Energy: the future is bright in this booming industry
Innovation is essential as the energy industry searches for new and efficient solutions
The demand for renewable energy and natural gas is spurring tech career growth
By Sue Marquette Poremba
Though many industries are still rebounding from the recession, the energy industry never slowed down. According to renewable energy retailer Green Mountain Energy (Austin, TX), energy generated from renewable sources is increasing across the board. Wind energy output in 2012, for example, was twenty-eight times what it was in 1997.
At the same time, new extraction techniques in the last decade have increased natural gas production, and made it a lower-cost alternative to oil; increased demand for both natural gas and renewable energy means that the energy sector is growing at a faster rate than almost any other sector of the economy. This means not only an increased number of job opportunities in many parts of the energy industry, but also a wide variety of career paths thanks to advances in technology and the growing interest in energy efficiency.
NRC project manager Lucieann Vechioli enjoys protecting the environment
Lucieann Vechioli dreamed of doing many different things while growing up in Puerto Rico. “I wanted to be a writer, astronaut, architect, missionary, and all of them had the same objective: to do something fulfilling and interesting. It was in high school that I decided engineering was the path I was going to take.”
Vechioli got her BSME from the University of Puerto Rico in 2004. Right after college, she worked as a manufacturing supervisor at Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson medical products company. “Then the great opportunity of working with the government in the energy field came up, and I took advantage of it right away,” she says. In August 2007, she began her career at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Rockville, MD).
She is currently project manager for the rules, inspections and operations branch at the spent fuel storage and transportation division in the office of nuclear materials safety and safeguards. The division develops and implements the agency’s regulatory, licensing and inspection program for the storage of spent fuel from nuclear reactors and the transportation of radioactive materials. As project manager, she serves as the lead staff representative in conducting agency business with applicants, licensees, contractors, government agencies, industry and the public.
One of her recent projects was the review of an application for a certificate of compliance from a maker of spent fuel storage casks.
“A storage cask system is an integrated system of components designed to perform several primary safety functions,” Vechioli explains. “As the lead project manager, I have overall responsibility for the coordination and development of the safety evaluation report for this application,” she explains.
A call to creative engineers
Vechioli enjoys knowing that she is involved in ensuring the protection of both the environment and public health. “My engineering background prepared me to think both logically and creatively,” she says. “And that is what the engineering profession needs now more than ever: creative people who can adapt to this changing environment, and who can explore and invent new alternatives to better benefit the world we live in.”
Shabari Basu: wind technical director for Duke Energy Renewables
As an undergraduate student at India’s Delhi University, Shabari Basu decided to pursue physics because she saw it as a stepping stone toward her dream career in astronomy and planetary science. She received her BS in 2000.
“The Indian space program was quite active when I was growing up, and I used to follow the activities of the Indian Space Research Organization very keenly when they launched their satellites and when they planned their missions,” she explains. “I also followed the U.S. space program closely, and was intrigued in particular by the activities of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.”
This interest brought her to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech, Pasadena) where she got her PhD in 2006. But during her graduate study at Caltech, and later as a research faculty member at Texas A&M; University, her interests gradually shifted toward helping the energy industry with her specialized knowledge in atmospheric science. “Wind energy seemed to be a natural transition,” she says. “I worked for smaller renewable energy companies before joining Duke Energy.”
Duke Energy (Charlotte, NC) is the largest electric power holding company in the United States, supplying and delivering energy to approximately 7.2 million U.S. customers in the South and Midwest. As the wind technical director for Duke Energy Renewables, Basu is responsible for wind resource energy assessments and uncertainty analysis, turbine array optimization and layout design for wind farms. She was recently involved in projects in Pennsylvania, Kansas and Texas.
“I analyze the production from operational farms to figure out the reasons for under or overproduction,” she says. “My responsibilities include identifying and characterizing site topography and wind resources for greenfield projects; supervising measurement programs for meteorological towers and remote sensing devices; geospatial data management and mapping; running wind flow models to determine optimized wind farm layouts; and estimating uncertainty associated with a variable resource like wind energy.”
Using her own energy to give back
In addition to her work with wind farms, Basu is the chair of the Engage steering team for the commercial businesses segment of Duke Energy. “It’s an initiative to encourage employee commitment to creating and sustaining a positive and inclusive work environment. We take employee feedback on how to improve engagement and are constantly looking to implement suggestions. We’re currently working on a mentoring program,” she notes. Basu is also active with the Solar Decathlon 2013 team of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“I’m happy that I am actively involved in the generation of wind energy and am contributing to global efforts toward a cleaner environment,” she says.
