Aurora Solar: Software Engineers in the Sun
Founded in 2013 by two Stanford University graduate students and based in Palo Alto, California, Aurora Solar produces software that calculates how many solar panels will fit on a property, predicts how much energy they will produce, and analyzes the financial returns from the installation. The algorithms that Aurora has developed enable residential and commercial solar installers to calculate shading with a high degree of accuracy, create detailed system designs, and provide detailed sales proposals without visiting the site, saving time and reducing soft costs.
The Solar Foundation spoke to four engineers who said Aurora offers the same career opportunities and challenges as leading software companies, with the added benefit of helping to sustainably power the world through solar energy. “In many ways, working at Aurora is like working at any other Silicon Valley tech startup,” says Meseker Yohannes, who has worked at Aurora since its founding in 2013. “The main difference is that what I do here is infused with the sense that it is making solar energy cheaper and more efficient.”
For Meseker and his colleagues, core skill requirements include a software development background as well as advanced math. “Certain projects that I’ve worked on, such as our visual design tools, have required a lot of geometry and trigonometry, and others have required knowledge of more classical computer science concepts,” Meseker says.
Matt Stevens, an Aurora employee since 2014, says he wanted to pursue a career in renewable energy but wasn’t sure how to do that as an engineer. “Originally, I didn’t think I would work in solar because I wasn’t interested in semiconductors and electronics, but that was only because I didn’t know how diverse the solar sector actually is. When I found Aurora, where I could apply my interest in programming to a problem that I cared about, I knew it would be a great fit.”
Michael Klocker, a software engineer at Aurora since 2015, said he was drawn to the solar industry out of “a mixture of curiosity, personally trying to go solar, and too many Elon Musk videos.” For others looking for a similar career, he recommends taking the initiative to learn new skills. “Program as much as possible, show your code to others, read books, and talk to smart people.”
Anna Kuznetsova, who joined Aurora in 2017, wanted to combine her skills in math and statistics with her interest in environmental science and policy. Her advice to job seekers is to learn about the wide variety of career paths available in solar, then find an opening that matches your background and interests. “Don’t be discouraged if you don’t know how solar panels or wind turbines work,” she says. “You don’t need to be an electrical engineer or a chemical engineer to get involved and make meaningful, world-changing contributions in the renewable energy industry.”