Issue 11: Robert Tidona

Issue 11: Robert Tidona

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This is the final installment of the alumni interview series! Please enjoy a message from Robert Tidona ‘75, Energy Engineer Supervisor at Honeywell. Check out his LinkedIn profile here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/robert-tidona/ . This interview and all other interviews in the series were conducted by Jason P. Mulderrig ‘18.


RT: First off, it is great to hear that interest in energy continues to grow at Princeton. I am a Class of 75 MAE alum. My undergraduate concentration took me into combustion sciences and I received my MS from UC San Diego in 77. My career has kind of moved back and forth between environmental consulting and energy engineering as things have unfolded over the course of my career. I have enjoyed every job I’ve had for different reasons. Consulting is great because every situation brings fresh learning experiences. In my current job, I work for a large company, Honeywell, which has given me a different perspective after spending most of my career working for smaller companies (plus an 8-year research engineering stint in academia at Drexel University). At Honeywell, I am part of a $1 billion energy performance services business. We do guaranteed energy and water savings projects for a variety of customers including institutional, government, and private entities. The fun thing about being an engineer in this market is that we get to work at the forefront of technology - striking a balance between the innovative and the practical. As a Solution Development Engineer Supervisor I enjoy the opportunity to work on projects and manage a small group of talented and experienced engineers who basically do what I do. Princeton provided the fundamental understanding of science and engineering that gave me the confidence I needed to be able to tackle new challenges without undue fear but rather a healthy respect for the technical rigor necessary to be successful. There is much to be excited about in energy. I’d be happy to chat about the future of the field with you all some time.

Issue 10: Russell Abber

Issue 10: Russell Abber

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An interview with Russell Abber ‘82, Energy Solution Engineer at Royal Industrial Electric. Check out his LinkedIn profile here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/russ-abber-180b51/ . Interview was conducted by Jason P. Mulderrig ‘18.


JPM: What did you study at Princeton? What was your senior thesis about?

RA: I majored in Chemical Engineering. During my time at Princeton, I was the Vice Chairman of the Engineering Council. I do not recall a lot of details about my senior thesis, but it was an experimental project studying some chemical reactions. After Princeton I went on to get an MS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Houston. My master’s thesis was on the deposition of single crystal silicon. This led me into a long career in the semiconductor equipment Industry.


JPM: What is your current job title?

RA: My current title is Energy Solution Engineer. I am working for a large electrical distributor selling energy efficiency projects to industrial customers. This can include LED lighting, boiler/chiller optimizations, solar generation, air compressors, motors and drives, electric vehicle charging stations, etc. At first this was primarily driven by LED lighting, which has very little to do with chemical engineering. But the chemical engineering training allows me to understand many of my customers’ processes. This understanding makes it easier to explain energy efficiency projects in terms they can understand.


JPM: Tell us about the day-to-day for your job?

RA: My day to day job involves working with our account managers to identify potential customers with energy efficiency projects. Once we identify a potential customer, I visit and try to meet with senior executives. The purpose is to understand how they pay for these kinds of projects and if they are interested in efficiency projects. The goal from this initial meeting is to do a quick plant walk-through to count lights, compressors, etc. We put together a rough project size and payback calculation. Following this, we return to the customer to present an initial proposal. It they like it, we can prepare a more detailed proposal and then go back to close the deal.


JPM: What has your overall career path been like? Why did you make specific pivots/switches in your career?

RA: My career initially began on the engineering side as a process engineer. I helped to develop processes for semiconductor tools. I later moved to applications engineering and then marketing. I then moved to sales management. All of this was within the semiconductor equipment industry. I made the change from engineering to applications because I saw it as an opportunity to develop my skills, stay in the industry and spend more time with customers. The transition to marketing was a natural progression from applications, which in itself is already within the marketing realm. Sales management was a way to continue this progression. In 2008 the opportunities within the semiconductor equipment industry were exhausted, particularly for me. I was no longer able to travel the way I had been due to medical issues. So I made a transition to the LED lighting world. Although this was initially not as lucrative, it was a lot of fun to learn a whole new field. In recent years I have expanded beyond lighting and into energy efficiency.


JPM: Is there anything in energy that currently excites you?

RA:  I love walking into an industrial customer and learning about their processes and explaining how we can help them save energy/money. Sometimes it is a matter of improving the lighting and reducing defects/scrap rates. Sometimes it is all about saving energy. As an aside, I am excited to be part of the work to minimize our impact on the global climate.


JPM: Do you have a recommendation/tidbit of advice for current students?

RA: For the most part, you do not need to be an expert in every area of energy. You need to begin as a generalist. Know a little bit about each area in an industrial plant, a commercial office building, residential etc. Over time, you may develop expertise in a few specific areas.

Issue 9: Charles Smith

Issue 9: Charles Smith

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An interview with Charles Smith `86, Director for the Department of Energy’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. Check out his LinkedIn profile here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/charles-smith-36a49b126/ . Interview was conducted by Jason P. Mulderrig '18.


JPM: What did you study at Princeton? What was your senior thesis about?

CS: I attended Princeton from 1982 to 1986 and majored in Political Science. My time away from the classroom was spent competing on the track and sprint football teams. I was a member of the old Dial Lodge eating club. My senior thesis was an effort to define a morally acceptable framework for U.S. Intelligence Community activities.


JPM: What is your current job title?

CS: I currently serve as the Director for the Department of Energy’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. It relates to my college studies in so much in that it is a politically appointed position responsible for leading the agency’s efforts to contract and work with small and disadvantaged businesses.


JPM: Tell us about the day-to-day for your job?

CS: The Department of Energy is a fascinating place to work considering the agency’s history with its origins going back to the Manhattan Project through today where it is arguably the world’s leading science and technology research enterprise. I travel a lot to meet and educate small businesses on the agency’s missions and how these businesses can best identify and compete for contracting opportunities with the Department.


JPM: What has your overall career path been like? Why did you make specific pivots/switches in your career?

