I dove right into the US Navy only a few months after high school back in 1987 (yes, I'm reaching Old Fart status). In fact, I was only 17 and my mom had to sign a waiver many months earlier when the recruiters came to my house. I recall the recruiter drooling as she signed it. I am not sure what the recruiting quota was for Arkansas, but I'm sure it wasn't very high.
I completed boot camp at Great Lakes Recruit Training Center outside Chicago in October of '87, just in time to experience the coldest freaking winter of my life (-70F with wind chill, like that matters). I had to stay in Great Lakes for my first tech school, Basic Electricity and Electronics. I made it to Groton, CT to begin my submarine training in February of 1988. After 8 weeks of wondering, "What the hell did I get myself into?", I received orders to sunny San Diego. I was stationed at the Submarine Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) base for 8 months. The first two months taught me to be a baby Sonarman in my apprenticeship training appropriately called Sonar "A" School. The rest of my time was spent in my "C" school learning how to fix the equipment I learned about during the previous two months.
San Diego will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the first duty station where the Navy loosened its grip on my social life and we experienced a taste of the real Navy. I went all in- I bleached my hair, wore the SoCal clothes, and bought my first major material possession (besides the big boom box I got while in Great Lakes)- a mountain bike.
Jeez, I am going to have to speed this up, otherwise this will be its own book...
I was stationed in Pearl Harbor, HI for 15 years. I travelled all over the South Pacific and pulled in to many of the places I had only heard stories about from my USN retired father and grandfather- Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Australia, and Guam, just to name a few. Three of my four kinds were born in Hawaii. It will always be home to me. I retired in August 2007 after 20 years of service with 10 years, 11 months and 2 weeks of sea time. Not that I'm counting.
I entered the civilian world full of hopes and dreams, although the big crash of 2007 left me struggling to find work. The companies I had scheduled interviews with decided a trainer was too much overhead. REI in Folsom and IKEA in West Sacramento took me in and I was able to work both jobs simultaneously to provide for my family, while my wife also worked in Placerville. Our commutes were all over the place- bad news during a time when CA gas prices were almost $5 a gallon. But we made it. We put food on the table and got the kids in school in a good area we managed to find a house to rent.
I never stopped trying to find a training position though. I put resumes on all the big job sites and called around the local (and not-so-local) areas. In hindsight, I am glad I did not take that trainer position in San Francisco. That 90-mile commute would have killed me. I only had a motorcycle at the time so my wife could take the truck to work.
Solar and Storage Career
And then it happened. I got a response from a Grass Valley company called SMA America, a US version of the German based solar inverter manufacturer. They were looking to hire a technical trainer to assist with their growth spurt. I didn't know anything about solar, but it was only a one letter difference from sonar, so I thought, "How hard could this be?" I must have done something right and I started in May of 2008 after they moved to their new (first) location in Rocklin, CA. The rest is history. I dove headfirst into the industry and learned everything I could beyond just the inverters.
It took a while, but I became a subject matter expert and I rarely had a class where someone could stump me with a question. I attended all the industry shows and conferences and kept learning as much as I could about the many facets of renewable energy. While at SMA, we estimated that I had trained about 40% of all solar installers in California from 2008 to 2012. Not a bad reach. I wrote articles for industry mags, was interviewed a the annual solar events by Greentech Media (RIP) and other media sources including the New York Times. I felt like a big fish in a small pond.
While at SMA, I was drawn towards the storage part of the solar industry, both starting together back in the 1970's. PV inverters quickly became a commodity (string and micros) but the storage part still baffled people- and does even to this day, hence the impetus for my book. I had reached senior technical trainer status, but felt that was about as high up the chain as I could go in that capacity. In July of 2015, after almost 7 years with SMA, I took an offer from sonnen, Inc., a German energy storage manufacturer based in Bavaria with an office in Los Angeles. They needed an experienced trainer to help develop the US market for their storage product and I was more than eager to jump in to a start up environment as their technical training manager. sonnen was well established in Germany, like SMA, and everyone knew of sonnen. Not so much in the US market.
It was a fast and furious time for the first few years at sonnen. It was a little disorienting to shift competitors from the usual PV inverter suspects while at SMA, to Elon Musk. The Powerwall was all the rage and everyone wanted their hands on one, gleefully throwing $100 to be the first to have one when they started shipping. There were a few other energy storage companies, and inverter manufacturers that also offered storage, that already had a US presence so sonnen had their work cut out for them. But we did it. We actually beat Tesla to market with the sonnen eco series products but it is hard to compete with Tesla's notoriety.
Humbled that people tried the sonnen products simply because I had made the career shift to this startup, I traveled all over the US to train solar installation companies on this unique design. I created an online certification course and made it mandatory to complete before a company could even purchase a unit. This minor installer annoyance cut the sonnen Service line calls by 60%. Finally, a metric to justify training!
I continued to work on my brand while at sonnen. When they shifted the L.A. office to Tucker, GA, I stayed in California and started working from home. I used the sonnen product in my garage to host local trainings. It was a big hit. I absolutely loved having an energy storage system with solar in my home. I was talking the talk and walking the walk. I had an easy venue to teach people about this part of the renewable industry and take advantage of the equipment. The power doesn't go out too much here outside Sacramento, but when it does, I cannot fully describe the feeling of being in the only home as far as I can see that still has the lights on. Freaking sweet.
In May of 2021, I accepted an offer with Tigo Energy, a module level electronics company that specializes in solar module energy optimization. And this is where my journey takes another meander. Tigo was founded in Israel in the early 2000's and it is quite a culture change from the Germans. I have reached a director level position and have the influence to design training programs the way that I know work and get results. I can't wait to add to this story!
Thank you so much for hanging in there. I could have gone on, as most people usually do, when talking about their past and the interesting things that have led them to where they are today. If you make it to one of the annual solar shows or conferences- NABCEP, Intersolar, Solar Power International, etc. then please come find me and tell me your story. I'm sure we can find a booth that is serving beer, which makes the stories even better.
There are 3 things Greg loves to talk about: batteries, beer, and BBQ.
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