Charging Up: A chat with Suzanne Leta, head of policy and strategy at SunPower

Plus, climatetech career moves at Origami Solar, NextEra Energy Resources, Vineyard Offshore, Fermata Energy and more.
By Maria Virginia Olano, Eric Wesoff

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A smiling woman with medium skin tone and long brown hair wearing a sleeveless maroon shirt. Graphic reads "Charging Up."

Canary Media’s Charging Up column chronicles gender diversity in the climatetech sector. Part one is a short Q&A with an industry role model about their career path. Part two features updates on career transitions. Please send feedback and tips to wesoff@​canarymedia.​com.

Suzanne Leta: Seasoned advocate

Suzanne Leta is head of policy and strategy at SunPower. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.

How did you end up on this career path?

I’ve been in renewable energy for over 20 years. My interest in this field began at Penn, where I did my undergraduate degree in anthropology and African studies, and I learned about the intersection of energy resource extraction and human rights. My senior thesis analyzed Shell Oil’s activities in Nigeria and the global response to it. I concluded that both legal action and grassroots political action are essential for effecting change.

After college, I joined the Public Interest Research Group’s fellowship program, diving into public-interest advocacy for energy efficiency and clean energy, which taught me the necessary policies and skills to influence legislative decisions; it also involved extensive fundraising. I contributed to significant achievements, like advocating for New Jersey’s greenhouse gas reduction bill and helping to establish the state’s first solar incentive program.

In my current role at SunPower, I lead the public-policy advocacy efforts on behalf of our customers and the business. Our primary goal is to make residential solar, battery storage and related technologies like EV chargers and whole-home electrification more accessible to Americans.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Your work life is a lot of your life, so do something that’s meaningful to you and that you can wake up every day and feel like that was time worth spending. It will keep you motivated to go to work every day.

What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it? 

I think of myself as being a pretty self-confident person. But I don’t always stand up for myself, and I need to remind myself to do that work. I think it starts with valuing yourself and the contributions you make — don’t be afraid to be clear about that.

What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech? 

I recently read Speed and Scale by John Doerr, and a big takeaway was that there are so many ways to be a part of achieving net zero. There’s an incredible world of opportunity, and it’s not just solar, wind and batteries — yes, we need lots more of those, no question — but lesser-known technologies, like those related to food production and heavy-industry cleanup, also play a significant role. There is a lot to do in public policy, but also a lot of technical roles needed for new technologies. What I would tell people is if you’re interested in a career that is about making a difference and about tackling climate change, the world is your oyster.

What is your superpower? 

I try to lift up the people I work with — I give guidance, but let people shine and nurture their strengths — because it is good to have a diverse team in terms of perspectives, backgrounds and skills. Something else people have told me is that I’m good at making really complex issues understandable, which is an important part of advocacy.

Career moves

Alicia Barton has joined offshore wind developer Vineyard Offshore as CEO. Barton previously served in CEO roles at FirstLight Power and NYSERDA.

Alexandra Cattelan is now chief operating officer at vehicle-to-everything developer Fermata Energy. Cattelan previously served as chief technology officer at marine-recreation company Brunswick Corporation and brings over three decades of expertise in electric propulsion, lithium battery development and advanced mobility technologies.

Lynn Jurich, co-founder of leading residential solar installer and financier Sunrun, is now the co-founder of the Female Longevity Institute, an executive health care service for women.

Lauren Busby Ahsler is now VP of engineering at Origami Solar, a maker of steel solar-module frames. She previously served in a number of structural-engineering leadership roles at Valmont Industries, which manufactures agriculture and infrastructure components.

Whitney Drew has been promoted to executive director of origination at NextEra Energy Resources, one of the largest wholesale generators of electric power in the U.S.

Ann Frey Kroll is now head of sales and marketing at renewable energy installer REC Solar. Kroll was previously with Duke Energy.

Check it out

Canary Media is hosting a virtual holiday party today at 4 p.m. Eastern — and you’re invited! Register here and come hang out with our editors and reporters. You can ask us your burning questions about clean energy, our work as journalists, the names of our pets, or anything else you’ve always wanted to know. Think of it as an AMA infused with festive holiday spirit!

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.

Eric Wesoff is the editorial director at Canary Media.