Tigo Energy’s Jing Tian Discusses Her Journey and Insights Into the Future of the Renewable Energy Industry

Jing Tian

Join us in this engaging episode of Green Giants: Titans of Renewable Energy Podcast as host Wes Ashworth sits down with Jing Tian, Chief Development Officer at Tigo Energy, a remarkable leader and influential figure in her field. Jing shares her profound journey, offering key insights into career development, leadership, and the importance of networking and mentorship.

Throughout the conversation, Jing reflects on her career trajectory, providing valuable advice she would give to her younger self. She emphasizes the significance of building a strong network and being open to guidance and opinions from others in the industry. Her approach to professional growth is both inspiring and practical, underscoring the power of asking for help and the opportunities that come from being proactive and engaged in one’s career path.

Wes and Jing also touch on the broader implications of their work, including the challenges and responsibilities of leadership in today’s world. The discussion is a treasure trove of wisdom for anyone looking to advance their career, lead effectively, and make a positive impact in their professional sphere.

Don’t miss this opportunity to gain from Jing Tian’s experiences and insights. Subscribe, rate, and review our podcast, and if this conversation inspired you, share it with your colleagues. Follow us on our social channels for more enlightening discussions and updates on upcoming episodes!

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Welcome to Green Giants, Titans of Renewable Energy, the podcast where insights and innovation meet. Every episode, we dive into conversations with industry leaders, experts and changemakers, bringing you the stories and ideas in the renewable energy sector that shape our world. And now let’s jump into today’s episode with your host, Wes Ashworth.

Wes Ashworth (00:25.59)

Welcome to the inaugural episode of Green Giants, Titans of Renewable Energy. Today, I’m thrilled to introduce our distinguished guest, Jing Tian, currently serving as Chief Growth Officer at Tigo Energy. Jing’s remarkable journey in the renewable energy sector is marked by a series of leadership roles where she has consistently tackled big projects, made impactful decisions, and has thrived in complex environments. Jing has had an impressive career, key positions at notable companies such as Ginlong Technologies, Shift Energy, and Trina Solar, where she was president for the North America region. Jing’s experience is not just impressive in its breadth, but also in its depth. Her specialties include solar energy, renewable energy, organizational design, product marketing, and product management, among others. Jing holds a PhD in chemistry from Drexel University, and her academic background has been a significant asset, enhancing her role in marketing and strategic development in a tech-heavy renewable energy industry. Endorsed by colleagues is one of the brightest and most comprehensive strategic thinkers.

Jing is known for her analytical thinking, process-driven approach, and imaginative solutions. Today, Jing joins us to share her insights on the renewable energy sector, her experiences in driving growth and innovation, and her vision for the future of renewable energy. Jing, it’s an absolute honor to have you on the show. Welcome. 

Jing Tian (01:40)

Thank you, Wes. It’s really great to be here. Thanks for inviting me. 

Wes Ashworth (01:46)

Absolutely. So let’s dive right in. I always love a good origin story. So what first inspired you to enter the renewable energy sector?

Jing Tian (01:55)

Oh yeah, that’s interesting. As you mentioned, I have a PhD in chemistry from Drexel University. And during that PhD studies, I was really focused on the organic conductive of polymer materials. And that ties into optoelectrical property, electro semiconductor materials aspects. So that’s where I first get exposed into materials with photovoltaics property. And later I work on the organic LEDs, batteries. So solar is very natural for me to understand the materials properties, always curious in that field. In about 2007, that’s where a lot of new startup companies enter into this renewable space. And my very first company experience that was with the sole focus, we’re working on the triple junction sales to make a concentrated photovoltaics. So that was my very first industrial experience to make the PB scalable. 

Wes Ashworth (03:10)

Excellent. And what has been your most significant driving force throughout your career in this industry now?

Jing Tian (03:17)
I say mostly it’s really, I’m always curious about the technology innovation. It’s, and also trying to push the boundaries. So, so throughout my career, what’s really connected all the dots is about the curiosity to learn and the not too afraid to push the boundaries to see the growth. And that’s sort of connects all the dots with all various different companies.