CS: After graduation I went to Officer Candidate School and served aboard a US Navy guided missile destroyer. I then left the Navy to pursue a career in government and politics. I have spent the last thirty years managing political campaigns, serving in appointed positions in New Jersey state government and working in the private sector doing business with local governments around the country. Through most of it I have lived in Princeton. I only moved to Washington this summer.
I don’t believe that I’ve made any specific pivots or switches in my career. I’ve held many different jobs for sure, but they’ve all been connected in some fashion and it has all felt like one seamless straight run.


JPM: In what ways did Princeton prepare you for what you are doing after graduation?

CS: The academic work at the University certainly armed me with a wealth of practical knowledge, but I’ve always felt that the most meaningful preparation I received at Princeton was experience in interacting, and working with super intelligent, talented, and driven people. That experience has helped me every day of my career.


JPM: What is the most surprising thing about energy that you have learned about since graduation?

CS: I graduated a long time ago. Many surprising things have happened since then. I never would have imagined the extent to which battery powered automobiles would become commonplace. And the advances made in photovoltaic energy generation have been amazing to me.


JPM: Is there anything in energy that currently excites you?

CS: My role at DOE allows me the opportunity to visit our network of national labs such as the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. There are exciting things going on at all of the National Labs. When I visited the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO earlier this year I had a chance to stop by the Solar Decathlon where competing teams of college undergraduate students design and build full size solar powered houses. I was blown away by the houses they built. It’s exciting to me to see what the next generation of great minds will do with energy.


JPM: Do you have a recommendation/tidbit of advice for current students?

CS: Nothing all that original I’m afraid. Relationships matter. I’ve been surprised at the number of times in my career when I have re-crossed paths with old friends, teachers, coaches, employers and former colleagues. These people have all been tremendous resources for me. And frankly, that’s how I got here at the Department of Energy.

Issue 8: Daniel Fuller

Issue 8: Daniel Fuller

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An interview with Daniel Fuller `03, director of Strategic Planning and Business Development at Customized Energy Solutions, an electric grid consultancy based in Philadelphia. Check out his LinkedIn profile here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daniel-fuller-7393641/ . Interview was conducted by Jason P. Mulderrig '18.


JPM: What did you study at Princeton? What was your senior thesis about?

DF:
I studied Geoscience as an undergraduate, and I was primarily interested in gaining a basic understanding of environmental processes and mechanisms for human interaction. My thesis focused on sensing and statistical methods for understanding the world and translating it to actionable information. My thesis is titled “The Creation of a Statistical, Time-Dependent Earthquake Risk Model”.


JPM: What is your current job title?

DF:
I am the Director of Strategic Planning and Business Development at Customized Energy Solutions, an electric grid consultancy based in Philadelphia. I work to identify and implement methods to reduce cost of electric power provision to large industrial users.


JPM: Tell us about the day-to-day for your job?

DF:
My job is to develop a business that offers power cost savings through automation of power consumption. This entails identifying cost saving opportunities (through developing and maintaining a detailed understanding of electric market regulations and tariffs), coordination/planning for realization of these opportunities (through synthesis of computing and communications technology), and education/negotiation with customers to secure contracts to be paid for delivering the benefits. On the day-to-day, this involves paper and in-person research of power markets, meetings with industrial power consumers, and documentation.


JPM: What has your overall career path been like? Why did you make specific pivots/switches in your career?

DF:
Leaving Princeton, my goal was to learn the basic tools to translate my interests into potential for action. So, I began my career working for an analyst program at a large investment bank - translating my technical and science interests into financial terms and allowing me to access relevant decision makers. To accelerate my desire of deploying improved technologies and methods in markets of interest, I then transitioned to working as an investor researching and developing investment opportunities in the energy, industrial, and agriculture sectors. A little more than a year ago, I took my current job as an opportunity to focus on the electrical power industry - a longstanding interest - and to learn the practical aspects of wholesale and retail power market operation.


JPM: In what ways did Princeton prepare you for what you are doing after graduation?

DF:
Princeton provided amazing access to individuals and ideas to cultivate my curiosity and a great framework for research and development of ideas. The University's holistic focus on the undergraduate education (down to all housing and every meal) left me unprepared for the practical realities of life beyond school. Even though I was fortunate to have a couple summer working experiences away from home in advance of graduation, I would have greatly benefited from a practical home economics curriculum on "the way the world works."


JPM: What is the most surprising thing about energy that you have learned about since graduation?

DF:
I am often surprised at the significant gap between potential and actual efficiency in the regulations, market, and operations of the electrical power industry. From the persistent low efficiency of global coal generation (~33%) to low utilization rates of the electrical power grid (>55% load factor), there are still tremendous opportunities to improve markets, technology, and regulation.


JPM: Is there anything in energy that currently excites you?

DF:
I am currently excited to be learning about and involved in the deployment of technologies and processes that enable reliable power delivery at lower economic and environmental cost.


JPM: Do you have a recommendation/tidbit of advice for current students?

DF:
As the near "universal input", energy fundamentally impacts almost every aspect of our society. The breadth of the industry offers opportunities for practically all disciplines: from fuel extraction and renewable generation technology development, energy conversion and transport methods, market design and operations, regulatory concerns, through end use efficiency, and economic impacts. Whatever your primary interest or expertise, I would offer the advice to challenge yourself to learn and make contacts outside your area of comfort since I believe that important future innovations will most likely be enabled by cross-disciplinary understanding and collaboration. Furthermore, ask big questions and be willing to "naively" challenge the status quo answers. Finally, while you are still in school, spend some time learning how you might apply your passions and curiosities in becoming part of a solution.

Issue 7: David Goldwyn

Issue 7: David Goldwyn

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An interview with David Goldwyn *86, president of Goldwyn Global Strategies, LLC, an international energy consulting company. Check out his LinkedIn profile here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-goldwyn-62227438/. Interview was conducted by Jason P. Mulderrig '18.


JPM: What did you study at Princeton? What did you do outside of class? What was your senior thesis about?

DG: I was a J.D/M.P.A student at the Woodrow Wilson School, concentrating in Field Two, Development Studies.


JPM: What is your current job title?

