The Workforce and Equitable Access (WEA) team supports the growth of a diverse and well-supported solar workforce and increasing equitable access to solar energy for all Americans. This includes workforce initiatives in areas such as training, mentorship, and job placement, as well as initiatives to remove barriers to solar adoption through data collection and analysis, innovative and equitable financing, and increasing community solar access.
Nicole Steele, Workforce and Equitable Access Program Manager
Nicole Steele joined the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office in January 2021 as a senior advisor for equity and workforce issues and leads the National Community Solar Partnership. She is a nationally recognized leader and expert in clean energy with a focus on frontline communities and workforce development. She has 20 years of experience working with government officials, policymakers, advocates, and entrepreneurs to develop and implement inclusive clean energy policies and programs. Nicole was the founding executive director of GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic, policy director at the Alliance to Save Energy, and ran the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program for Loudoun County, Virginia. She started her career in affordable housing, community planning, and politics. She is an AmeriCorps alumni and passionate supporter of community service.
Company: Boston Government Services
Anna Balzer joined the Solar Energy Technologies Office in June 2021 as the solar community engagement coordinator for the National Community Solar Partnership. In this role, she provides technical support for stakeholder engagement and communications to grow the reach and impact of the program.. Anna is an AmeriCorps Alumni with roots in community engagement, education, and youth leadership development. Prior to joining DOE, she served in and managed the Youth Energy Squad, an AmeriCorps program in Detroit, Michigan, that engages young people in place-based education and leadership on energy burden reduction in their communities. Anna holds a master’s in public affairs from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s in environmental studies from the University of Colorado Boulder.
ORISE Science and Technology Policy Fellow
Benjamin Burch (he/they) joined the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office in November 2021 as an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) fellow to support the National Community Solar Partnership on the Workforce and Equitable Access team. Graduating summa cum laude in environmental science and a Diamond Award winner from Temple University in 2020, he spent his time in North Philadelphia working on solar energy development and energy ethics. Specifically, he brought on sustainable development with long-term residents of his block to switch them to renewable energy and promote collaboration between Temple University and the neighborhoods of North Philadelphia. He did his Honors Theses on the concept of energy as a Hyperobject, as well as solar energy development in Tanzania and Uganda. Following his undergraduate degree, Benjamin worked for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory developing data and web platforms for sustainable energy sharing. His work focuses on bringing together technical analysis of a renewable energy transition with a focus on equitable development.
Company: Boston Government Services
Ariel joined the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office’s Workforce and Equitable Access team as a solar energy equity analyst in January 2022. She supports the National Community Solar Partnership’s efforts to advance state-level community solar policy and technical assistance. Ariel is a nationally recognized leader on equitable clean energy policies and programs, and she has authored over 15 publications and presented at more than 40 conferences and events.
Prior to this position, Ariel worked as a manager at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, where she led research and technical assistance related to energy equity, energy affordability, community-led clean energy, and low-income energy efficiency programs. She served on the National Energy Utility Affordability Coalition’s board of directors from 2019 through 2022. She has also worked for the U.S. Climate Action Network, U.S. Forest Service, and National Park Service.
Ariel has a Bachelor of Arts in history and international studies from Northwestern University, and she has a Master of Science in environmental science, policy, and management from a joint-degree program that awarded degrees from Central European University in Hungary, Lund University in Sweden, and the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.
Company: ManTech International
Chani joined the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) in October 2018 as a technology manager on the Workforce and Equitable Access team. She manages awards and supports the Credit Ready Solar Initiative and the Multifamily Housing Collaborative under the National Community Solar Partnership. Chani specializes in clean energy policy and financial instruments to expand clean energy innovation in the United States.
Prior to joining SETO, she served as a senior advisor under former Secretaries of Energy Steven Chu and Ernest Muniz. During her tenure, she oversaw energy efficiency and renewable energy technical assistance teams, developed the state and local Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC) program, led DOE’s Green Banks efforts in leveraging public dollars with private sector funds to drive clean energy projects, and participated on the Quadrennial Energy Review teams. Previously, she was director of policy and public engagement at Renovate America, one of the largest providers of financing for energy- and water-efficient home improvements in the United States.
Chani received her B.A. in political science from Wheaton College and holds an MBA from the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.
Company: Boston Government Services
Sarah Wilder is a solar workforce program analyst supporting the Workforce and Equitable Access team at the Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO). She provides technical expertise and programmatic support for SETO’s efforts in developing the clean energy workforce of the future, with a focus on solar energy. Sarah has been working in the solar energy industry since 2002, mostly recently as the program director for the Oregon Limited Renewable Energy Apprenticeship and the director of curriculum and instruction at Solar Energy International. Sarah has held a variety of roles within the solar industry, giving her a unique and comprehensive perspective on the challenges and opportunities associated with expanding the clean energy workforce. These roles include over 10 years of photovoltaic (PV) design and installation work, 4 years as co-owner of a solar installation company, 4 years as technical services manager at two different PV module manufacturers, and about 8 years as a solar educator and technical trainer. Sarah is a NABCEP-certified PV Installation Professional, a licensed Oregon Limited Renewable Energy Technician, and holds a Master’s degree in environmental management from Yale University and a B.A. in environmental studies from the University of Colorado.