What’s New in Energy?


Industry leaders share their insight with MBA students

This year’s Johnson Energy Connection, hosted by Johnson’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise and sponsored by Chevron, brought together alumni from a variety of organizations to network with MBA students and tell them about the future of the energy industry via TED-style presentations at Sage Hall Sept. 28.

Paola Meta, MBA ’03, consolidation and reporting lead of U.S. Upstream at Chevron, kicked off the first plenary session by discussing the importance of bringing more women into the energy industry in her talk,  “Explorers in a New Landscape: Female Leaders and their Competitive Advantage in the Energy Industry.”

Although energy is “a male-dominated industry,” Meta believes that women have a competitive advantage in the sector. The best way to understand this advantage is to think of women as immigrants joining the energy field as newcomers who, despite being a minority, have a lot to offer.

“Women, like immigrants, can bring unique elements to energy. They bring in adaptability, diversity and partnership — all equally important factors for this growing, constantly changing field,” Meta said. “It’s a quickly growing industry, and I invite women to strongly consider pursuing it.”

Michael Harrington, MBA ’10, manager of targeted demand side management (DSM) at Con Edison, shifted the session’s focus to energy efficiency and why it’s advantageous from a cost perspective not only for customers, but also for energy providers.

In his presentation, “Demand Response and Load Management: A Utility Perspective,” Harrington discussed Con Edison’s Demand Response campaign, the company’s effort to encourage customers to use energy more responsibly. The campaign consists of informational videos and incentives that educate users about energy efficiency and encourage them to upgrade to energy-efficient appliances; reduce or time use with the help of timers and motion sensors; and store energy by charging batteries at night.

As more customers use energy in more efficient ways, energy providers can reduce the cost of delivering energy, which benefits everyone — energy providers included. Harrington explained that the current energy production, transmission, and distribution model (illustrated by a duration-load curve) that Con Edison relies on is inefficient, because it involves investing billions of dollars’ worth of assets to serve one peak hour per year.

“For most of the year the load is relatively low, but we build generation, transmission, and distribution to serve a peak hour and, in a way, that’s wasting a lot of money,” he said. If more customers embrace energy efficiency, however, the model would become much more efficient and the effect on cost would be tremendous.

Nathaniel Doyno ’05, director of incentives and public policy at the Efficiency Network, discussed energy efficiency as well, but focused mainly on ways it can be incorporated into buildings in his discussion of “Moving Beyond Low-Hanging Fruit: The Future of Building Energy Efficiency.”

According to Doyno, building energy-efficient buildings and turning existing structures into more sustainable models is a largely untapped market. According to a 2003 report from the U.S. Energy Information Agency, there are about 4.8 million buildings in the country that use about $92 billion in energy, and implementing more energy-efficient practices could significantly reduce this. 

Because the market is so large and viable, Doyno recommends pursuing sustainability projects that reach beyond what he calls “the low-hanging fruit,” or projects that fall into the M.U.S.H. categories — municipal, university, school, or hospital buildings. “These types of projects have already been tapped, but they’re the ones people keep focusing on. We need to start thinking about other buildings, because we’re missing out on maximum opportunities,” Doyno explained. He encouraged MBA students to think about building efficiency when considering career paths.

Kenneth Davies '02, MEng '04, vice president of origination at Altenex, closed out the morning’s session with “The Role of Renewable Energy in Corporate Risk Management.”

Renewable energy can reduce risk for corporations in significant ways, Davies explained. Most important, perhaps, is the elimination of variable cost. “When you use renewable energy,” Davies said, “there’s no fuel cost, so there’s less fluctuation and price is predictable. You don’t have to reserve capital and have a piggy bank in case fuel costs go up, so you’re reducing risk.”

Davies also explained that it’s not necessary to make a total shift to renewable energy to gain a measurable effect. The first company to really do this on a large scale was Google when, in 2010, the company slowly began to rely on wind power.

“During their first shift, they only switched to 115 megawatts of wind. But after a similar move in 2011, they increased their efficiency on renewable energy to 25 percent. That makes a serious difference not only in terms of risk,” Davies said, “but also in terms of energy efficiency and sustainability as a whole. They took a small step in a very big way and it’s steps like this that have important implications for the energy industry.”

Fourteen more alumni delivered presentations at three additional plenary sessions, and discussed a variety of energy related topics, ranging from bringing start-up technology into oil and gas operations, to commercializing emission control technologies in the energy industry. The event concluded with a group lunch as well as company office hours — opportunities for students to speak to representatives from different companies individually and to network.

—      Maria Minsker ’13