DG: This is my 15th year as CEO of an eponymous consulting firm, specializing in international energy. I maintain strong think tank connections as Chairman of the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center. My Princeton education has been indispensable. My firm analyzes geopolitical and domestic policy developments and predicts and assesses their impact on energy markets. Understanding how policy is made, how long it takes to develop, what kind and quality of data are required to persuade a government to act, and how a carefully considered change in policy can accomplish the government’s goals with minimal adverse commercial impact are the key skills of my work. The Woodrow Wilson School taught me how to analyze policy, use data and write persuasively.  I use those skills every day.


JPM: Tell us about the day-to-day for your job?

DG: I start each day reading the news: multiple aggregations of energy market developments, and the New York Times, Washington Post and Financial Times. I attend policy workshops and events both to listen policymakers and experts and to communicate with peers.  The rest of my day is spent thinking and writing, developing my insight and analysis based on the mosaic of information I collect and the questions I ask. I’m very fortunate. I spend a lot of time in think tank world, speaking and writing about energy policy trends, from Mexico’s energy reforms, to the impact of Venezuela’s default on energy markets to understanding which countries are implementing their Paris agreement targets and which have not started their energy transitions.  When I see a lacuna in US or foreign government policy, I write about it and communicate with the policymaker. Sometimes they even take my advice. My clients pay me to be insightful and informed, so for me every day is like graduate school.


JPM: What has your overall career path been like? Why did you make specific pivots/switches in your career?

DG: I went to the Woodrow Wilson School to pursue a career in public policy and I have been blessed to have served nearly a dozen years with the US Department of State and Department of Energy. I started at a law firm (Paul, Weiss) to work for Ted Sorensen and pay off my undergraduate and law school loans. I thought working at Paul, Weiss would be a path to government service but the political process defeated me. I shifted gears and joined the State Department as a civil servant in the Office of the Legal adviser. 13 months later (just before Bill Clinton was elected) I moved to the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs as a special assistant for economic affairs and then got a field promotion to chief of staff. It was an immersion course in international diplomacy. Four years later I served as UN Ambassador Bill Richardson’s Washington office head and his deputy on the National Security Council. When he became energy secretary I left the civil service and served as his Counselor, then Assistant Secretary for International Affairs.  It was a crash course in energy but I was able to bring diplomatic experience to issues like Nigeria’s transition to democracy, and Venezuela’s turn towards autocracy. After the 2000 election returned me to the private sector, I spent eight years consulting and co-edited a book and wrote many task force papers on integrating energy and foreign policy.  I returned to the State Department as Secretary Clinton’s first Coordinator and Special Envoy for International Energy Affairs, where I was able to put my policy ideas to work, including creating programs on energy governance and designing the new energy bureau.


JPM: In what ways did Princeton prepare you for what you are doing after graduation?

DG: Princeton taught me how to be ready to master a new policy area – how to understand the issue, weigh the data, create policy options and understand the political, economic, cultural and bureaucratic context. I also met amazing friends and colleagues who I have worked with and remained in contact with over the years. Princeton taught me how to work in groups, and how to use analysis rather than rhetoric to move to consensus. The subject matter has changed over time, but the Woody Woo approach was always about teaching skills not content. I appreciate that approach now more than I did then.


JPM: What is the most surprising thing about energy that you have learned about since graduation?

DG: I did not learn much about energy when I was at Princeton.  What has surprised me most is how integral energy is to economic growth, how much political development impacts the prospects for reform, and how helpful technology is in reducing the political pain and cost of energy transition.


JPM: Is there anything in energy that currently excites you?

DG: Energy markets are driven by technological change and geopolitical disruption. These days every day is exciting. But more than anything, I am excited by the potential for battery storage, digital technology and distributed energy technology to transform economic development and climate change.   Politics can be dispiriting but technology gives me hope.


JPM: Do you have a recommendation/tidbit of advice for current students?

DG: There are many interesting careers to be had in energy, from engineering and geoscience to green finance, project management and country risk.   But whether you are speaking to a Minister, a CEO or a bank, or designing a reform strategy, the key thing you have to understand is how markets work: power markets, oil markets, gas markets, or carbon markets.

Issue 6: Jigar Shah

Issue 6: Jigar Shah

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An interview with Jigar Shah *11, a principal partner in the Energy & Utilities Practice at West Monroe Partners. Check out his LinkedIn profile here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jigarjayesh/


JPM: What did you study at Princeton? What did you do outside of class? What was your senior thesis about?

JS: I earned a M. Eng degree in Electrical Engineering at Princeton. I focused on digital technology courses, including AI by Prof Schapire, Green Information Technology by Prof Martonosi, Trustworthy Computing by Prof Lee, Information Retrieval by Prof LaPaugh, Digital Communications by Prof Verdu, and Innovating Across Technology by Prof Singh.


JPM: What is your current job title?

JS: Right now I'm a Principal partner in the Energy & Utilities Practice at West Monroe Partners. I focus on Smart Grid technologies within the practice and help utility clients leverage vast amounts of information to optimize their networks, from connecting more substations via modern telecommunication networks to leveraging smart meter data to decrease costs and improve customer experience. In particular, much of my current work is focused on incorporating Distributed Energy Resources (DER) such as solar, wind, and energy storage into the grid. With recent policy changes in New York State that mandate inclusion of Non-Wire Alternatives (NWA) that can defer or avoid altogether transmission and distribution (T&D) system investments, utilities work with partners such as us to perform cost-benefit analysis of various proposals. For example, imagine if a particular town has a peak a couple times a year that the current infrastructure cannot meet. Instead of building another substation or distribution capacity, service providers could aggregate demand response (DR) to opportunistically reduce thermostat settings in that area to eliminate the need for that infrastructure, install solar if coincident with the peak, or even a battery.


JPM: Tell us about the day-to-day for your job?

JS: Day-to-day working with clients involves navigating multiple facets and how they play together - from the pace of technology, policy and regulation, economic analysis, and budget constraints. For example, utilities often have an incentive to make capital/infrastructure investments that they can get a guaranteed rate of return on from ratepayers versus operation and maintenance (O&M) expenses (think about building your own cellular network and making a guaranteed return for your investors versus paying the monthly cell phone bill to AT&T or Verizon). The final aspect is people - knowing who to contact on the leadership chain and when is crucial to success to make things happen.


