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Riley Harwood photo 1

ETM senior Riley Harwood working on a solar installation for Southern Energy Management.

A career that benefits the environment is a career worth having. Southern Energy Management was founded in 2001 by NC State graduates Bob and Maria Kingery. Located in Morrisville, North Carolina their company has been offering sustainable energy solutions to both residential and commercial customers for years. These solutions include solar power and energy efficiency for buildings. The company is recognized as an industry leader at the local and national level. They are among a select group of U.S. companies to earn the ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year award five years in a row from 2007 to 2011. In addition, the company won the ENERGY STAR award for Sustained Excellence in 2012. Southern Energy Management is a certified B-corporation. This means that the company has made a commitment to consider the environment and society when making decisions, requiring them to take actions to reduce their environmental impact. One example is the company vehicles being run on biofuels to reduce emissions.

There are multiple divisions within Southern Energy Management. These include sales, marketing, human resources, accounting, building science, and solar operations. My internship took place within the solar operations division. This division is responsible for designing, and installing residential and commercial solar electric systems. The solar operations division consists of a project coordinator, designers, and installers. The work is carried out within the office, the shop, and at job sites. My job title for the summer was a Solar PV Technician Intern, specifically an installer of solar electric systems. The projects I worked on during the summer included the installation of over 120 kilowatts of cumulative residential and commercial solar power.

As a Solar PV Technician I had multiple responsibilities to ensure the quality of the installations. A general week consisted of reporting to the shop at 6am every morning Monday through Thursday. Each work day lasted around ten hours, but the times would vary depending on each install. I was responsible for learning the entire process of the installation from the lead installers. This included roof work, wiring, and knowledge of basic tool use. My NABCEP entry-level solar certification allowed me to be a quick learner and valued team member. From the moment I arrived at the shop I was engaged in problem solving. Safety at the job site was a large responsibility that we all had to practice.

I truly enjoyed every single day that I worked this past summer. Southern Energy Management is an amazing company. The owners and everyone I came into contact with were very accepting, professional, and kind. I felt that everyone in the company was working towards the same goal. I had the feeling that I was part of a team and our mission was to make the world a better place one sustainable solution at a time. It was very rewarding being part of such a great install crew. At one point this summer we installed five solar electric systems in four days, a company record. I learned something new every single day and this made the job exciting for me. The experience I gained from installing solar electric systems all summer will serve me well in my career path. The only negative to the job was waking up at 5 am each day and working on a roof during the summer. However, it only took about two weeks to get used to this schedule and of course, lots of sunscreen!

I plan to continue working for Southern Energy Management for the rest of my college career. I am still working as a Solar PV Technician one day a week during the school year. This is allowing me to keep learning and I am grateful for this opportunity. I plan to have a career in renewable energy and sustainable development. The experience gained through this job will allow me to receive my full solar certification in the future. I believe my education and experience will make me a qualified professional in the green energy industry. I plan to graduate in December 2015 and hope to get a full ride to business school. My long term career goal is to understand the science and the business behind sustainable development. My time at Southern Energy Management is playing a vital role in helping me achieve these goals.

Overall, this internship has taught me that a job that you love isn’t a job at all. I take great pride in the work that I performed this summer and still do every day I clock in. This internship has shown me what it takes to work in a professional environment and the importance of working as a team. Being an installer during college will give me the chance to start above an entry level position at a solar company upon graduation. I will take every lesson I learned from the summer and use it in my career path  as a commercial sustainable developer. Having the experience from this job will help me to couple renewable power generation with green building practices. I am thankful every day for the opportunity that Bob and Maria have given me. I feel that this opportunity has brought me closer to achieving an understanding of the business and the science behind renewable energy/sustainability.