Tina Burt manages water programs for power plant operations at Entergy
Tina Burt is a senior environmental analyst in Entergy’s Arkansas environmental support office (Little Rock), which is part of the fossil environmental, health and safety organization of Entergy (New Orleans, LA). She serves as project technical lead managing cooling water processes and programs that support Entergy’s power plant operations. “I work in partnership with our fossil plants and regulatory agencies, ensuring compliance with federal and state environmental regulations, managing permits, conducting water media assessments, helping plants with compliance reporting and interfacing with industry groups and state regulatory agencies,” she explains.
Born and raised in Pine Bluff, AR, Burt attended college at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, graduating with a BS in chemistry and mathematics in 1989. She also has a 2008 MBA from Webster University (St. Louis, MO). Burt learned about the job opportunity at Entergy through a conversation with a former colleague. “After college, I didn’t realize the depth and breadth of careers available in the energy arena,” she says.
She joined Entergy in 1999 as a lead chemist at the system chemistry lab, providing analytical laboratory support to the company’s hydro and fossil plants in the South, before moving into her current role. Today, one of the biggest challenges she faces involves developing “win-win outcomes” that satisfy both the needs of efficient plant operations and the requirements of regulatory agencies. “In the compliance aspect of my job, sometimes it is difficult to find a solution that satisfies regulators without causing operation or budgetary issues for the plants.”
A champion for women and minorities
Another challenge Burt has taken on is supporting diversity at Entergy. She was a charter member of fossil operations’ first diversity council and a founding member of an Entergy employee resource group. That gave her an opportunity to do informal mentoring and networking with company leaders. “When I started my career I didn’t know or encounter anyone who looked like me who had a professional role in this field. There is still much work to be done to encourage more females and minorities to pursue careers in the utility industry.”
When she isn’t busy with work, Burt is busy with her two young children. “Downtimes and dull moments are rare in my home,” she notes.
R&TD; engineer Kala Henry takes his curiosity to NYPA
The laws governing the physical world fascinated Kala Henry as a kid on the small Caribbean island of Dominica. “I’ve always had a keen curiosity to understand how things work, especially things that seemed to work by magic. Imagine as a child observing the effects of electricity, and wondering about what made that seizing, pulsating sensation felt during an electric shock,” he says.
This fascination led him to the City College of New York (New York, NY), where he earned a BSEE in 2006 and an MSEE in 2009. After working briefly at Con Edison, Henry landed a job with the New York Power Authority (White Plains, NY). NYPA sells electric power to government agencies, municipal electric systems and rural electric cooperatives, and job-creating companies. The authority also sells power to neighboring states under federal and state mandates.
Henry is a research and technology development (R&TD;) engineer II, working in the clean energy technology group. At NYPA, an R&TD; engineer supports the implementation and ongoing operation of advanced distributed generation and renewable energy technologies.
A contributor to statewide and company initiatives
He’s working on a number of projects. One is the electric vehicle supply equipment installation throughout New York State. The effort is part of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s “Charge NY” plan to promote the development of electric-drive vehicles for the benefit of the public and public entities around the state. Another project is the operation and maintenance of fuel cells and solar photovoltaics throughout the state. This project team manages a renewable energy operation and maintains more than 100 solar photovoltaic and eight fuel-cell installations. Henry’s role in these projects includes site evaluations, drafting proposals, managing budgets, and overseeing the decommissioning of fuel cells.
Henry was recently selected to participate in NYPA’s mentoring program. “This is one of NYPA’s strategic initiatives to identify, develop and retain talent within the company,” he explains. “Every year, a few employees are chosen to participate in the program, and participants are encouraged to share knowledge and culture. The program has helped me focus on my career objectives and establish a roadmap with set milestones.”
Sylvia Louie researches and implements renewable technologies at NYPA
Sylvia Louie says she “fell into engineering, and then into energy.” A native of Westchester County, NY, Louie always had an inclination toward the sciences. She got her BS in engineering from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (New York, NY) in 2004. Her career began in a small HVAC consulting firm. While she was there, she started working on an MBA at New York University (New York, NY).
“As I was finishing up my MBA, an opportunity to join New York Power Authority’s energy services group presented itself,” she says. “I joined NYPA in 2009 as a mechanical engineer in the engineering and design group of the energy services division. I was introduced to the world of energy and energy efficiency.”