JPM: What has your overall career path been like? Why did you make specific pivots/switches in your career?

JS: I started out of Princeton with my dream job at GE Global Research in their Controls, Electronics, and Signal Processing (CESP) organization. I had the privilege of working on demand response approaches incorporating machine learning for electric vehicle charging, working on thermal energy storage technologies that could shift gigawatts of consumption under the right electricity rate structures, and model-based controls for wind turbines to lower the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCoE).

Working at a big firm is great to gain experience, but it can often takes years or decades to move up the chain. I moved after GE Research to a Shanghai-based company starting up operations in the US called Envision Energy as one of the first few technical employees. I loved working in an international environment, managing a collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on wind farm control research as well as strategic management of Intellectual Property (IP) risk. I learned I really loved the strategic aspect of my position in terms of impact potential, and was a bit concerned from the recent change in political landscape on remaining solely focused on wind and mitigating climate change. I looked for a position closer to home that kept me focused on advancing energy independence in a more diversified, strategic role, and here I am.


JPM: In what ways did Princeton prepare you for what you are doing after graduation?

JS: We live in a digital world that's only to get more connected as information is monetized. The digital courses I took at Princeton helped to create a foundation for those aspects, especially Artificial Intelligence by Prof Schapire. Green Information Technology is probably the closest course to my current position, as the course involved navigating the boundaries between technology constraints, costs, sustainability, and policy for data center design. High-Tech Entrepreneurship by Prof Zschau always enforced us to have everything in writing to mitigate a mess later on. I cannot express how much I've seen deals and even careers fall apart over terms that had been verbally agreed and never confirmed in writing because of a cordial relationship that then fell apart. If you don't have something in writing, you don't have it.

As for what Princeton did not prepare me for post-graduation, none of my courses were really in energy. Keeping up to pace with the industry for the position you want post-graduation is key, and I'd suggest leveraging all the IEEE and other subscriptions you have while still in school - those will be dearly missed.


JPM: What is the most surprising thing about energy that you have learned about since graduation?

JS: For engineers, the thrill behind advancing technologies is often a key motivator. The energy industry however is buried by policy and regulation that really makes transformational impact difficult by those on the outside even with great ideas. For example, as mentioned earlier, the way utilities earn their rate of return biases against alternative investments such as energy storage if they're not otherwise incentivized to do so. Being involved and cognizant of the more messy side of things in the policy and regulatory world is important.


JPM: Is there anything in energy that currently excites you?

JS: Policy and technology is changing slowly to enable proper valuation of assets and costs on the grid. With smart meters, consumers can be charged closer to the actual cost to deliver energy to their home based on grid and generation constraints. With policy changes, energy storage, demand response, and distributed generation technologies can be fairly compensated for the services they provide to mitigate infrastructure upgrades. This is going to open up huge opportunities for new ideas on the market that will help lower the cost of energy for us all while helping increase renewable energy penetration. For example, instead of charging my electric vehicle during the evening when I get home, if I'm being charged little to nothing after 3 AM, I could program my car to wait until then without any lifestyle impact while avoiding an expensive, polluting fossil fuel based peaker from otherwise coming on.

Shameless Self Plug: Some of my personal research right now is focused on the potential of blockchain and distributed computing to transform the grid by strategically *increasing* energy consumption based on circuit constraints (Kirchoff's Laws for the ELEs) to allow for overall increased renewable energy penetration (http://www.freepatentsonline.com/20170285720.pdf). Depending on policy changes and market interest, this could lead to a startup...


JPM: Do you have a recommendation/tidbit of advice for current students?

JS: I took the lowest offer I had out of Princeton for a job. My friends called me crazy at the time with the student debt I had, but not anymore. If you're passionate about energy - or anything else - my recommendation is to stick to it and express your passion during the interview process - don't hide it. In my Princeton admission essay, I wrote about wanting to make an impact on energy independence and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. I ask myself every job I apply for whether I'm adhering to that - very few can say they have stuck to that.

Having been to one of the best schools in the world, you probably won't have to worry financially if you work hard and play your cards right - use that privilege to make an impact and pursue your passions now while you're more independent versus later in life. Be extremely picky about your first job and always focus on your external brand to advance your passion - from conferences to publications.

Issue 5: Cecelia ‘CeCe’ Coffey

Issue 5: Cecelia ‘CeCe’ Coffey

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An interview with Cecelia ‘CeCe’ Coffey ‘15, an energy industry analyst for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Check out her LinkedIn profile here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ceceliacoffey/


JPM: What did you study at Princeton? What did you do outside of class? What was your senior thesis about?

CC: I majored in the Woodrow Wilson School, and my Princeton experience reflected my transition from studying environmental policy to focusing more specifically on energy infrastructure development. During the summer of 2014, an internship with the White House Council on Environmental Quality led me to dive into infrastructure permitting broadly. When I returned to Princeton for my senior year, I decided to focus specifically on offshore wind, since I saw a growing opportunity for wind project development in federal waters.

My thesis evaluated the efficacy of the Smart From the Start program, which was designed to pre-site, permit, and conduct programmatic environmental reviews in pre-designated offshore wind energy areas. I also began attending PUEA events during my senior year, its inaugural year. It was through a friend from PUEA, Dan Jang, that I heard about ICF, where I would work immediately following graduation.


JPM: What is your current job title?

CC: Beginning November 2017, I started as an energy industry analyst at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington D.C. As a member of the Office of Energy Market Regulation, I work in the East division, which is tasked with advising the Commission on caseload related to the regulation of electric utilities operating in the ISO-NE, NYISO and PJM operator territories. Prior to joining FERC, I worked at ICF for 2+ years on a variety of projects for public and private clients related not only to electricity, but also to fuel markets in the U.S. and abroad.


JPM: Tell us about the day-to-day for your job?

CC: While the general jurisdictional authority of FERC is to maintain the appropriate balance between competition and regulation in the regulated wholesale electricity markets, my role specifically focuses on rate and tariff filings, as well as other policy issues related to electricity rate-setting. My day-to-day work includes reviewing filings and researching the relevant market issues, discussing alternate approaches with a team, and drafting orders that align with the determination of senior staff.