Wes Ashworth (03:46)
Yeah, and I think this industry is such a dynamic industry that’s growing and changing very rapidly. How do you approach leadership and decision making in an industry as dynamic as this one?

Jing Tian (3:58)

I like to think about the key — being a leader — it’s not to say you have a lot of followers. It’s to create the new leaders. So it’s really through the systematic approach to be open-minded and work with people to have various different inputs. That’s number one. Secondly, it’s really important to stay curious, be open-minded. I think the third one is fail fast. Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s such a dynamic industry. There are so many new things coming up.

We’re going to not guarantee to be right at the time we make a decision. So best informed the decision at the moment, but don’t be afraid to fail, but fail fast and then come back to correct and then get on the right path. 

Wes Ashworth (4:57)

Yeah. Failing fast and failing forward, I think is something so important. Is that something you naturally just had or has that been developed along the way and you’ve had to embrace that?

Jing Tian (05:07.174)
I think it’s developed along the way. I mean, for all of us, we all have a tendency to be afraid. I would say when I was much younger myself, I was sort of like a perfectionist and it’s very difficult. Everything has to be perfect. But then you had to kind of really recognize your own strengths and also weakness and the tendency to overcome that and say it’s okay to fail. Right? So the key is to learn from. So, yeah. 

Wes Ashworth (5:37)

Absolutely. And in kind of going off of that, you mentioned curiosity and the failure, those kinds of things too. Can you walk us through a pivotal strategic decision you made and its impact on your organization? 

Jing Tian (5:51)

Yeah, there are many. So, you know, I think being in the industry, before Tigo, in various different industries. So I can- obviously, the latest experience always the newest one. So I can share some of the experience we have at Tigo. So Tigo is a company, we provide module level power electronics. So we’re having an industry for a long time and obviously it’s viewed as the leaders to provide an MLP solution. We deployed a lot of products in the fields.

So then we started getting some phone calls from a customer about some system level failures with some concern. But when we’re going back, we’ll say, you know, what happened? It’s not a device fault, so we’re good. But then we say, well, actually, there is a system installation. What is the best practice? How do people do it? How do we install the system? Then you could point a finger, say, you know, “We’re clear, it’s not us.” But on the other hand, I say, well, we see that issue with installers to push the industry, move industry forward. It’s important for us to really take our responsibility to educate the entire industry, to help installers doing things better. So that’s why we launched the entire programs to really working on what we call a GreenGraph services. The goal is to
help our installers to understand how to install the product, but it’s really take a system approach, right? So that what I see is you learn, then you correct and take ownership. I mean, ultimately to serve our customer and sort of the industry, yeah. 

Wes Ashworth (07:48)

Yeah, absolutely. And you mentioned one there and I think that’s the main one, but are there any other sort of complex problems that Tigo is solving in the renewable energy space that you’d like to talk about? 

Jing Tian (08:02)

I mean, we have gone through- the company has gone through a lot of evolutions, right? We started with the MLP, we have a very, like a module level monitoring. So as we started going to providing storage solution as well as the software on the grid consumption and the predictions. So it’s… it’s every evolution and also evolving for us. I think that is pretty exciting for us to go through and learning each step along the way. 

Wes Ashworth (08:35)

Yeah, absolutely. And then kind of like just around overall trends in renewable energy, what are you most excited about and why? And we’ll start there.

Jing Tian (08:48.926)
I think there’s no one particular technology I would say, oh yeah, it’s that one or the other one. But I tend to look at bigger picture because with the renewable energy, I think it will become more distributed. So I think everyone’s going to be virtual power plants in the sense, right? So how is the transmission and the grid system going to look like? And we all say it’s going to be a distributed grid. I agree. But then what’s it look like? How we’re going to continue to support for everyone with equal access to the renewable energy? So, so to me, that is still a lot of open ended questions, how it’s evolving takes all of us to work together collaboratively, or also imaginatively.

