Harumi McClure’s way of breaking into the solar industry would be labeled by most as bold and tenacious. In 2008, she was working inspecting and measuring semiconductors, but she knew she wanted to jump ship to solar. So, she attended a solar conference in Germany and met Sharp’s Takashi Tomita, who had a nickname in the industry as Solar Boy. Seems that Solar Boy was the keynote speaker and McClure was lucky enough to sit next to him at dinner where she talked up ways to improve manufacturing—and then continued that conversation over the next year. She sent proposals, ideas and concepts until “eventually he asked me to start a company with him,” she said.
That leap into solar may have been motivated by a childhood desire to do good.
“When I was a little girl, I wanted to change the world,” McClure continued. “At the time, I didn’t know how or in what way, but my dual passions for people and the environment led me to the energy industry.”
That dinner with Solar Boy was the beginning of McClure’s power industry career, and today she’s the general manager of Tabuchi Electric of America, where she hopes to change how consumers and distributors think about energy.
“When I started in Tabuchi’s business, I didn’t just want to sell inverters,” she added. “That’s boring! So I asked myself: How can we keep our business interesting? I thought about Takashi’s [Solar Boy’s] dream of making solar independent from subsidies and realized it was essential to work with utilities to reach that goal.”
McClure sees energy storage being a huge part of that independent solar vision. She hopes, in fact, that adding storage will make solar a bit more business savvy.
“Energy storage is a key component to managing distributed solar on the grid,” she added, though she realizes, of course, that this traditional industry still has a few detractors who say that the energy storage problem hasn’t truly been solved yet. She points, instead, to it’s value with grid management and postulates that, really, the question boils down to cost.
“People want to know: Will my energy bill will go up if my neighbor switches to solar?” she said. “That bottom line is that it shouldn’t. We’ve got to find a solution for fair cost distribution across all stakeholders.”
McClure realizes that her solution—breaking into an industry to change it from the inside—may not be the right path for all women, but she added that solar really isn’t the heavy equipment business it once was. There are more opportunities for all dreamers like her.
“Now, solar power companies are selling complete solutions that are tackling national issues like climate change. I think this is a calling for many young women and a shift that has increased popularity in the field,” she added.
And she has a suggestion for other women looking to break into the field: Find a champion.
“To stand out, you need passion and motivation. A mentor is key to helping you find your goal and live that passion,” she advised.
As for McClure’s advice to old-school utilities looking at energy storage and renewables as a potential threat, it mirrors her own plunge into solar: Just do it.
“Give solar-plus-storage a try,” she said. “Energy storage is a utility’s best chance to reap the benefits of solar power generation. If you adopt it in a smart way, storage can contribute to a utility’s revenue stream instead of increasing the bill.”