Kristen Graf spent the last eight years leading Women of Wind Energy (WOWE), and now serves as executive director of the group under a new name: Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE). She talks about why the group transitioned, what drives her to passion for renewables and empowering women, and shares her thoughts on the industry now and in the future.
Here’s a quick bit of what she said. Listen to the whole interview to learn more.
When did you realize you had an interest in renewables?
In my youth, I spent a lot of time outdoors. I was passionate about being outside and the environment in general. I also was really active in the Girl Scouts, and I think that gave me a passion for doing good for things I care about. I had a book that was something like “50 Things Kids can do to Save the Planet.” I methodically worked through quite a few of those, getting a real sense for my own role in taking care of the planet as a whole.
I was a really big math and science nerd, and I had some incredible high school teachers who saw those two parts of what I loved and encouraged me to consider engineering and to think about the ways engineering and technology can help the environment. My high school yearbook has notes from my friends about seeing my wind turbines and solar panels someday. They knew I was excited about renewable energy, even though I had never even seen a wind turbine or solar panel, other than in books.
Can you explain why WOWE made the decision to become WRISE (rise)?
Over the last few years, we started to notice a trend of individual members, and then corporate sponsors and other companies, moving from wind into other sectors like solar and storage. They were looking for something like WOWE in those new sectors. The issues around gender in the workforce transcend technology specifically. So we saw it as a really exciting time and opportunity to be able to provide a model that we feel has been working well across other technologies.
We announced the new brand in May, and are focused on wind, solar and energy storage, though we’re seeing interest and participation from an even broader set of members, such as from the EV side or green buildings. We’re really excited about growth and how having access to more people talking about overarching subjects like professional development and gender in the workforce plays into the success of the renewable industry as a whole. I’ve been just thrilled by how it’s been received.
In light of the uncertainty around the trade case and tax changes, what are some of your thoughts on the future of the industry?
It’s not an easy time, especially with frustrations around policy. You’ve got incredible projects in the pipeline and something weird changes. But what I think is amazing is the resilience of the sector as a whole. I’d love to see all the pieces come together in ways that make sense and to see our leaders really understand how powerful and immediate the opportunities are for renewable energy. We talk about it sometimes as a newer, up-and-coming technology, and I always like to push back against that language because it’s been around a long time. It’s a solid sector and here to stay.
More than anything, there’s a big opportunity cost for the government if it doesn’t step up and realize the potential that renewable energy has to offer. I’m really hopeful that we’ll get things right, especially the pressing decisions coming up in the next few months. But even if we don’t, I’m convinced that we’ll ride the ship.
Check back monthly for a new episode of Ask a Solar Vet, in which editor Kathie Zipp brings you the unique perspectives and insights of those who have spent more than a decade in solar.