Last month, I got to attend Power Trends, a panel discussion hosted by the Duke Energy Initiative, where alums of Duke expounded on future trends in the energy space in and around North Carolina. We heard from professionals in various exciting sectors: solar, energy efficiency, consulting, nonprofit and even the EPA!
Their titles ranged from business owners, managers, scientists and analysts but the connection that linked all of them together was the collective story that they told about their career journeys. To sum it up, the underlying current in all of their professions was that it was meandering. What ramifications does this have for current students and future energy path-blazers?
My interpretation is that it is okay to not know what you want to do, especially in an industry that is constantly changing. Even if you have a five-year plan, disruptions and diversions are common elements of a career trajectory. It is crucial to remain flexible, more so if the unexpected opportunities at hand provide you with further clarification on what exactly it is that you do want to do. Or in some cases, internships or jobs can inform your development in that it enlightens you to what you don’t want to do.
Kyle Bradbury, the panel moderator and managing director of Duke’s Energy Data Analytics Lab, provided interesting questions to guide our esteemed guests, listed below. Responding to a prompt about their winding career paths, each panelist was able to give colorful responses:
Cullen Morris (MEM-EE’10): President, Cooperative Solar LLC
- Software engineer for 10 years, looking to make an impact
- Addressing energy concerns was his way of fighting climate change
- Instead of working on the smart grid, he went into solar
- Leads Cooperative Solar, operating in the Carolinas and other states
- Was in banking for 13 years
- Worked at UNC’s Environmental Finance Center
- Caught the “advocacy bug”
- Now works at SACE on energy efficiency
Paul Quinlan (MEM/MPP’06): Clean Tech Manager, ScottMadden
- Worked for NCSEA for 6 years, started when there were only 2 full-time staff members
- Built out the research division, including an annual survey collecting clean energy job growth in NC
- Transitioned into the private sector
- Now a manager at ScottMadden, a management consulting firm
Ethan Case (MEM ’13): Policy Analyst, Cypress Creek Renewables
- English major, applied his skills to work on messaging for advocacy
- MEM program honed quantitative skills, such as modeling and power markets analysis
- Continuously involved in the nonprofit space to fundraise
- Worked on DSIRE database at N.C. State
- Now at Cypress Creek Renewables building out a government affairs team
Marco Loeffke (BSE’12): PlotWatt
- Engineering background from Duke undergrad
- Interested in topics of economics, energy and green tech
- Lived in the Duke SmartHome for 1 year, conducting a solar project
- Now head energy analyst at PlotWatt, an energy efficiency analytics company
- Passionate about systems and optimization, bringing these models to environmental field
- N.C. State research faculty member for 3 years, hopped over to UNC
- Started out as a consultant for the EPA
- Focuses on emerging energy technologies and their environmental impacts
Kyle proceeded to ask about what exactly is it about the North Carolina’s Triangle region that makes it so rich for people interested in energy. The answer from the panelists was varied, but the main point is that the state has been rapidly changing within the past four years. Bolstered by the established academic institutions in the area (Duke, UNC, N.C. State), there’s a diverse plentitude of storied industry players in multiple industries (big pharma, big tech, etc.). Naturally, this gives way to the recent cropping of cleantech companies who are attracted to both the southeast’s quality of life and the professional opportunities.
To provide an optimistic end to the evening’s discussion, Kyle asked each of the panelist what they were most excited about in the energy sector. Cullen emphasized the policy uncertainty in the country as being a formidable challenge – he is looking at tax policy as a barometer of future renewable energy development. In the same policy vein, Ethan is pumped for regulatory reform that will continue to open up new markets. Others, like Paul and Marco, feel that data analytics roles will be in high demand since utilities have a glut of information that they don’t know what to do with it.
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