Stop to Feel the Wind on Your Skin

by Ufei Chan, MBA '13 (8/10/12)

Ufei Chan, MBA '13

An internship as a Marketing Strategy Intern at Weaver Wind Energy has expanded my understanding of the renewable energy industry and of sustainability marketing while giving me a greater appreciation of the natural resources that surround us.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote this riddle in his epic novel, The Hobbit. 

Voiceless it cries,

wingless flutters,

toothless bites,

mouthless mutters.

What is it you ask? Tolkien referred to the miraculous power of wind.

This summer I had the pleasure of being immersed in the wonders of wind, both through an internship at Weaver Wind Energy, and through a 6-week sailing course.  Weaver Wind Energy is a small wind turbine manufacturer headquartered in Ithaca, N.Y. The company specializes in wind energy generation technology for residential and small commercial use. It was founded by three engineers (one of whom is also a Johnson alum) who are committed to building the world’s most reliable small wind turbine through data driven decision-making and rigorous testing.

I joined the company as it was about to complete testing of the prototype and begin sales. My manager posed two challenges that I was more than thrilled to take on. As their Marketing Strategy Intern, I was asked to create a marketing plan for the first phase of sales which would happen at the local level, and to build the foundation of a plan for the second phase of sales at the domestic level. Moreover, given the nature of startups, I was asked to execute on as many of my proposed projects as possible.

Ufei Chan Wind
Weaver Wind EnergyTeam

To get started, I looked at the industry as a whole. Did you know that the wind energy industry has seen a 35% growth in new generation capacity over the past 5 years, which is greater than nuclear and coal combined, and only second to the growth in new generation capacity of natural gas?[1] According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), as of the first quarter of 2012, the cumulative capacity produced by the full fleet of wind turbines in the U.S. has exceeded 48,000 MW. This is enough electricity to power 10 million homes and equivalent to the amount of electricity produced by 10 nuclear power plants. Given this, you can imagine the impact of wind as a source of clean energy. 

However, in small wind, market demand is driven in part by the availability of tax subsidies and other government incentives. While there are plenty of subsidies available, states such as New York have made it harder for companies to qualify for these funds.

Enter Weaver Wind Energy. The strategic vision of the company is to invest heavily upfront in R&D to design a state of the art, simple-to-use turbine. Not only would this machine qualify for the most stringent state and federal subsidy requirements, it would also “wow” the customer in usability and reliability. I share this with you because in the renewable energy industry, a marketer has the added requirement of meeting government policies, as these subsidies can make or break a company. After examining the macro conditions, I examined the competitive landscape, the primary and secondary segments of consumers, internal capabilities, competitor net pricing (with and without subsidies), positioning, and promotional options.

My first year at Johnson prepared me well for what would be an incredibly fulfilling summer internship. I didn’t believe this when the 2012 graduating class said it, but I used at least one lesson from every core class in this internship. Additionally, the SGE Immersion, where I completed an intensive sustainability marketing project, taught me the thought process and framework necessary to break down my assignment in digestible chunks.

This post would not be complete without a mention of how incredibly amazing it has been to spend my summer in Ithaca. From the trails of Buttermilk Falls State Park, to the tasty sips of wine and bites of cheese along Seneca Lake, to quaint towns like Watkins Glen, there was never a shortage of experiences to try under the blue cotton ball clouds of the summer.  On Cayuga Lake, I experienced my first sailing lessons. I learned to control my vessel given the variable conditions of the wind creating an experience that was both enjoyable and functional. It was when I stopped to feel the wind on my face that I realized generating wind energy made me feel the same way. It feels fantastic to create energy for consumption, but even better knowing that it is clean and good for the environment.

I look ahead to next year with a clearer vision of what I’d like to achieve after this internship as memories of the warm summer breeze keep me cozy through the cold winter and beyond to graduation.

[1] "AWEA: Industry Statistics." Industry Statistics. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Aug. 2012.