UNC-Chapel Hill graduate David Plunkett currently works for Strata Solar as a project coordinator. His degree in environmental science, coupled with his experience studying abroad in Thailand, helped pave the way for his career in the solar industry. Here, he discusses his education and experience with Strata.
United Solar Initiative: What is your position with Strata Solar and what skills have you found useful in the solar industry?
Davis Plunkett: I am a Development Project Coordinator for utility-scale solar farms in North Carolina. Before you can actually build a solar farm, you have to work with utility, get site studies done, test the soil, do a lot of engineering, and get zoning approved. I coordinate all of these tasks to make sure they happen in the right sequence. It’s about a year-and-a-half long process before you can actually build a farm. It requires an understanding of electromagnetism, power, energy markets, real estate law, and government agencies and regulations. I also work with civil engineering and GIS. Energy is not simple and I think the major at UNC has done a good job at making you understand that. It is tied into so many things we have to understand deeply.
USI: Tell me about your experience abroad. How has that experience changed the way you view renewable energy?
Plunkett: I was abroad my junior year for 7 months in Bangkok, Thailand. The Institute for the Environment at UNC has several field sites; the one in Bangkok focuses on energy and sustainability. There, I took classes on environmental health science and emerging technologies. My experience more formed my ideas of the possibility of leapfrogging. Leapfrogging is when industrializing countries skip over the period of dirty energy that is all too common and go straight to renewable energy. Cities like Bangkok are growing so much in their demand for energy. This demand is fueling a blind drive for whatever is cheapest. Through clever financing and dissemination of knowledge about renewable energy, industrializing countries can go straight to renewables.
USI: What do you see as the major roadblocks to the solar industry?
Plunkett: The technology is there; every year we have a record efficiency for a panel. Where I think the flip needs to happen is public opinion and policy. This industry is growing rapidly, providing jobs and boosting local economies. We have a job to remove the skepticism that solar is not a proven technology, because it is. Solar just sits in a field and hums, that’s it. It’s the best neighbor you could hope for. When people learn what solar is, and how benign and good for the world it is, their skepticism dissolves.
USI: Why solar?
Plunkett: Its availability, abundance, and versatility. There’s only so many places you can put a 5-megawatt wind turbine. Throw solar on a rooftop or on top of a car. Paint your house with photovoltaic paint. It’s incredible. I see it being put everywhere.
Article By: Majorie Primm