Becoming a Solar Energy Consultant: An Interview With Keith Cronin


Are you interested in getting into the solar game but not really suited to installation work or a career in solar panel manufacturing? Then a solar energy consultant position might be the right fit for you!

With an ever-changing schedule packed with fun and challenging duties, becoming a solar energy consultant can be incredibly fulfilling work.

What it takes to be a solar energy consultant

As a solar energy consultant, some of your duties might include:

  • Assessing industry trends, product developments, and emerging technologies in the solar industry
  • Advising on the right solar installation for a particular project (solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, etc.)
  • Designing solar installations for commercial and residential clients
  • Providing impartial, best advice on products and services
  • Assisting with applications for rebates, incentives, and tax credits

And with the solar market heating up as prices fall and demand rises, there’s no better time to get into the solar industry.

Tips for landing a green career in the solar energy consulting industry

So how do you become a social energy consultant? Here are five tips on making the dream of working in the solar industry a reality for you:

  • Find experienced solar energy consultants (through LinkedIn, for instance) and ask them about their experience in the industry. Confirm that this is the career path you’re meant to be on.
  • Tour some solar installations to get a feel for the types of systems you’ll be working with and ask whether you could see yourself in this environment five years from now.
  • Consider getting an advanced degree in electrical engineering or mechanical engineering (and Professional Engineering certification is often preferred), as well as perhaps certifications with CEM and LEED.
  • Attend as many solar networking events as you can to make new contacts, stay ahead of the trends,  and find potential future employers.
  • Connect with a mentor who can introduce you to people in the solar industry and show you the ropes.

Learning from an expert in the solar energy consultant world

If you want to know more about becoming a solar energy consultant, look no further than Keith Cronin of SunHedge. We asked Keith some questions about how he got started in solar consulting and what those interested in the field can do to make their solar consulting career successful.

How did you first become interested in the solar industry and in becoming a solar energy consultant?

Well, I was inspired at a very young age and pursued learning about the industry in 1992. After learning that he had fallen ill with an incurable disease, my father encouraged me to always pursue my dreams and contribute. So, in 1998, I moved to Hawaii and started the company. In 2007, my company was acquired by SunEdison and I worked for them for a year. After my tenure, I decided to start my consulting firm with a focus on assisting companies with business metrics to optimize their offerings and create a culture of accountability and teamwork.

Did you have to receive any special training or certifications to become a solar energy consultant? If so, what institutions stand out as premier trainers/educators in this industry?

Most of my training falls under education and best practices. Having my company acquired by a titan like SunEdison also gave me a lot of insights to Wall Street, in regards to what the street looks for as growth companies and the metrics they seek to have in their portfolios. As for training, there are a few conduits for tech training, like Solar Energy International, where I took a class back in 1993. There are people like Bill Brooks that also come to mind. There is a lot of tech training available, but from the feedback I’ve received, very little in the form of solar business training, which is our focus.

How did you market yourself as a solar energy consultant when it came time to obtain a job or contracts?

Locally, I was fortunate enough to live in a small place, Hawaii, so word spreads quick on the news and in the paper. People sought out help from many directions, even beyond the “reef” to the mainland.

What is the average day in the life of a solar consultant like?

Ahh…great question. Consulting, or for me, being an entrepreneur seems to always lead back to problem solving. That’s what I believe I’ve been put here to do. Listen to people, identify their needs, uncover their frustrations and challenges and provide strategies, tactics and a road map to freedom. So, my day is always diverse, whether it be working directly with clients, doing a workshop or developing content for the industry….it’s never a normal day.

In certain parts of the country, a solar consultant or project consultant has also been synonymous with a sales consultant. Often I get asked this, so there can be some misunderstandings of what I actually do. Proudly, I consider myself a bit of an outlier, so blazing trails comes with some explanations.

