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Women in Renewables: Alison Charpentier

Alison is the founder and Managing Director of Elevate Solar in Queensland. Here she shares her career journey and explains why representation is so important for attracting more women to work in renewable energy.

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Tell us a bit about yourself personally and professionally?

My career in the energy space began when I was working for a Queensland-based solar business.

Coming from a working-class background, I have great empathy for those in need and a genuine desire to help people. So, in 2018, I set out to create an ethical model of business; one that stayed true to my values of integrity and transparency. And that’s how Elevate Solar was born. Our vision? To provide no-nonsense, holistic energy solutions to Australian homes and workplaces.

Where do you work and what do you do?

As the Founder and Managing Director of Elevate Solar, I set the strategic direction for the company and oversee all our operations. When the business first began, we focused only on residential solar. I quickly realised customers need a more holistic solution to truly take charge of their energy bills, so we expanded our services accordingly. Currently, we operate from Gympie to Rockhampton and will be in Brisbane by the end of 2020.

Our process is simple. We undertake energy audits (in both homes and workplaces) and tell our customers the top three ways they can reduce their bills. These recommendations range from switching to more efficient light bulbs to installing solar solutions. It’s important to us that we cater to all budgets and to put the client at the centre of everything we do. Our motto is: no sneaky sales tactics. No BS. Just expert advice from good human beings who genuinely care.

How did you get into the renewable energy industry/what attracted you to the industry?

Growing up with a hippy mum, I have always been immersed in sustainable living.

However, my passion for sustainability and renewable energy was truly sparked 10 years ago when I worked in the organic food industry. In this role, I was surrounded by community-minded people who wanted to create change. This inspired me – and helped me define where I wanted my career to head. Renewable energy it was.

What do you like most about your job/the renewable energy industry?

Solar is an exciting and growing industry. I love my job because I get to contribute to my local community and help families and businesses save money. And I get to do it while helping save the planet too. What more could you ask for in a career? I love it when we can help any family or business with solar. But naturally there are some stories that stick out for me – ones that make me realise we’re really making a difference. For example, we were recently contacted by a single mother of four, who amazingly, also takes in foster children. This was especially inspiring to us since she has experienced so much hardship herself (as a survivor of both domestic violence and brain cancer).

When she reached out to us, her power bills were $1,800 a quarter, and constantly rising. This was far too difficult for her to afford on a carer’s payment – so she had no choice but to turn off her utilities whenever possible. Determined to find her a solar system within her budget, we installed a 13.3 KM set-up. We also replaced her old, energy-guzzling water system with one that was a lot more efficient and timer-run. The result? Her energy bills reduced to $200 a quarter. This was life changing for her – as it meant she was finally able to afford a car. She also told me she no longer dreaded receiving her electricity bills! It’s stories like these that make me excited about coming into work every day.

What have been the biggest challenges for you as a woman working in a male dominated industry?

My biggest challenge as a woman in this industry is that I am sometimes not taken seriously. Most people I’ve worked with – both clients and staff – are genuine and respectful. But unfortunately, I do still get the odd person who questions my credibility and competence because I’m a woman. I now have a fantastic team of installers whose values are aligned with mine. But I did undertake somewhat of a weeding process to get to this point. Just recently, my installers were all interviewed for our new website and I was heartened to read their responses about why they love their jobs. From receiving rates that are highly competitive for our industry, to valuing the respectful relationship we have. I believe this mutual respect has been crucial to creating my dream team.

What do you think would encourage more women to enter the clean energy sector?

Firstly, I think we need more female leaders and mentors in this industry for the junior women to look up to. You can’t be what you can’t see. Men overwhelmingly make up the majority of solar installers – and I think that’s a big issue. I would love to see more women follow this career path. And one day, I hope to work with a team of female installers. That’s why I think feature articles on women in the industry, such as this one, are really important. They shine a light on the many women who are pursuing a career in the green energy space with great success. They help women see themselves in these types of roles. Secondly, we need to make this industry safe for all and foster a culture where diversity is celebrated and acceptance is embraced.

What advice do you have for women looking to enter the clean energy sector?

I hate to be a Nike cliché, but… Just do it. We’re all more capable than we think we are. And women do tend to struggle with ‘imposter syndrome’. So be bold and believe in yourself. On a practical level, I recommend connecting with other women in the sector. I’m so grateful for the talented women on my team, and I’m always on the lookout for more! My business is growing all the time – so I’d love to give other women the opportunity to start or progress their career in this space.

What do you wish you were told when you first started out in your career?

Your involvement in the clean energy industry does have the power to make the sector a better place. With more gender diversity, we’re bringing in different perspectives. I think we can really shake up this male-dominated industry. Studies have shown that there’s tremendous value in having diversity within a business’ senior leadership teams and boards. Current research shows that when companies appoint a female CEO, their market value increases by 5%. It’s clear that getting more women into the industry stands to greatly benefit the sector as a whole. I would also give my younger self a word of caution – be careful of who you trust along the way. There are many people in the business world who will want to take advantage of you when you’re just starting out. So be aware and trust your instincts.