Second is scalability. In order to have a renewable energy, it’s really being the energy source. I think right now we only touch the tip of the iceberg. I think that there’s like, how do we scale this and going to be most affordable energy resources? 

Wes Ashworth (10:09)

And then within your organization, you know, a lot of this is going to drive and creating a culture of innovation and creativity and folks that are bringing, you know, ideas and solutions to the table. And as you said, sort of fail fast, those kinds of things. How do you foster that culture within your own organization? 

Jing Tian (10:29)

I always encourage people asking why. Always asking why. So that is coming from, I think- I always have a philosophy of when you do a job, a work, you have to come in from your heart and say, I love what I do. When you love what you do, and it’s very natural, any tasks you’re going to ask “why.” It’s not just being busy. And I think someone once told me, say, you know, you should take the word “being busy” out of your vocabulary. It’s as you think of how was your day, you say, well, the day was challenging. The day was fulfilling. The day was though, you know, you can’t fill in the dots, but just to think about it. Saying “being busy” is just very generic. You didn’t even think about how you spend your day. So, so that’s really important to always ask why, right? Yeah. And then you can permanently think of more in-depth questions, and understand and then can come up with better creative solutions. Yeah. 

Wes Ashworth (11:40)

I’m curious now on your “why”, when it was time to join Tigo Energy, what was your, what was your “why”, why did you take that step and what led you there? 

Jing Tian (11:52)

Oh, yeah. So it goes back, a little bit history. So when I was at the Trinite Solar, I have worked with, collaborated with the Tigo Energy and when we first launched a product called Trinus Smart, is integrated modular power electronics into the module. That’s where I first get exposed to the company, knowing all the people. So we have a steady in touch, kind of watching Tigo, how it evolves. So later as I’m moving around with the different, with the, you know, different companies and the, so I stayed in touch. I thought that Twas ready for, to make the next transition. It’s really, it’s just the right time, right place. And, and so it was pretty exciting to be part of a team to help, you know, really bring Tigo into the next phase. So that’s, that’s our current trajectory. So that’s very exciting. 

Wes Ashworth (12:52)

Yeah, I love that. Can you share another personal experience that just something that profoundly influenced your own professional path? 

Jing Tian (13:00)

Yeah, because I was telling people as you get into going back to say, whatever you do, you’ve got to come out of here in the heart, like what you love about what you do and design your own career path. Don’t let the job design your path, right? So, but each job, sometimes you may not- so each job to ask, thinking about what you learned and the skill you want. So it’s kind of very interesting. When I, at one point I was with the NanoSolar, we were really, in the sense it’s a very front end of the technology we were doing, to printing SIG. We were doing the very first glass to glass modules. I mean, these are the- and now it’s like, you see glass on glass, a bifacial module, a lot of it. But one of the challenges is how do you make, laminate the two pieces of glasses, like perfectly. And, and the, so I was, was asked to see if I want to do vendor development, which in my primary mind, I always doing technology inside out, and on marketing and going onto the supply chain. In a sense, I was like, oh, that’s not what I want. But then I look at us and I go, well, this is actually very exciting. If you think about designing your own career is by doing so, you have a chance to work with partners. So that is important skill to have. And along the way, so I visited China, every single glass manufacturer, they find a spec, because we did not know what actually is the right spec. So that’s truly a partnership for working together. And then you had to understand the reading lots of supply contracts. I was joking and say, I never really liked the legal contract until I started work on that job. I really learned how to do it. Then you start from supply chain side and later on you start to kind of work on the sales side because they’re all the same. But what I say is a lot of where you pick up the skills, this is what serves you later on in a lot of other things you do. 

Ash Wesworth (15:27)

Yeah, absolutely. I love that thought. And then transition a little bit. So thinking about renewable energy as a whole, where it’s going, the trajectory, where do you see this sector of renewable energy heading in the next decade? 