Louie worked primarily on projects that utilized less traditional technologies to achieve energy efficiency, which sparked her interest in renewable energy technologies. In 2012, she joined the clean energy technologies group. Now she manages implementation of clean energy projects. She also researches and evaluates new clean energy technologies.
“Right now I’m working on a project that involves utilizing a single utility-scale wind turbine in a distributed generation application. We plan to implement it on the SUNY-Canton campus,” she reports.
The challenges of going green
Getting projects executed is one of the biggest challenges of Louie’s job. Renewable technologies are generally more costly than traditional systems, she points out, and in the current economy, many organizations are hesitant to install a more expensive but more sustainable system. Yet Louie sees a bright future.
“The industry is constantly evolving. New technologies are popping up and existing technologies are improving to meet market needs,” she says. “The common goal is to generate energy in a more sustainable and cleaner way.”
Sherif Youssef: engineering to sales at Philadelphia Gas Works
Sherif Youssef, a native of Cairo, Egypt, got his BSME in 1978 in his home country, but his career brought him to the U.S. “After graduation I did work with American companies in Dubai, working with heating and air conditioning,” he explains. “I did design, construction and servicing of large multimillion-dollar projects.”
By the end of the 1980s, he decided to move to the United States. “I was hopping from one country to another with my jobs, and I wanted to stay in a place where my kids could grow up. At that time, I had just one baby girl, and I thought it was the right time to have a stable life.”
He and his family first lived in New York before moving to Philadelphia, where he went to work for Philadelphia Gas Works. He did evaluations for buildings to figure out how to reduce energy costs. “We wanted them to produce less pollution and be more efficient,” he says.
He’s now director of sales and marketing, and a program manager for commercial and industrial projects. “I do both technical and financial work in my job,” he says. “I put the projects together.”
Finding solutions that cut costs and usage
His goal continues to be reducing energy costs while focusing on energy efficiency and renewable energy. Many of the projects he works on are for commercial customers who saw a sharp rise in their energy costs and began requesting money-saving solutions.
One such company was the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia. Youssef’s role was to conduct an energy audit of the building and determine the hotel’s heating and cooling usage and needs. He recommended installing three micro-turbines to provide energy for the building. “They are small pieces of equipment. The turbine is high speed like an aircraft, but because of new technologies, it’s silent. You cannot tell the unit is running.” Since installing the turbines, Youssef says the hotel is saving upwards of $300,000 a year in energy costs.
Keith Holly directs corporate engineering at Philadelphia Energy Solutions
Keith Holly planned to go to medical school, but his school counselors encouraged him to go into engineering. He got a 1988 BSChE from the University of Maryland-College Park.
Right out of school, he got a job with Mobil’s oil refinery business. “I loved designing processes and developing projects in a manufacturing environment,” he says. He moved up the managerial ladder at a variety of companies including Sunoco, and is now the director of corporate engineering with Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES, Philadelphia, PA).
Philadelphia Energy Solutions is a new company, founded in 2012 as a joint venture between Sunoco and the Carlyle Group. It operates two refineries in South Philadelphia.
In his job, he looks at strategic projects and decides whether or not it makes sense for the company to get involved in them. He also reviews the refineries’ capital budgets and engineering standards. “I oversee large strategic projects, but I do have some projects I’m a little closer to than others,” he says.
Working to improve things
One of the projects he’s been involved in is butane rail loading and unloading. “We’re also finishing up a crude rail loading and unloading project,” he adds. The goal of these projects is to find more flexibility in the way crude oil and intermediate products are delivered to the refinery, and ways to do it at a lower cost. As a result of the crude rail project, PES has the flexibility to deliver crude on railways as well as conventional river barges.
At PES, Holly says, he’s seeing refineries in a whole new light. “PES is looking at ways to make money and make the plant better.”
Holly also has some personal challenges to overcome. In 2012 he became a paraplegic after an illness that impaired his spinal cord function. He was out of work and in rehab for nine months. While his leg function hasn’t returned yet, Holly has moved ahead, attending rehab driving school and learning to drive with hand controls.
PES supported his return to work by moving him from the plant to the corporate office, which is completely accessible. The company also made special arrangements for downtown parking access, and made several office modifications for improved wheelchair accessibility.
“I’m delighted to be working for PES,” Holly says, “and excited about the future of the energy industry.”
Lead engineer Anna Lis Laursen innovates at GE Global Research
Lead engineer Anna Lis Laursen works in a lab at General Electric’s Global Research headquarters (Niskayuna, NY). Here, she and fellow engineers look at the thermodynamics and economics of how different systems perform. “For example, you might have a geothermal plant and you want to see the technically best and also most economical way to operate the plant,” she explains. “This can involve looking at a variety of systems, some that are fossil-based and others that are alternative fuel applications. The engineering gets a little more interesting when there are incentives.”
