After 45 years in the renewable energy field, I will be retiring at the end of 2024. 

Before I came to IREC, I served as CEO of three distinguished organizations: the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, the American Solar Energy Society, and the Small Wind Certification Council. But in IREC I found a place to put my skills to their best use, and so I have worked here in some capacity for nearly half of my career. I had the privilege of being the CEO for the last eight years. 

As I approach this transition, it seems a fitting time to share my perspectives on IREC’s past, and where the organization is heading in the future. IREC has come a long way in its 40-plus-year history and has laid a strong foundation for continued future impact. 

But in IREC I found a place to put my skills to their best use, and so I have worked here in some capacity for nearly half of my career. I had the privilege of being the CEO for the last eight years.

Larry Sherwood

Growing with the Times

In the two decades I have worked with IREC, I’ve seen many changes, and am proud of how the programs and the organization have evolved. Throughout it all, the fundamental mission of IREC remained consistent. IREC builds the foundation for clean energy and energy efficiency with concern for people, the economy, and the planet. 

As someone with a background in engineering, I’ve always been proud that IREC has a well-deserved reputation for technical expertise, working behind the scenes to address important issues that affect the deployment of clean energy—often before others realize the issues are significant.

When IREC was founded in the early 1980s, renewables were still struggling to get a foothold in the energy market. Getting to 1% of electricity sales seemed like a lofty, even unimaginable, goal. One of the most critical needs for getting established in the energy market was solving challenges with interconnection and net metering. IREC was one of—if not the first—organization to work to make interconnection of distributed energy resources possible. In the early days, interconnection was paired with implementing net metering policies, and IREC also worked extensively on net metering.  

Quality training for clean energy workers is another issue that IREC has led the way on since the organization’s inception. In the 1970s and 1980s, poor quality installations gave the solar hot water industry a black eye. As clean energy expanded to other technologies, IREC worked to ensure that workers received quality training so consumers would have quality projects.

More recently, IREC has expanded its expertise to include providing direct services at the community level to help local governments manage and support the growth of clean energy.  

Today, IREC’s vision is a future fueled by 100% clean energy. Although that goal is bold, we are rapidly increasing the amount of clean energy installed each year and many smart people are working on solutions to barriers to achieve 100% clean energy. In the past, IREC worked to get renewables a foothold in the market. IREC now works to empower the installation of clean energy at scale.

Advancing Regulations That Support Clean Energy Growth

Though decades have passed since our founding, IREC is still the leading organization working on the interconnection of distributed energy resources (DERs) in the United States. Our work has shaped clean energy regulatory policies in more than 41 states and U.S. territories. 

Interconnection policies remain as fundamental to the growth of clean energy markets today as they were when IREC first started. And, unfortunately, interconnection rules that align with best practices for DERs are still lacking in many places. IREC’s Model Interconnection Procedures, now in their 5th edition, are recognized as the gold standard for state interconnection rules. But IREC has not rested on these accomplishments. 

In order to get to 100% clean energy, the distribution grid must be flexible and designed to complement a utility-scale generation mix that is mostly solar and wind. IREC is working to enable that flexible grid through interconnection and grid data innovations, smart inverter implementation, energy storage integration, and guidance on proactive grid upgrade planning. IREC is also contributing to emerging work to define the (historically overlooked) equity implications of interconnection and establish guidance to ensure these important policies meet the needs of disadvantaged communities. 

Building a Qualified and Inclusive Clean Energy Workforce

The idea that quality training is the key to quality clean energy installations has been, and continues to be, a guiding tenet of IREC’s work. We have developed training throughout our existence and have been one of the leading accreditation bodies for clean energy training programs since 2005.  

Now, as clean energy development accelerates at an unprecedented pace following historic federal investments like the Inflation Reduction Act, the country will need millions of new clean energy workers. They must all have quality training, good career opportunities, and living wages that allow them to support their families. 

We must also ensure that people from all backgrounds and walks of life can learn about and access these growing clean energy employment opportunities if we want a just and equitable transition—a rising tide that lifts all boats rather than replicating past inequities. 

IREC is rising to meet this challenge by connecting individuals and companies to apprenticeship opportunities, helping veterans connect with solar employment and training, and our new workforce platform, Green Workforce Connect. Green Workforce Connect facilitates the needed connections between job seekers, training programs, and employers, connecting the dots between these key workforce stakeholders. While currently focused on workforce development in the weatherization industry, we are already working to expand the site to cover other clean energy technologies and sectors.

Strengthening Clean Energy Capacity in Communities

Local communities and local governments are where the rubber meets the road for clean energy projects. Whether through permitting, zoning, community education, or work in disadvantaged communities, local communities are essential stakeholders in the development of clean energy. 

IREC’s work gives communities the resources to encourage clean energy projects in their communities. We lead designation programs for local government to help them evaluate and improve local policies for solar, and more recently, electric vehicles. We help improve the codes and standards used by local governments to ensure clean energy systems are safe and reliable and provide education to help stakeholders like fire officials, building and electrical inspectors, and others understand and apply those codes and standards.   

In Puerto Rico, IREC has taken this local work to a new level. Our Puerto Rico team leads efforts to build the solar workforce on the island, increase access to clean energy financing, and improve local resilience through community-led microgrid projects. When my family visited the island recently, I got to see for myself how an integrated program improves the resilience of the Puerto Rico energy system and hear moving stories directly from low-income residents and small business owners about how it helps them have a better life.  

Growing and Maturing Organizational Operations

Over the decades, I have seen IREC evolve and mature as an organization. Many of our key issues and strategies have remained the same over time, while adapting to the needs of the times. Our organizational structure and internal operations have also evolved in important ways, while many core elements have stood the test of time.

Since I became CEO eight years ago, IREC’s staff has grown fourfold, in addition to increases in our organizational resources and budget. Much of this growth stemmed from our 2021 merger with another respected clean energy nonprofit, The Solar Foundation.  

This union brought together complementary programs and staff and streamlined administration and operations, creating a stronger combined organization that is greater than the sum of its parts. With this increased capacity, IREC’s programs can deliver greater impact in more places around the country and we are better able to respond to the needs of this critical moment in the clean energy transition. 

One thing that hasn’t changed is our status as a remote organization, a business model that was ahead of its time. IREC has always operated with a virtual model—hiring the best people for the job without requiring them to be tied to a specific location. This is now common but was an unusual model before COVID. We now have 35 employees located in 15 states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. 

Another thing that hasn’t changed is that IREC remains primarily funded by grants from private foundations, federal and state governments, and others. This model has worked well, even though it can be stressful at times when expected grants don’t arrive or opportunities dwindle. (If you value IREC’s work, consider making a donation or sponsorship; these sources provide valuable flexibility in our budget and help support our long-term sustainability.) 

Looking to the Future 

As I get ready to move into this new phase of my life, I feel confident that IREC is in a great position to make this transition. IREC has strong, steady leadership and great programs that make a significant impact in the world. 

The Board has hired a firm to conduct a national search for a new CEO and the search process is now underway. (The position description can be found here and we invite applications and recommendations of exceptional candidates.)

I look forward to working with IREC’s next leader to ensure a successful transition and I am confident they will lead IREC to new heights in our quest to build a 100% clean energy future that is reliable, resilient, and equitable, in partnership with IREC’s staff and Board.