Capitalizing “8 Minute Energy”

by Mei Poon, MBA ‘16 and Environmental Finance and Impact Investing Fellow Candidate

Mei Poon, MBA ‘16 and Environmental Finance and Impact Investing Fellow Candidate

Mei Poon shares her experience working at a startup within a multinational organization.

The sun fuels all life on earth. It takes exactly 8.3minutes for sunlight to reach earth at the speed of light. One hour of sunlight is enough to power humanity for an entire year, and yet how can we harness such a clean, abundant, and affordable resource?

Mei Poon wearing a GE hat
Proudly wearing my GE hard hat!

My summer at GE Renewable Energy Leadership Program has been full of pleasant surprises in corporate culture, hands-on learning, and immense growth opportunities. As a majority of GE’s renewables business is in wind power generation, I was surprised to learn I was assigned to work with GE Solar for the summer. GE Solar is a team of 12 full–time employees globally, consisting of engineers, project managers, economists, business developers, and financiers. Being part of a one-year-old multi-disciplinary team invigorates the entrepreneurial spirit that’s not common in multinational corporations like GE. Even as interns, we were given much freedom to shape the strategy and vision of the business, regardless of one’s tenure or expertise in training.

Poon partner
My project partner, Duncan, first day on-site.

On the third day of my internship, my partner and I hit the ground running (literally), at a GE Solar project in Middletown, NY. It is the largest privately-owned solar system in New York State. No images on Google earth nor video footage taken by GE drones can compare to physically walking the site in person. 20,000 solar panels with a total power output of 2.5 MW – enough to power 2000 homes! We were tasked with studying the major drivers of solar installation cost, and the amount of labor hours required for various installations activities. While both of us have limited background knowledge in solar engineering and components that comprise a solar system (known as Balance of Plant), we quickly dived into prudent observation, interviewing, and documenting every detail of activity happening on site. What I learned from my operations course at Johnson helped tremendously as we broke down the process to identify the critical path and activities with slack. It has been a humbling experience to learn from the ground up and understand literally the “nut and bolts” of what goes into each panel.

Across the globe the demand for solar power has exploded as the cost of photovoltaic panels has decreased dramatically over the last 10 years to $0.50 per watt. There has also been a shift in install capacity from European countries, like Germany, to emerging markets, particularly APAC countries such as China and India. Increasing environmental scrutiny and global policies have pushed forward investments in solar energy. China and Japan are on track to install over 6GW in 2015. There has also been consolidation of major players across the value chain, which compresses costs even further. While GE Solar has been in the industry for a decade, its business model has shifted from manufacturing panels and inverters to servicing and now to developer. Given the immense business opportunities, my internship partner and I have sought out industry leaders and developers to devise growth strategies for GE solar. I never would have imagined having an internship with the autonomy to shape the business vision and create a platform for future growth.

My summer projects again elicit the complexity and ambiguity of running business sustainably. My Sustainable Global Enterprise (SGE) practicum experience has prepared me well to peel through layers of issues and uncover the root cause in a dynamic marketplace such as renewable energy. I’m excited to be a driving force for a sustainable energy future that is both economically viable and environmentally beneficial.