Solar Project Manager
March 11, 2020

During Women’s History Month, the SLP spotlight focuses on another dauntless solar journey.

Project Manager Raye Martin has been a guiding light at Sun Light & Power for more than three years. Raye’s “cut to the chase” style, commitment to quality, and extensive knowledge make her a force to be reckoned with. She is also a force of nature – and in all the right ways.

Raye was born in Illinois, the oldest of three girls. She and her sisters grew up in rural Florida outside Naples which is situated on the west coast, opposite the greater Miami area and separated by the expansive Everglades. Her mother was grounded, a no nonsense “when the rubber meets the road” woman and her dad was an owner-builder, mentor and student of nature who, later in life, remade himself as an inspirational inventor. Raye lived in humble circumstances and grew up playing outside barefoot in the wild outdoors. In this environment, independence and responsibility were necessary survival skills that one learned early in life. Raye loved the freedom of being outside and, like her dad, she developed an abiding respect for nature in “alligator alley.”

Raye was a good math student in school and her dad encouraged her to pursue electrical engineering but at that time she simply couldn’t imagine herself as an engineer especially without any immediate role model. Eager to attend college but confronting a recession Raye returned to her birth state during high school and then attended Illinois State. There she set her sights on one of the fastest-growing industries in America and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Applied Computer Science. With her degree in hand, Raye programmed for banks, yet she was eager to get back to nature and spread her wings. She turned her eyes to California’s various green movements and with her impressive credentials she was snapped up by a headhunter in 1990 who placed her in San Francisco, near the epicenter of California’s tech industry. Although she was still in the banking sector, she was glad to be out West.

The endless hours of corporate humdrum exhausted Raye, but she continued to keep her environmental aspirations alive by volunteering with green organizations. When the Silicon Valley tech stock bubble burst in 1999, Raye suddenly found herself in an industry that was outsourcing labor, hiring students, and no longer offering a living wage for Bay Area programmers. In the interim, she had gained valuable experience as a project manager, but even this was not enough to keep her interested in computing. In 2000, Raye’s parents visited her in San Francisco. Her mom was concerned that Raye wanted to leave the industry in which she had made so much progress, but her dad supported her decision to look toward a more environmentally friendly career.

In 2002, Raye took a 6-week sabbatical she had earned from seven years of service with Providian. She allocated the time to participate in Architect Michael Reynolds’ Earthship project. She signed up for a four-week work/trade arrangement to attend an intensive three-day seminar that included passive and active solar design. At the last minute, she had switched from a relaxing Hawaii vacation to working long days in New Mexico, which turned out to be a life-changing event. It was in Taos that she acquired first-hand technical knowledge about the potential of solar and battery storage technologies. From that point on she envisioned a future in solar.

Raye left the banking industry for good in 2003 and, not yet seeing a big wave of solar on the horizon, decided to pursue a career in retail. Seeking experience as an employee-owner, she looked for opportunities with forward-thinking companies. As it turned out, she spent seven years with natural health and wellness pioneers Pharmaca. Although the company was not employee-owned, Raye eagerly looked forward to managing her own store. With business booming and expansions at full tilt, it seemed that her goal of eventually creating a health-oriented employee-owned retail store was on the horizon. However, the US economy came to a screeching halt later that year when the subprime housing market collapsed nearly toppling the largest financial institutions in America and elsewhere. At this point, Raye was mostly concerned about keeping her job as retail took a dramatic downturn, new store openings were canceled, and some Pharmaca stores closed.

In the meantime, Raye had kept her eye open for opportunities in solar. In about 2005, she attended San Francisco’s leg of the American Solar Energy Society’s (ASES) summer tour. Eager to learn more about solar she visited numerous solar installations and gleaned everything she could from each site. Raye is a strong believer in “just-in-time” training and was eager to get involved in solar construction. However, she saw herself as a project manager and did not know how or where to train in solar project management at that time. In 2010, Raye relocated from San Francisco to a budding farm in Fairfield, where she acquired more hands-on green construction experience. In her spare time, she worked with dedicated friends to design and build a one-room passive solar cottage. The cottage was completed in 2011, thanks to a concerted effort backed by WWOOFer (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) volunteers.

Raye’s dad passed away after a long illness in 2012. In the wake of this painful loss, she reexamined her life, ambitions, and future. She felt strongly that her dad had passed the family baton to her, and now it was time to make a move and complete the transition to the next phase in her life. A few months later in April 2013, she finally saw what she had long hoped for – a job posting for a solar project manager position. Raye was convinced that this was her path forward and determined to get into the industry, she called every solar company she could find.