JPM: What has your overall career path been like? Why did you make specific pivots/switches along the way?

CC: Spending the summer of 2014 at CEQ inspired my pursuit of a career in energy. I joined ICF right out of school with the intent to focus on energy infrastructure broadly. However, as I learned more about the challenges facing the evolving electric grid space, I knew that I wanted to learn more about how electricity market structure and regulation can incentivize the efficient and cost-effective delivery of electricity to consumers.

My work at FERC is uniquely attractive in several ways. First, I have the ability to develop expertise in three electricity markets, which impact a third of the states in the country. In addition, the wholesale electricity markets are at the center of critical national debates over compensation for energy and capacity resources, which makes me excited to come to work each day. Finally, joining FERC meant I could stay in D.C., which I love.


JPM: In what ways did Princeton prepare you for what you are doing after graduation?

CC: Princeton prepared me well to be successful in my research assistant and analyst positions at ICF. Without an engineering background, I initially worried about being able to keep up while working with colleagues on projects related to refinery production, fuel specification changes, and other more technical aspects of fuel market operations, but I found myself quickly picking up everything that I needed to know.

Most importantly, perhaps, was that Princeton gave me the confidence both to seek out mentorship and to actively pursue projects that would help me develop specific areas of expertise within the electricity sector. Outside of work, my continued involvement with the Clean Energy Leadership Institute (CELI) connects me to a community of young people who support each other in these same goals.


JPM: Is there anything in energy that currently excites you?

CC: Much more than fits in a short interview, thankfully. One topic that I have taken a specific interest in is the development of high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines. I was first exposed to transmission development at CEQ, where I learned about the permitting and environmental reviews that can challenge project developers. While at ICF, I supported the U.S. Department of Energy’s office of Transmission Permitting and Technical Assistance, which gave me the opportunity to learn more about what it takes to plan and execute major projects to connect the locations where electricity can be generated cheaply to those areas where consumers face supply shortages. At this point, HVDC technology has advanced sufficiently to support long-distance projects, but successful project execution still relies on effective public engagement and extensive planning, which can be exciting to follow.


JPM: Do you have a recommendation/tidbit of advice for current students?

CC: Figure out what excites you about building a career in energy, then seek out experiences to build a skill set. Cleantekker, for example, is a website to help internship- and job- seekers connect with a career in clean energy. Above all, take what you can from wherever you land first, but know that you’re not stuck if you find your interests changing. Connecting both with coworkers and with friends at other organizations will allow you to explore a broad range of opportunities in energy, if and when you decide to switch jobs.

Issue 4: Aashna Mehra

Issue 4: Aashna Mehra

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An interview with Aashna Mehra ‘15, an investment analyst at Greenbacker Capital and current MBA student at the Yale School of Management. Check out her LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/aashna-mehra-79717663/


JPM: What did you study at Princeton? What did you do outside of class? What was your senior thesis about?


AM: I majored in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and got a minor in Materials Science. On campus, I was involved with the International Relations Council and Naacho, in addition to spending every waking moment in lab my junior and senior years. I worked in the lab of Dan Steingart where my junior independent work and senior thesis were focused on alkaline batteries, and particularly doped metal carbonates as cathode materials.


JPM: What is your current job title?

AM: I am an Investment Analyst at Greenbacker Capital, a sustainable infrastructure fund that focuses on acquiring, owning and operating renewable energy assets with long-term contracted cash flows. We mostly focus on wind and solar for now but I am working actively to originate and complete our first energy storage deal sometime within the next few months, so the battery knowledge is coming in handy!


JPM: Tell us about the day-to-day for your job?

AM: There is a lot of Excel, a lot of financial modeling, tax equity, capital accounts, numbers and more numbers! I also participate in due diligence with my team so sometimes I am reading hundreds of pages of Power Purchase Agreements, Interconnection Agreements, and all legal documents associated with project finance.


JPM: What has your overall career path been like? Why did you make specific pivots/switches along the way?

AM: It’s been a really interesting ride. I came into Princeton thinking I would go to graduate school and get a Ph.D. after college. I instead decided to work for a year with a Member of Parliament in India (which is where I grew up) who also happens to be the former Union Minister for Power in the country. I then went to Yale School of Management to complete my first year of MBA, where I focused my curriculum on energy finance, and am currently in my gap year as part of the Silver Scholars program. I interned in banking at Barclays this past summer and am now working for the year at Greenbacker and absolutely loving it!


JPM: In what ways did Princeton prepare you for what you are doing after graduation?

AM: I think the rigor of the Princeton curriculum is unparalleled – it only gets easier from here on out, I promise! At Princeton, I learnt how to learn – how to pick up new things quickly and apply myself in situations where I had no idea what was going on. Having said that, I wish there were more classes at Princeton that were more like a “practicum” and less “theoretical”. It was the first year of business school that really prepared me for what I do at work every day.


JPM: What is the most surprising thing about energy that you have learned about since graduation?

AM: Everybody in this industry knows everyone else. There’s likely no more than two degrees of separation between any two individuals.


JPM: Is there anything in energy that currently excites you?

AM: I know batteries and energy storage have become buzzwords but I am so excited for what’s to come! Apart from that, I want to see how electric vehicle charging networks emerge as an asset class and what business model powers the “gas station of the future”.


JPM: Do you have a recommendation/tidbit of advice for current students?

AM: I think the most important aspect of being in this industry (or any industry for that matter) is to put yourself out there and meet people and seek opinions that may be wildly different from your own. Debates in this industry (what technology will win the race to market, gas vs. solar, etc.) are impassioned, and often political, and you should assimilate as much knowledge as you can before making your own conclusions.

Issue 3: Cheryl LaFleur

Issue 3: Cheryl LaFleur

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An interview with Cheryl LaFleur ’75 S75 P08 P10, a Commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Check out her LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cheryl-lafleur-26899666/


JPM: What did you study at Princeton? What did you do outside of class? What was your senior thesis about?