So, to elucidate further, my primary focus is to be a business related consultant. The world has plenty of people that love to start businesses, but they often struggle with balance sheets, income statements and understanding what they’re selling. Like solar integrators, they think they’re selling solar, when they’re really selling their overhead, direct labor costs and unbillable labor costs. Sure, to the clients, they’re selling solar, but the internal dialog they need to embrace is that they’re selling overhead, direct labor costs and unbillable costs. Often companies are semi unaware, as they drink the kool-aid and jump into solar, that it’s a huge capital intensive business to be in and requires tight cash flow management. Orchestrating it consistently, successfully, requires different skill sets than knowing the technical attributes of the business. Many integrators struggle with paying vendors on time and it becomes a domino effect that ripples through their company and its potential growth opportunities. From all of the feedback I receive, this is one of the most challenging and frustrating aspects of the business – having the capital to build multiple projects simultaneously. It’s a stressor for many companies that doesn’t go away overnight without a game plan.

Startups are often looking for structure, systems, processes, procedures, strategies, org charts etc. The business in the box type of structure. However, I often participate in design, engineering, product selection, site related feedback and paperwork related framework, too. My approach is to first understand their needs and work from those rather than a one size fits all approach to assistance. Lately, it can be akin to “solar consulting mercenary”- doing narrow, niche work that the clients either don’t understand or don’t have time to do, so they need the navy seal team approach to execution of a laundry list of items.

Are there opportunities for advancement in your line of work, and if so, what do the next steps look like?

Well, I have this belief and it goes like this; if our industry had more financial literacy, everyone would be better off. What I mean by that is this- companies are struggling to make profits, sure they’re making sales but that doesn’t mean anyone is focused on the bottom line. The ego focuses on how many mega-watts/kilowatts or millions they did this year or last, but what did you get to keep? It really impacts everything, your family, your staff and your clients. If you don’t make any money all of the groups I just described, suffer, measurably. It rippled through our society in many tangible and indirect ways, left unchecked, causes communities (all of us) to reap the unintended consequences. So, yes, the more people that can join in spreading the word, the better. Our product launch is slated very shortly to address this and allow people to access the metrics on their terms… It is my company – SunHedge. As I teased, we are rolling out the product very soon and it will benefit everyone, even those that are not in solar, indirectly.

What kind of clients to you work with?

We work with 4 person companies and last year with a 230 person company. So, we first sit down and identify what someone’s needs are and see if we can help and create a road map to follow. The client base is diverse: electrical, roofing, general contractors, attorneys, Wall St. venture capitalists. It’s all about fit.

Do you have any advice for college graduates or career changers looking to make the move into the solar energy consultant market?

The market is lava hot and will be for the future. The efficiencies in the products will creep north, the innovation will continue and there are millions of roofs that need solar panels, as well as miles and miles of desert and other fields. Whether it be engineering, sales, customer service, finance, the arts- there is room for the right person with the passion to help others and contribute to our energy challenges/addiction. The more like minded people, the better.

What’s your favorite part of working as a solar energy consultant? What’s the worst aspect of your job?

Contribution. It is what drives me every waking moment and fuels me to awaken in the morning. Don’t believe there is a worse thing, but I do believe we need national standards, state by state, to accelerate the adoption of renewables in general.

What do you hope to be doing in terms of your career five years from now? Ten years?

Well, I do have those plans and I look into the future and see assisting others as a continuous theme throughout my life. Whether it is in the form of consulting, education, sharing etc., they are all synonymous with my original feedback of entrepreneurialism – problem solving and finding solutions. There will be web based education and seminars on the horizon as well.

This post was written by:

Maryruth Belsey Priebe

Maryruth has been seeking the keys to environmental justice - both at home and at work - for over a decade. Growing up adjacent to wild spaces, Maryruth developed a healthy respect (and whimsical appreciation) for things non-human, but her practical mind constantly draws her down to earth to ponder tangible solutions to complex eco-problems.

With interests that range from green living to green business, sustainable building designs to organic gardening practices, ecosystem restoration to environmental health, Maryruth has been exploring and writing about earth-matters for most of her life. Of special interest is the subject of ecopsychology and the role the natural world plays in the long-term health and well-being of humanity. You can learn more about Maryruth's work at www.JadeCreative.ca.


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