Julie Guérin, co-founder and National Chair of not-for-profit Emerging Leaders for Solar Energy (ELSE), was recently named one of Corporate Knights’ 2018 Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leaders. I sat down with Julie to talk about her story, the importance of environmental sustainability, and the incredible power younger generations have to effect change.
Julie can call many places home: while growing up in a military family, she lived in over six different cities across North America. She was born in Ottawa to her French Canadian father and German mother, and most of her childhood was spent heavily involved in the community of the military bases’ – while seamlessly switching between French, English, and German.
While the only constant in military life is change, Julie was often able to visit the village in Germany where her mother grew up. Her grandparents lived in a very small community in the German country side and most of her summers would be spent there with them. This small village where time felt like it moved a little slower, served as a balance to her ever-changing life in North America. Each summer she’d walk the streets feeling as though no time passed since her last visit.
It was during one such visit that Julie noticed the little German village had started to change. Suddenly the rural landscape was being built up, and adopting new technologies like wind turbines and solar. Germany was setting the stage to become a global leader in renewable energy.
“I remember going back to Germany every summer, working or going to school, and seeing how the country was really developing it’s solar awareness – rooftop solar started popping up everywhere in the early 2000’s.”
“It was interesting to see how a country with old infrastructure – these houses were over 400 years old – were adopting this new, very advanced technology, and Canada was still very slow to embrace it.”
Julie settled in Toronto for her university years, studying International Development Studies at York. It was during this time that Julie started building her community on campus through student-led groups. Ontario started showing encouraging signs of expanding their renewable energy programs – and Julie immediately jumped on the opportunity to get involved. After graduating, she took her first job working and traveling across North America with NRG Home Solar, a Fortune 250 Company, to help bring solar rooftop projects to life on residential homes.
Later in her career, she leveraged her experiences working in solar at MPOWER Energy Solutions, a Canadian start-up based in Toronto, where she worked with Tesla to commercialize the Tesla Powerwall across the country. She worked closely with homeowners and contractors to help families reduce their reliance on the electrical grid and go ‘green’.
While she has dedicated her career to the development of sustainability (most recently at IESO, a company responsible for keeping Ontario’s lights on), her passion, and arguably her most important role, is as Co-Founder and Chair of the national Board of Directors at the Emerging Leaders in Solar Energy (ELSE). ELSE is a not-for-profit focused on creating an enabling environment for the next generation of leaders in solar.
“ELSE’s objective is to help Canada accelerate its transition to clean energy by helping with solar installations in remote communities, and with solar education across the nation.
Julie and her co-founders saw the need to develop the solar industry in Canada, and grew ELSE from a student-led initiative into a national not-for-profit focused on education, fundraising, and building solar projects in remote communities across Canada and abroad. They have since expanded from Ontario into Alberta and British Columbia, and are hoping to open new chapters in Saskatchewan and Quebec in the near future.
ELSE prides itself on its young and diverse board, with individuals from a variety of backgrounds and with different professional experience.
“Young professionals and students are very motivated to really drive changes and get involved with the [green energy] movement – if you empower them to develop their skills and take advantage of amazing opportunities, they can help keep our leaders accountable.”
ELSE’s recent projects include installing solar panels at an orca research lab on a remote island in BC. The lab had previously depended on diesel fuel – but after raising over $14,000, ELSE was able to replace the diesel entirely with a combination of solar and wind. The world-renown research center now uses 100% renewable energy.
As part of ELSE’s educational arm, Julie and her team also work to spread solar awareness and provide insight on its many applications and possibilities.
“The technology itself has been around since the 1950’s – it was originally primarily used for satellites as their energy source for orbit. It’s come a long way since then, and not only does it generate electricity for free, but it also supplies energy for communities currently relying on diesel. It’s an opportunity to replace diesel with something more affordable, and significantly more environmentally friendly.”
ELSE is growing quickly and always looking for young, bright, driven individuals who want to volunteer and get involved. Julie hopes her recent selection as a Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leader will encourage those looking for a way to get involved.
“There are so many young and driven individuals who are fresh out of University or building their career that have the potential to enact change – especially in Canada. I hope this is something that can help motivate other students and young people, give them something to aspire to – they, in turn, inspire me to work even harder.”