From Solar Ambassador to Working at a Solar Company, Research Lab and Start-up: A Solar Ambassador’s Renewable Energy Journey
Sydney Bartone graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) with a degree in Environmental Studies in 2019. During her senior year of college, Sydney joined UCSB’s Solar Ambassador team in 2018 - 2019. Learn more about her experience as a Solar Ambassador and her career in solar and renewable energy in the interview below.
What encouraged you to become a RE-volv Solar Ambassador?
I was always interested in solar. I was part of the Solar Ambassador program my senior year. Before joining the program, I had solidified that I wanted to work in the renewable energy or energy space in general. I'd taken solar classes in college and I was already working for a local solar company, since I finished my senior year after the fall quarter.
The founding Solar Ambassador team got connected because UCSB was hiring an energy professor and a few other students and myself were selected to be a part of the hiring committee and help interview the candidates. After talking with the other students, we realized that UCSB didn't have a renewable energy club on campus. After learning about the RE-volv Solar Ambassador opportunity, we decided to form a club around the program since we all had similar interests.
What was your role on the UCSB Solar Ambassador team?
Our team started out as mostly Environmental Science students and then grew to be more interdisciplinary. Because of my solar background, working for a local solar installer, I did a lot of internal education to our team about solar, renewable energy, and system design, which I really enjoyed. At the local solar company I worked for, I started within sales and customer engagement, then transitioned to system design, so I was able to explain our nonprofit solar proposals to the team and how the solar systems worked.
The team collaborated well and we worked together on everything. One area that I took the lead on was our local fundraising work. As a senior, I had been involved in other nonprofit work during my time at UCSB, which gave me a sense of the community and avenues where we could ask for funding for our crowdfunding campaigns (the funding model that RE-volv previously used to bring solar to nonprofits). I took the lead on building out the list of organizations and people to contact within the community.
What did you work on as a RE-volv Solar Ambassador at UCSB?
During the first year of having the Solar Ambassador Program at UCSB, we worked on fundraising for our crowdfunding campaign and hosted solar education events. We also did a lot of community engagement work with students and the community, including tabling events and speaking to other students about our work during classes. We held community events at local elementary schools and hosted an educational event for kids at an after-school program.
What were some skills that you built or things that you learned as a Solar Ambassador?
One of the things I learned, which I was also experiencing at the same time working at a local solar installation company, was the timing of things and going into a project with realistic expectations Things such as the amount of lead time it takes for someone to go solar or even timelines for our fundraising efforts took longer than we originally expected. Overall understanding realistically how much time should be allotted to different items was a good lesson in terms of understanding expectations. Skill wise, teamwork was another skill I built upon, including being able to work together with people from different backgrounds who want to get different things out of the program. Fundraising was another valuable part of the program, even just reaching out to engage with the community was another skill that I learned through the fundraising efforts.
Sydney at C-Zero in Santa Barbara
Where are you working at now and what is your role at the company?
Since graduating I’ve had a few energy related positions. My first job after I graduated was working for a local solar company, which I did at the same time that I was volunteering with RE-volv. The year following, I started running a research lab at UCSB for Leah Stokes, an Environmental Policy professor. That was a great job and I did that for two years. She just wrote a book on renewable energy policy, titled Short Circuiting Policy. At the research lab, I did a lot of background research and writing on renewable energy policy and helped with scheduling and grant writing.
Early in 2021, I started working as the Business Operations Associate for C-Zero, which is a start-up based in Santa Barbara that’s working on a technology to decarbonize natural gas. The technology takes natural gas and produces solid carbon and hydrogen. As a start-up hydrogen company, we’re focused on getting the technology to market.
What is one of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on?
Working for Leah Stokes, the professor at UCSB, I got to be a contributor on a few reports that were exciting. I helped write a report titled, State & Local Climate Policy Report on decarbonization policies, or the lack of progressive carbonization policies, in the southern states which was a report for a nonprofit called the Southern Economic Advancement Project. Another project that I enjoyed was helping Leah with her book. Those two projects were just really exciting and I liked seeing people read them once they were published.
Photo from Sydney's internship in Washington D.C.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in the renewable energy space?
A piece of advice I have would be to think about why you're studying what you're studying and what you want to get out of your future job. I have always found it helpful to come back to why I am doing this work and to be reminded of the bigger picture of what I want to work on. I knew that the energy sector is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions, where the transportation and electricity sectors make up approximately 75% of greenhouse gas emissions. I realized that during my senior year of college and I realized that if I want to help climate change, that energy was the area that I wanted to focus on.
Another piece of advice in the renewable energy space in particular is to stay up to date on what’s happening in the industry. Podcasts have been helpful to learn more about what’s happening in the industry. Before working in the energy space, I had an internship in Washington D.C. working on energy policy. I kept getting advice to listen to podcasts to stay up to date on what's going on in space, and ever since I listen to energy podcasts every week. Some of my favorites are The Energy Gang and The Interchange. Also I’ve found that Twitter has a great renewable energy community that allows me to really stay up to date on solar news and I’ve found it really helpful to engage with people in the renewable energy industry.