Our Heroes: Jane Weissman of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC)

Meri Bond Photography

A mentor for many in the renewable energy world, Jane Weissman, who directs the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, is widely celebrated for her commitment to clean energy development and education. She is a leader in the effort to establish quality training and certification programs for tomorrow's renewable energy workforce.

"Her role in building the foundation for sustainable solar policy in this country cannot be overstated," says her colleague Adam Browning, executive director of the Vote Solar Initiative, a solar energy superstar in his own right.

Jane was the 2010 recipient of the American Solar Energy Society's (ASES) prestigious Charles Greeley Abbot Award, presented each year to the person who has made a significant contribution to ASES or to the field of solar energy. She is the third woman to receive this honor since it was first awarded in 1975.

In today's conversation, Jane talks about the future of renewable energy and what brought her to this field. Listen to the podcast by clicking the audio player on the upper left or download the full podcast episode (full PDF transcript also available here).

Below, an excerpt of our conversation:

While major strides have been made, what do you think it will take to make renewable energy more assessable and affordable to people across this country?

Well, I think the standard answer is: lower costs and more efficient technologies, but I think the real answer is political will. And I think that's what's going to really make this happen. Whether we really see a national effort to really wean off of the current economy that we're so used to into a more clean, renewable and "green economy." We are certainly seeing enormous leadership at the state level, and unfortunately not as much at the national level.

You know, Kyle, maybe I'm getting a little bit impatient with all of this, but just even the last 11 months, what this country, what this world has been through, we saw the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 people were killed. And then right on the heels of that we saw the Deep Water Horizon well explosion and 11 people dying and just the enormous--we don't even have an understanding yet of the effect on life forms and the food chain with that. And then just the horrific nuclear disaster in Japan. I mean, this torrent of energy tragedies, you would think, would lead us to a solid and achievable and sustainable pathway into renewable and clean energy. I want to continue to be hopeful. I don't know what else it will take for us to realize that things have to change.

Were there any early life experiences that led you to this profession?

Interesting question! I certainly grew up in a household, Kyle that really valued public service and really pushed for doing things to make things better, to not be self-centered. And I grew up in a very supportive and nurturing kind of household. I also grew up, even though I was a young teenager, in the Kennedy era. So this is where public service was front and center and a valued profession. So I got started early on, working in government and working outside of government, but I've always stayed within a nonprofit kind of environment. Not that I have any issues with making a good salary, but I have always felt comfortable on the government and nonprofit side of things.