Jing Tian (15:47)

I would say, again, as I mentioned earlier, you’re asking about, is there any technology specifically very exciting? I say no, because it’s about scalability. So I think if I can imagine, it’s all, it’s obviously it’s gonna be a very low cost energy that it serves enabling equitable energy for all the people with access to that. But then when you think about it, energy ties into transportation. How is the transportation will impact- will be impacted with this transformation and the ultimately how people will live. Right? So the urbanization, like how is the suburban transportation being efficiency? I think our relationship to the nature, I think, you know, we really have to rethink about our relationship to our surroundings to have a sustainable living.

I think it’s all of this, it will impact, I think it’s what I call the system solution approach. And every piece we are doing will impact. It’s going to be very difficult for me to try to imagine how it will be. I think it’s really the efficiency, how we really work with nature. I think we will definitely develop a different relationship. 

Wes Ashworth (17:17)

Yeah, no, absolutely. Are there any other things that you think, things that are kind of getting in the way, slowing down progress now, or any other just key changes that you think need to happen for this renewable energy sector to become more predominant? 

Jing Tian (17:32)

I think it’s the investment, right? It still requires a lot of heavy investment. I think a lot of technologies are getting too mature. I’m sure there will be new technology, but you think about it, it’s a battery. How do we scale the battery for getting more into EV charger, EV cars, right? And the solar, how do we fast deploy solar? And the winds are already at a very low cost. And the storage to me is a, is a critical for wind solar storage. Then not to, not to forget this hydrogen, I think it’s also going to play a pretty important role. Um, so all those in combination and then goes back into how is it a grid? What is the grid infrastructure going to be like to combine all those renewable resources to make best use of it and to optimize the usage. Yeah. 

Wes Ashworth (18:32)

Yeah, absolutely. And you’ve already mentioned probably a couple, but anything else in terms of, I guess if you were to predict one major change over the next five, ten years in renewable energy, what would it be? 

Jing Tian (18:45)

I think it would be having more storage come onboard. I think solar obviously will continue pushing the efficiency., solar PV panel will push the efficiency, wind as I mentioned, some of the wind is getting pretty efficient. Then it’s really storage. I mean, right now, we mostly will have a battery as a storage, but I know there’s quite a few new technology in the development and the long-duration storage and the lower cost, I think, is scalable. I think that will be enabling the pretty big deployment of the renewable.

Wes Ashworth (19:25)

Absolutely. Transition a little bit too — so just reflecting on your whole career, all that you’ve done and accomplished, which has been great and phenomenal. What are you most proud of and why? 

Jing Tian (19:35)

I think it’s really, I enjoy go take on new challenges. So I’m really proud of it. It’s come to where I am today. And mostly, I think it’s a different stage, right? When I was younger, it’s more of like, where I am, where do I go? Now I’m looking back, I’m most excited about it is, I nurture some of the younger people and now they are the leader in the industry. Cause I remember when I first started in 2007 at SoFocus, one of my mentor mentioned, they say, you know, you guys here? It’s all in four years, you are gonna be a leader in the industry. It kind of had an impact on me because that’s what we giving back. It’s how do we really make industry, is you learn from your mentor then you pass on to nurturing new generation. I had a reflection most recently at the Replus in Las Vegas, it’s always a fun to see lots of colleagues in the industry. But I walk around, I go, you know, I used to know a lot of people. I walk around, I say half of people I don’t know. But actually it’s very exciting because you can see more, more people are entering the industry. And, you know, we need more people, more bright minds to work in this field. And so it’s very exciting. Yeah.

Wes Ashworth (21:09.758)
Yeah, that’s something I get to see on the talent front every day. What would you say to those that are contemplating a career in the industry that are deciding on, cause you see a lot of industry switchers, people coming from adjacent industries, entering the industry, um, what would you say to encourage those that are, that are maybe giving that a thought and thinking about coming over to the renewable energy industry? 