Creative problem solver takes on natural gas vehicles
Laursen has recently been looking at natural gas use, and a home refueling appliance for natural gas vehicles. “Natural gas vehicles are gaining interest because of the natural gas boom. But the infrastructure is immature; there isn’t a natural gas station on every corner. We want to see how we can get past that obstacle. One way to do that is to have a home refueling appliance for your personal vehicle.” Because half of all homes now use natural gas, Laursen said her goal is to tap into the home natural gas supply to deliver it to homeowners’ vehicles. “This is a government project,” she adds. “The federal government asked the public to come up with ideas for increasing the natural gas infrastructure, and they liked the concept I came up with. I have a twenty-five-month period to build a prototype model and demonstrate what the concept is.”
As a child, Laursen was always interested in problem solving. She attended Arizona State University (Phoenix) where she received a BSChE in 2002, and followed that with a 2011 MSChE from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY).
“In our lab, we try to see what mega trends are occurring in the world,” she says. “Right now, natural gas is a mega trend in the U.S., and we wanted to look at the opportunities out there.”
Sandra Begay-Campbell is tribal energy program lead at Sandia National Labs
Native American Sandra Begay-Campbell has found a job that gives her the opportunity to help other Native American tribes. At Sandia National Laboratories (Albuquerque, NM), she is tribal energy program lead. She provides technical assistance for tribes across the country with an emphasis on renewable energy or energy efficiency questions. “Right now we have a lot of requests for strategic energy planning for tribes,” she says. “We run a three-day planning exercise where we get stakeholders and tribal officials together and come up with a twenty-year plan for managing their energy resources. I find out which tribes have put in requests and then go to the tribes. There I give them renewable energy technical information.”
Begay-Campbell has a 1987 BSCE from the University of New Mexico (Albuquerque) and a 1991 MS in structural engineering from Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA).
Before taking on her current role, her work at Sandia was as a project manager in facilities engineering. “My role was to work on the technical details supporting the facilities,” she says. “Then I worked in strategic planning for Sandia’s executive management.”
She took a leave of absence from Sandia to run a nonprofit organization for three years. After she returned, she started working with the tribal
A technical interpreter to the tribes
Her current job takes advantage of the skills she developed in facilities management and construction projects, as well as in strategic management. “My engineering and analytic abilities really come into play when I act as a technical interpreter to the tribes. I have to explain technical information in layman’s terms,” she says. “But the most unique piece to my position is that I am a member of the Navajo nation. This job is a wonderful opportunity to work with tribes, and it is the first opportunity I’ve had to do this in my entire career.”
She doesn’t push a particular renewable energy source. Instead, she follows the lead of the tribal authorities, taking into account what will work for a particular area. “We try to explain what technologies are appropriate for their resource, and then it’s up to the tribe to decide how extensively they want to develop the resource.”
Edward Bartholomew of National Grid: beauty and efficiency
Energy innovations have led some professionals from non-traditional fields into energy-related careers.
Edward Bartholomew seeks places that inspire him with light. “Lighting uses about thirty percent of the electric energy use of a building,” he says. “My goal is to use as little energy as possible while providing the best quality visual environment.”
Unlike many people in technical fields, Bartholomew’s background is in art and theater, with a BA in interdisciplinary arts from San Francisco State University (CA) in 1986 and an MA in architectural lighting design in 1995 from the Parsons School of Design (New York, NY). “I grew up in South Central LA in the 1970s, and dreamed of being an artist or designer. Then I saw an exhibit by a well-known light artist, and I was inspired to leave LA and study light as an art form.”
Lighting: a “perfect mix of science and art”
Bartholomew joined National Grid (Waltham, MA), an international electricity and gas company, as the commercial lighting program manager. He’s responsible for implementing customer-oriented lighting incentive programs for commercial and industrial energy-efficient projects. “My job focuses on advanced energy-efficient lighting technologies and strategies in order to ensure quality visual environments,” he says. “My role at National Grid is to provide quality lighting options for our commercial customers. I am currently working on creating utility incentives that support LED lighting and controls, quality lighting design and effective daylighting.”
Lighting, he believes, is a perfect mix of science and art. “The people I work with are just as passionate as I am about energy efficiency and how it can transform our environment and improve our lives. I love learning more about efficient lighting and sharing that knowledge with my colleagues.”