CLaF: I graduated in 1975 and majored in politics, and also studied a lot of classics (we didn't have minors in those days). My thesis was on The Influence of the Theory of Mixed Government on the American Constitution. It bridged both my fields as I read a lot of original work, especially by John Adams, drawing on the political philosophy of Polybius and Aristotle.

I graduated in three years so my extracurricular activities were limited, but my primary one was writing for the Daily Princetonian.


JPM: What is your current job title?

CLaF: I am a Commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). We are a five-member bipartisan, independent regulatory agency with authority over interstate electric transmission, natural gas pipelines, oil pipelines, hydroelectric power, electric markets, and the reliability of the electric grid. Each Commissioner is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, with generally three coming from the president's party and two from the other party.

I was appointed by President Obama in 2010 and again in 2014, and am serving a term that goes until 2019. Also, I acted as chairman twice, once from 2013-2015 and again for several months in 2017, making me the only person to be chairman twice.


JPM: Tell us about the day-to-day for your job?

CLaF: At FERC, we vote out about 1000 orders a year on electric and gas rates, market issues, project permitting, reliability standards, enforcement proceedings, and a wide spectrum of energy issues. It includes both deciding specific disputes or applications or issuing regulations on areas in our authority.  So a large part of my job is deciding on those orders and negotiating language, or writing separately if I do not agree with the majority. As an agency, we also have administrative authority over reliability/grid security, hydro safety, and market rules. I am a frequent speaker on energy issues and a lot of my time is spent meeting with people from all sectors of the energy and environmental world, in DC and around the country.

Overall, FERC has about 1500 employees, but I have a team of 7 in my personal office, including 4 advisors (akin to law clerks) who work on the cases with me. Incidentally, I hire Princeton interns in my office every summer through the Princeton In Civic Service (PICS) program, and they have been a great addition to the work of the office. I have also helped create PICS internships in other FERC offices. All of our interns have been terrific, and I am delighted that several stayed in energy after graduation.


JPM: What has your overall career path been like? Why did you make specific pivots/switches along the way?

CLaF: I have had three major segments of my career: private practice of law, the electric industry, and government.

Like many people (at least in my generation), I ended up in the energy world by happenstance, but it has been the primary focus of my career for the past 30+ years.

Right after Princeton I went to Harvard Law School, with ill-defined thoughts of a career in mental health law. When I graduated from law school in 1978, I had a boatload of loans and went to a law firm-- Ropes and Gray in Boston-- thinking I would stay a few years and pay them off. I ended up staying 8 years, working primarily on civil litigation and white collar defense work (not energy). I learned a lot, but it was not where I was meant to spend my career.

After I had my first child in 1985, I decided to try to go to an in-house legal department for a while, hoping for better work-life balance than in the law firm while my son was little. Through someone I had met on a case, I ended up interviewing at New England Electric System (a regional electric company in New England that is now part of National Grid). When I landed there in the legal department, I discovered pretty quickly that I loved the work and that was what I wanted to do with my career.  I ended up staying 21 years! From the legal department, I had a chance to be assistant and speech writer for the CEO, which set me on a path to management. I held a series of jobs of progressively greater responsibility in both operating and legal/regulatory parts of the company. I ran some of the first-generation energy conservation programs in the early 1990s, worked on industry restructuring and the opening of the competitive wholesale market in New England (ISO-NE) in 1997, and worked one of the first international utility mergers when we merged with National Grid in 2000. As of 2006, I was US COO when our US CEO left and I ran the US business for almost a year on an acting basis while they did a CEO search. I was the "inside candidate," but the board chose an outside candidate and I retired from the company at the end of 2007, not sure what I would do next.

I had a "non-compete" agreement that kept me out of energy for two years, so I did a lot of nonprofit work (ran a small educational nonprofit for a while) while I figured out what to do next in my career. In 2009, I received an unexpected call from the (Obama) White House about the FERC seat, to which I was ultimately appointed and which I still hold. I feel extraordinarily lucky that I got that call (someone I had networked with had given them my name). It has been an amazing gig for the past 7 years, allowing me to learn a lot more about the energy opportunities and challenges in all parts of the country and feel like I am making a difference on important energy issues.

I always say "Life is a movie, not a snapshot"-- you have different chapters in your career, with ups and downs, and things keep changing. What you learn and the people who meet and work with along the way are what stays with you.


JPM: In what ways did Princeton prepare you for what you are doing after graduation?

CLaF: Well, I obviously did not major in something specifically pre-professional like electrical engineering, though politics is quite relevant to a heavily-regulated field like energy.

A lot of what I work on (cybersecurity, wind and solar energy, computer algorithms to run the energy dispatch) uses technology that wasn't even invented when I was at Princeton 40+ years ago. I think what Princeton mainly taught me was how to think,  how to write, and how to work hard. It sounds corny, but you really go to college to learn to learn, because that is what you need to do for your whole career--keep learning and adapting to new things.

Also, I was the first person in my family to go to college, and just going to Princeton opened up a whole world of opportunities for me that I would never had had otherwise.


JPM: What is the most surprising thing about energy that you have learned about since graduation?

CLaF: I think there is a misconception that a lot of the energy field, especially electricity, is pretty staid and unchanging. Have you heard the old saw that "If Alexander Graham Bell woke up today he wouldn't even recognize a telephone, but if Thomas Edison woke up he would feel right at home"? Well, that is totally untrue-- not only now, but for the whole time I have worked in energy since 1986.

When I first got into energy, we were coping with the aftermath of the OPEC oil embargo and the Chernobyl nuclear accident, and figuring out where we would get our electricity in the future, negotiating with the first-generation independent power producers, and adapting our grid to new technologies. Through the growth of the merchant generation model and competitive markets, to the mergers around the turn of the century, to the advent of new renewable and storage technologies, it has never stopped changing.

Right now we are dealing with the tremendous growth in domestic natural gas and renewable technologies, which has driven huge change in markets and infrastructure, and figuring out how to adapt the energy system to the reality of global climate change.


JPM: Is there anything in energy that currently excites you?

CLaF: Well, pretty much everything or I wouldn't keep working so hard at it. But more than anything else, the intersection of how we keep moving forward on energy to propel the economy while responding to climate change is the big challenge right now and for the foreseeable future.


