clean energy transition.
“PUCs play such an important role in decarbonizing our energy grid, yet they rarely get the publicity they deserve,” Eyocko says. “I worked with some of the best mentors during the program. That is what makes this work so special.” Eyocko now works at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as an energy industry analyst.
Like Eyocko, Emma Rodvien studied environmental science; she applied to SEIP with some solar work experience. During her fellowship, she worked with the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission, researching and developing a computer model that calculates the costs and benefits for consumers when there are changes to the state’s net metering policy.
“Commissions are where rubber meets the road when it comes to many state energy policies that affect climate change,” Rodvien says. “SEIP was one of the best things that happened to my career. There's no other opportunity in energy policy quite like it.” When her fellowship concluded, Emma joined Rhode Island’s PUC full-time as a policy and program analyst.
Dr. Paul Brooker was a professor at Central Florida University conducting research on fuel cells, electric vehicles, and solar energy when he applied to the SEIP fellowship. Brooker spent his fellowship at the Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC), a municipal utility, simulating the impact of a 108-megawatt solar project on OUC’s operations. He liked the work so much he changed his career: OUC hired Brooker for a full-time job as a supervisor of engineering and research in emerging technologies.
Brooker’s fellowship mentor, Justin Kramer, a manager at OUC in emerging technologies, says, “Being a host organization was extremely convenient and valuable. This program really helps OUC bridge the gap between academia and industry. Our participation brought a new perspective to the team and innovative approaches as to how we pursue new technologies and engage with universities in a way that benefits both parties.”
For students and job seekers, SEIP provides a foot in the door to a broad field of distributed energy careers in operations, regulation, and program development.
Due to the success of SEIP, DOE launched a broader Clean Energy Innovator Fellowship (CEIF) program that places qualified recent graduates and energy professionals at critical energy institutions to work on projects that will help decarbonize the U.S. power system, electrify transportation and industry, and make the power system more equitable and inclusive.