Bartholomew joined National Grid in September 2012, and is still learning his way around the Boston area. He spends his time off with his wife and daughter exploring New England. He looks for opportunities to teach communities about the advantages of energy efficiency, and to educate youth about careers in the energy industry.
Elizabeth Martin is a contract administrator with DTE Energy
A native of Brooklyn, MI, Elizabeth Martin began her career as a legal assistant before landing a job with national energy company DTE Energy (Detroit, MI).
“I started with DTE Energy as an office administrator with its distribution operations organization,” she explains. “After two years with the company, I moved to the Harbor Beach Power Plant, which is a coal-fired production plant. I worked at the power plant for seven years. In December 2012, I began my current position with the wind turbines.”
Martin is a contract administrator for DTE Energy’s Thumb Wind Parks, where her duties include administering and monitoring DTE Energy’s contract for turbine maintenance services, as well as spending time in the field observing substation operations, giving wind park tours and meeting with local officials.
She is focused on doing her part to keep everyone safe. “Maintenance of wind turbines is a dangerous job, and I feel responsible for the wind turbine technicians working for DTE Energy,” Martin says. “Safety is emphasized every day, all day. The other challenge I face right now is learning exactly how wind turbines operate, since I am in a new position.”
In addition to her job, Martin is a senior at Davenport University (Grand Rapids, MI), where she will graduate with a bachelors in business administration in spring 2018.
Carlos Brown works with alternative energy at Dominion
As director of alternative energy solutions business development and commercialization strategies at Dominion (Richmond, VA), Carlos Brown seeks opportunities to collaborate with third parties to develop new products and services in the alternative energy space. “We identify technologies and strategies for new products and services, and then our job is to figure out how to make them a commercial success,” he says.
He also oversees Dominion’s internal innovation program. “We’re looking for innovations and new ideas from employees. This program provides a formal way to capture those ideas and investigate them to see if they can have a commercial impact,” Brown explains. The program is designed to identify innovations like Dominion’s “Edge” voltage reduction program, which can save consumers as much as five percent of their energy bills.
From law to energy innovation
Carlos Brown didn’t begin his career in energy or even in technology. He attended the University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), where he got a 1996 BA in American government and African American studies, and in 1999, a law degree.
“After law school I went to a law firm that had a lot of energy clients,” he says. “I was assigned to the corporate finance team. The firm, McGuireWoods, was the lead outside counsel for Dominion. One of my first projects was to work on the financing and acquisition of a natural gas company. That deal took Dominion into the oil and gas industry and was a major acquisition.”
After spending several years working as the company’s corporate finance outside counsel, Brown left McGuireWoods and started his own firm. A few years later, Brown was offered the opportunity to join Dominion as senior counsel for corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions. In 2009 he took on responsibility for Dominion’s new Alternative Energy Solutions (AES) group. The AES group was formed to investigate and advise the company on how to position itself for the mushrooming of new technology and innovation in the energy industry.
In 2013 Brown moved into his current job as director of alternative energy solutions business development and commercialization strategies at Dominion. He leverages his legal and finance experience but he has also had to learn the technical side of the business. He deals with very small companies, some literally starting in their founders’ garages. “Some of these technologies are revolutionizing the industry, like power tagging technology, which allows us to map power grids for faster restoration during outages, and improve energy efficiency. I have had to take a pretty deep dive into the energy technology space to understand what technologies will be successful and what may not be successful.”
Brown is also involved with the American Association of Blacks in Energy (www.aabe.org). “This group exposes young individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds to opportunities and roles in an industry they might not realize is available to them,” he says.
DIVERSITY-MINDED ENERGY ORGANIZATIONS
Check website for current listings.
|Company and location
|Alliant Energy (Madison, WI)
|Electric and gas service
|Dominion (Richmond, VA)
|Electricity, natural gas and related services
|DTE Energy (Detroit, MI)
|Energy and energy technology
|Duke Energy (Charlotte, NC)
|Electric power generation and distribution
|Entergy Corp (New Orleans, LA)
|Electric power generation and distribution
|General Electric (Fairfield, CT)
|Power, lighting and related technologies
|National Grid (Waltham, MA)
|Electricity and natural gas
|New York Power Authority (White Plains, NY)
|Public power provider
|Philadelphia Energy Solutions
|Philadelphia Gas Works (Philadelphia, PA)
|Natural gas utility
|Southern Co (Atlanta, GA)
|Electricity generation and distribution
|U.S. Department of Energy (Washington, DC)
|U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
|Nuclear power regulation
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