JPM: Do you have a recommendation/tidbit of advice for current students?

CLaF: There is no one right major, so major in what you love. We especially need engineers, lawyers, economists, and just good thinkers. I strongly encourage students to get involved in the energy and environmental fields in the summer and after graduation-- in the private sector, in state or federal government, or in nongovernmental organizations. I have found it to be a tremendously rewarding career, and a field that is critical to every other part of our society and economy.  I think the PUEA is a great way for students to engage. Finally, I encourage for students to apply to FERC for summer internships or after graduation as opportunities arise.

Issue 2: Aoi Senju

Issue 2: Aoi Senju

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An interview with Aoi Senju ‘16, Advanced Development Engineer at 24M Technologies and one of the co-founders of PUEA. For career advice from Aoi, feel free to reach out to him on LinkedInhttps://www.linkedin.com/in/asenju/


JPM: What did you study at Princeton? What did you do outside of class? What was your senior thesis about?

AS: I majored in Chemical and Biological Engineering, with certificates in Finance and Environmental Studies. Outside of class, I was one of the co-founders of PUEA, as well as the President of Advertise This Marketing and Advertising Club. In addition, I was a Dormitory Assistant, a staff writer for the Daily Princetonian, on the Executive Board of Asian American Students Association, and a member of the Cap and Gown Club. For my senior thesis, I performed research on zinc-bromine batteries in the lab of Dan Steingart. I was fortunate enough to publish the results from my senior thesis research in the journal Energy and Environmental Science (JPM: You can find Aoi’s journal article here (in html format) and here (in pdf format)).


JPM: What do you do today?

AS: I’m an Advanced Development Engineer at 24M Technologies, which is a Series B/C next-generation battery startup. At 24M, we have simplified the manufacturing process of batteries, allowing us to make batteries for a third of the cost of current batteries. I cannot emphasize enough how pivotal this is to our energy landscape - at $175/kWh, storage beats gas plants for peak power. At $150/kWh, battery-powered cars become competitive with ICE (internal combustion engine) cars (assuming gasoline at $2/gallon). When you consider that batteries today cost $200/kWh, our value proposition is a game changer.


JPM: Tell us about the day-to-day for your job.

AS: I'm the lead engineer of a $3.5M ARPA-E government grant that is being used to develop a super high energy density battery. A large part of my day-to-day involves literature review to see what other groups are doing on the subject, experimental work in the lab, and project management to communicate with the other stakeholders on the project.

I also have a couple of side projects apart from my full time job that I devote time to - I work as an Investment Fellow for Element 8 Angels (a cleantech angel investment firm), and as an advisor to the Union of Concerned Scientists (a science-based environmental nonprofit).


JPM: What has your overall career path been like? Why did you make specific pivots/switches along the way?

AS: When I started at Princeton as a chemical engineer, I had an idea that I wanted to work in the energy sector. I started off really interested in natural gas - I went on a breakout trip during my freshman year to Pittsburgh where we learned about fracking, and heard from lobbyists, corporations, academics, etc. who all held different views of natural gas. It was a transitional energy source that would wean the US off of foreign oil, but it sometimes had disastrous implications on the health of people located close to the source. I wanted to find something cleaner for my life mission.

Going into the summer, I learned that a cleaner way to use natural gas was with fuel cells - so I took an internship with Bloom Energy, the first and only unicorn valuation clean energy fuel cell startup. But I was disappointed by the reality of the technology - fuel cells that run on natural gas couldn't actually be considered "clean."

So next, I thought I'd try my hand in the solar industry. I got a job as a contract engineer at SunPower, a solar energy giant. There I saw an industry that develops incrementally, with small improvements in efficiency over the course of decades. The contributions to the clean energy sector were clear, but I didn't have the patience to wait for decades. Solar energy had already been around for a while, and I wasn't convinced that I really had much to contribute to the field. I wanted to look for a more nascent industry.

Then, I finally settled on batteries.

Working in the lab of Dan Steingart during my junior and senior years at Princeton really changed my career trajectory. I actually only accidentally ended up doing my research on batteries, because Dan was the only professor that responded to my emails back when I was trying to do junior research. After working with Dan, I was convinced to go into batteries after graduation. Everything just clicked into place - it was back in 2014 so Tesla’s momentum was just picking up, and I saw the potential that batteries could have on the entire renewable energy industry. Forget about incrementally better technologies - batteries could change the world. I built my foundational knowledge of electrochemistry with Dan, published my first paper, and went on to work in the battery industry after graduation.


JPM: Talk about your blogging! How did you get into it, what do you blog about, how do you keep up with what you blog about, and do you have any blogging tips?

AS: I actually first started writing a private blog in college that I would show to potential employers - I had about a dozen posts on what different startups were doing, and what I thought was the future of the sector, and that helped me land me a few jobs. Many of the blogs that I've published publicly since then are adaptations of the same topics that I wrote 4 years ago.

I started writing public blogs last year after I had a conversation with a friend who was still a senior at Princeton. He was debating what to do after graduation, and I was trying to convince him that sustainability "was the most important problem of our generation." When he asked me where he could read more about it, I couldn't think of any place where he could find everything. So that night, I wrote my first post, “The greatest challenge of our generation" and shared it with him (check it out! It's my first Medium post! Also, here is my Medium profile: https://medium.com/@aoisenju).

Afterwards, I began to realize that there were inadequate resources to learn anything about cleantech. Most resources assumed that you were an industry professional, and thus didn't provide sufficient background information. So I also started writing pieces to simplify the absolutely chaotic maze of cleantech, with all the different players and stakeholders. I found myself with a breadth of knowledge of the cleantech sector, having had such varied experiences throughout college (as elaborated in the previous question). My hope was to convince even one person who was debating what to do after graduation to work in cleantech.

As for blogging tips, honestly, just write about whatever interests you at that particular moment! For me, it's actually pretty easy to write my pieces - I spend at least an hour a day on average following the cleantech and energy sector, and whenever I find something that I think is particularly interesting, I write it down under a topic label (ie "stuff about wind energy"), and come back to it later when I've gathered enough information to write a piece on the topic. It helps to actually be interested in the topic, so that you're excited to publish the piece and hear what people think about it.