Jing Tian (21:31)

This is a big industry. It’s a feature, right? So it’s not just- and also as we learned, expanded it. Like I think I remember early days, and you go, oh, you’re working the solar, then naturally you think about it’s a PV module. Now it’s like, no, it’s actually this is the entire industry. So it’s not just a PV. So a PV module will have a tracker, or it has storage batteries and then expanding into JSON is a transportation. And now you go into the grid design. So a lot of people, one day I was having a conversation with a young person. I said, well, yeah, computer science, AI, we use a lot of it in the renewable. So they go, wow, really? I was like, yes. And so you can see all the talents can come in to work at this. And like, even you think about it, it’s urban design. So like, how do we design our life? And with the, like, energy efficiency in mind, then you started coming with the decarbonization, CO2 capture, methane. So I just think this overall has like expanded into a much bigger industry. I think it touches every corner of our life, come join the industry. And so I think we all make a difference. 

Wes Ashworth (22:51)

Yeah, no, absolutely. And then anything else in terms of just bigger picture thinking, just how you envision the role of renewable energy and shaping our world’s future, our nation’s future, um, anything else in terms of your, your vision, what you see? 

Jing Tian (23:09)

Um, yeah, I think we talked quite a bit. I mean, I think it’s a, for me, it’s really, I think, uh, you know, I sometimes get into the younger generation, talking to them, trying to figure out, cause we sometimes had to fixate it. I have a single, you know, picket fence, a house, living in suburb. Um, but the younger ones, they, sometimes they are challenging that status quo, right? So, so like, why we have it, so like, when we think about urban, you know, like, densification, like, how do we get people live, what kind of life styles we’re going to have. And, and I think, you know, as we moving towards a future as, uh, I would say it’s not about producing, like being a renewable energy. Obviously, it’s really about decarbonization. Like what do we do to reduce the pollution, to slow down the climate change? So I think, to me, that is a way to impact our living and how do we really have the different relationship with nature. So I think that’s the way I see it. 

Wes Ashworth (24:28)

Yeah. What would you maybe share, say, to non-believers out there, those that are skeptical or hesitant to this change and the importance of that overall impact to our environment and nature as a whole and our globe, anything that you would share in terms of, just from your insights, your perspective?

Jing Tian (24:51)
I think we should go out just to look at it. The climate change is real. And it’s impacting our daily life and which, you know, for people denied didn’t want to see it. You know, just sometimes I just don’t know what to say. Like I’m living in California. It’s like we have unprecedented drought for multiple years. You can say that is not a climate change. And it’s just, every day, we see things. And you can go to other parts of the world, the flood, the extreme weather. So those are real. 

Wes Ashworth (25:32)

Yeah, I agree. I think it’s undeniable, and you see it on a daily basis, and we’ll have to play our part. Kind of going back, as you first started in the industry, knowing what you know now and the success you’ve had, what advice would you potentially give to your younger self if you could go back in time and talk to yourself?

Jing Tian (25:53)

I would say fundamentals, like really network, you know, just being, going out there. So, I mean, be surprised at how many people willing to, you know, provide free advice and opinions. I think it’s okay just to get out there. So.

Wes Ashworth (26:12)

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I say often, somebody gave me the advice early on in my career, was the world belongs to askers. And sometimes you just have to ask, you know, if you don’t know something or you need help or advice or a mentor, you know, you just have to ask the question. So I agree with that completely. Yeah. Well, excellent. I greatly, greatly appreciate your time. I think we were able to really get some valuable ,and hearing your perspective and your trajectory throughout your career and some of the things that you’re seeing, in terms of the future as well too, and understanding where the industry is going. So thank you so much for coming on the show, being my first guest as well. You’re such a delightful person with great insights. So very grateful for that. Thank you in advance to the audience out there listening. There’s new episodes coming soon, and remember to subscribe, rate, review, and if you enjoy this conversation, which I’m sure you did, share it with a colleague. Don’t forget to follow us on our social channels and stay tuned.