During one of those many calls, a solar industry worker encouraged Raye to volunteer at GRID Alternatives in order to learn the basics of solar installation. Raye was shocked that she had not heard about GRID earlier and within an hour she had applied for their solar training. Raye was anxious to acquire hands-on experience up on the roof. Comfortable and competent, she was strongly encouraged by her instructor Dave Lee. Over the next twelve months, Raye worked on eleven installations, was trained as a team leader and took five solar skill-building courses with GRID. At night, she studied and later earned her Solar Living Institute Certification. Bret Carr, volunteer coordinator and Raye’s “guidance counselor” at GRID encouraged her to apply at Sun Light & Power. As the year unfolded Raye kept her eyes open and applied for a half dozen positions at SLP in the hopes of getting her foot in the door. In all, she would apply for perhaps 100 solar jobs but was unable to secure a single interview.

Raye never gave up her solar aspirations and in May 2014 she got her first break when Victor Diaz, former North Bay Superintendent of Verengo Solar, offered her an installation job in Verengo’s nearby Concord branch. She was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to get to work. Although Victor didn’t mention it, she was a little surprised to discover from her co-workers that she was the only female installer at Verengo! For five months Raye traveled all over Northern California, from Lincoln to Aptos, learning as much as possible and enjoying every minute of her new job. Then after only five months, Verengo suddenly and without warning closed their North Bay Command Office. Most of her fellow installers went directly to Solar City’s office in Pacheco after the announcement, but Raye wanted a job in project management or a similar office role.

A little apprehensive, Raye started applying for solar jobs again. This time, she secured several interviews, and eventually found herself in Pacheco asking Solar City if they had any office openings. They promised to find her something, and in October 2014 she was hired as a Permit Technician. Then suddenly, during her onboarding, Clean Solar offered Raye a project manager position. She gladly accepted and worked at their San Jose office for almost two and a half years. During this time, Raye endured a grueling 140+ mile round-trip commute from Vallejo which literally took a toll on her.

Fortunately, Raye kept her eyes on Sun Light & Power’s job offerings, and in January 2017 she got her big break when Erinne Davis hired her as a Solar Project Manager. This time, she came prepared with a battery of questions of her own and was eager to explain her considerable computer, project management, and solar experience.

Raye thoroughly enjoys working for Sun Light & Power and is proud to be an employee-owner. During a recent interview, she said, “We help people take back their power! I'm thrilled to be among the owners of a wonderful egalitarian model for compassionate livelihood, known as Sun Light & Power. Together we're building a democratic worker-owned solar company structure that rivals some of the best cooperatives in business today!" Moreover, the nine days on and one day off schedule, combined with the much shorter commute has greatly improved Raye’s quality of life. She feels at home in the supportive environment fostered by Sun Light & Power’s project management team. Today her voice and experience are helping to guide us to the next level as she manages projects in an industry she fully supports.

Raye counts herself lucky because while there were few women role models working in technical fields during her youth, today the situation has greatly improved. Raye recalled how proud and moved she was when Grid Alternatives presented their “Women in Solar” panel in the summer of 2014. The panel featured inspiring veterans from the solar industry including Ericka Mackie, Helen Burt, Rohini Raghunathan and Sun Light & Power’s own, Koralie Hill. Raye was encouraged by their knowledge and confidence and is now proud to be among a growing number of women in the solar industry. 

Raye realizes how fortunate she was that her dad took an interest in her education. He was taught to build things by his parents and he applied that knowledge to earn two US patents. Raye said that when she was growing up, “I believed I could do anything because dad told me I could.” One of the greatest lessons he taught her was that if you don’t know the answer and those who you depend on don’t either – don’t stop until you find someone who does.

Sun Light & Power is grateful that Raye gleaned the wisdom she was granted by her dad and her solar mentors and is now applying it to our solar projects. Raye provides incredible value to our company and our customers every day.

For career opportunities at Sun Light & Power, check out our Careers page.

Seamas Brennan is the Marketing Coordinator at Sun Light & Power.

Grid Alternatives Women in Solar Panel July 2014

Sun Light & Power's Koralie Hill and others speak about their experiences in solar on Grid Alternatives' Women in Solar Panel in 2014.

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