Clean Energy Engineering — Jennifer Johnson
Alumna Story — Jennifer Johnson
A typical week for Jennifer Johnson sees her taking on many roles – from meeting with clients who are curious about the potential of solar energy to designing solar energy systems and installing them alongside her team. As the founder and director of engineering of Solar Connect, Jennifer draws on her skills as an engineer and entrepreneur to enable her clients to generate their own electricity without producing carbon emissions.
Jennifer says she first began to think about starting her own company while working in the UK after receiving her MSc from Oxford. “The UK was so progressive on renewables, with one in eight homes having solar PV,” she says. “I worked with a solar energy start-up company, which gave me insight into what’s involved in starting a business.”
Her motivation for doing the MEL was to learn more about the clean energy market in Canada while also honing her engineering skills and business knowledge.
For her MEL capstone project, Jennifer worked with EcoSmart Foundation to provide technical and project management support on the Tsilhqot’in 1.25 MW solar farm project. “I was fortunate to work with EcoSmart President Michel de Spot, who pushed me to develop my skills in electrical, geotechnical and structural engineering,” she says. “I attended site visits to determine the best location for the farm and helped select the manufacturer to supply the project’s 3,500 solar panels.”
Operational since May 2020, the solar farm is the largest of its kind in the province and the only one entirely owned and operated by a First Nation. Chief Russel Myers Ross says that the solar farm is a significant step in self-sufficiency for the six Tsilhqot’in communities.
After graduating in December 2017, Jennifer connected with the Women’s Enterprise Centre and began working on her business plan.
“I decided early on that I would take my time and do things right,” she says.
“I spent a lot of time up front talking to potential customers about why they were interested in solar. I connected with the head of net metering at BC Hydro to understand the potential market size and its growth trajectory. And I then invested considerable time sourcing the best materials and searching out and hiring smart and diverse staff.”
She launched Solar Connect in 2019, with the company focusing on designing and installing solar energy systems for single-family and multi-family residential dwellings. Jennifer’s approach is very hands-on, and she works closely with clients to help them understand how the technology works, the options for energy storage, how BC Hydro’s net metering program works, and the energy and cost savings they can expect after making the shift.
“We have very happy customers, and the business has evolved and grown primarily through word-of-mouth referrals.”
Looking back on her MEL experience, Jennifer says that the connections she made during the 12-month program were instrumental in the successful launch of her business.
“I met some amazing engineers who definitely influenced my thinking. And I was also fortunate to connect with Cheryl Nelms, my professor for the project management for engineers course, who is now my mentor. She helped me realize I could start my own business. I strongly advise MEL students to seek out mentors and build professional relationships with them. It’s so helpful to connect with supportive people who have more experience and who can push you towards making your ideas a reality.”
Clean Energy Engineering
Develop the technical, business and leadership skills needed to generate sustainable energy solutions.Read More