JPM: Is there anything in energy that currently excites you?

AS: Energy blockchain and data management.


JPM: Do you have a recommendation/tidbit of advice for current students, especially those who want to get involved in energy?

AS: If you're a Princeton student today, and you want to make an early mark in this industry, you need to first make up for your lack of experience. You do that by specialization. I think it's critical that you focus early on in your career on something that you can point to and say, “that’s important,” and then go deep into that sector. For me, I focused on batteries. After I locked onto that, I did research for 2 years on batteries. And after publishing a paper, I was able to get a job as a research engineer at a battery startup after graduation.

But in doing that, you need to think 5 years in advance. What is energy going to look like in 5 years? What's most important in that future? The energy sector in 5 years will be radically different than what we have today. Carve out a specialization for yourself.

Issue 1: David Green and Leland Baldwin

Issue 1: David Green and Leland Baldwin

In this first installment of the Princeton University Energy Alumni Interview Series, we interview David Green '03, Head of Trading at Xcel Energy, and Leland Baldwin, '14, Technical Specialist at Ecova.


JPM: Tell us about what you did at Princeton. What was your senior thesis about?

DG: I majored in ORFE with Certificates in Finance and Engineering Management Systems. On campus, I was on Club Lacrosse and a member of Ivy Club. My senior thesis involved building a Black Scholes Spread Option model of correlated equities to apply to Employee Stock Option valuation. Surprisingly enough, I do use some of that theory when evaluating Spark-Spread Options between power and natural gas in my job.

LB: I was MAE with a certificate in Sustainable Energy. I was a member of Greening Princeton and other similar groups focused on sustainability as a whole. I also played club soccer and was a member of the rock climbing team. My thesis was about computer modeling of soot formation in turbulent flames - we were trying to improve computer modeling for the design of more efficient engines.


JPM: What’s your current job title?

DG: I’m Head of Energy Trading at Xcel Energy. I manage a team of Traders and Analysts evaluating North American Power and Natural Gas markets - making speculative trading decisions to generate revenue, and providing corporate customers commodity price risk management solutions in the wholesale energy markets. On a proprietary basis, we trade power, gas, renewable energy certificates, emissions and some oil, coast to coast across the US, as part of Xcel Energy’s Commercial Operations division that supports the Regulated Utility.
At Princeton I studied financial derivatives, microeconomics, statistics, probability and optimization under uncertainty - all directly applicable to what we do on a daily basis trying to extract revenue from the energy markets. Commodity markets are just microeconomic price systems where physical fundamentals of energy supply and demand are the primary drivers of price formation. As for power and gas energy market acumen, I picked that up 100% on the job, through learning and reading. That was after I landed a job out of college in the Commodity Trading Strategy division of a global macro hedge fund.

LB: My current title is Technical Specialist. I have also been a Project Engineer, Program Manager, and Engagement Specialist. I work for a company (Ecova) in the energy sector. My part of the company uses data analytics to derive actionable insights from building's energy consumption data. Basically, we do virtual energy assessments.


JPM: What has your overall career path been like?

DG: I have been involved in energy derivative trading since graduation. I developed this niche expertise, had some early success with it, and have been lucky enough to have made a career of it to date. I’ve primarily made job changes due to geography - starting in Chicago, moving to energy job hotbeds like Houston, and eventually coming to Denver to put down roots with my family.

LB: When I graduated, I started working for Energy and Resource Solutions (ERS) as a Project Engineer. ERS is an energy efficiency consultancy firm specializing in measurement and verification of utility efficiency programs. We would design and implement evaluations of past efficiency programs in order to inform the utility companies how effective their previous programs had been and how to improve them for the future. We also did a number of direct industrial energy audits where we would visit a facility and use our engineering expertise to make recommendations to improve upon their systems from an energy standpoint.
After almost 2 years at ERS, I moved to a company called Retroficiency (since acquired by Ecova). Retroficiency is still in the energy efficiency business, but we focus on targeting which facilities in a utility's portfolio of buildings would benefit the most from having an engineer come on site and perform an energy audit. In terms of the timeline of an energy project, I moved forward in time to before the project is implemented while I used to work mainly with facilities that already had the efficiency upgrades.
I switched to Retroficiency because I think I have the potential to have a greater impact in reducing building energy consumption working with them and this model than I could have while at ERS. Plus, I can now bike to work (our office is in downtown Boston), which is infinitely better than my 35-minute car commute to the ERS office.


JPM: In what ways did Princeton prepare you for your career?

DG: It gave me a framework to think about the world as a distribution of outcomes, and a good mathematical background that I can use to make risk-adjusted decisions. The liberal arts courses I took definitely helped to round out my intellect, and made it easier for me to work with and lead others.

LB: Engineering, particularly mechanical engineering, is about problem solving and energy flows. I still use the foundational knowledge I gained at Princeton. I apply it to building specific systems (HVAC, refrigeration, lighting, etc.) to figure out how to best model, interpret, and improve each of system.


JPM: What’s the most surprising thing about energy that you have learned about since graduation?

DG: How the energy markets are constantly evolving and becoming more efficient. How new disruptive energy technology is lowering costs and unseating incumbents in competitive markets (e.g. fracking to unlock lower cost hydrocarbons, subsidized wind and solar generation, and increasingly efficient combined cycle natural gas generation technology). How volatile mother nature can be and how it impacts Energy Markets through supply and demand (e.g., Hurricane Katrina, Polar Vortex, etc and impact on natural gas and regional power markets).

LB: I think the most surprising thing I’ve learned about energy is how many different types of jobs and companies and roles there are within the field. You can have any sort of day-to-day experience and expertise, and bring that to a company to help towards the overall goal of reducing our current dependence on fossil fuels. There are so many companies that fit into every possible niche that I keep learning about more, even having worked in the industry for over 3 years.


JPM: What’s something in energy that currently excites you?

DG: Battery storage is used to balance and smooth wind and solar over the course of a day as energy needs shift. Is it scalable? I’m curious about any solutions which could help with power ramping to balance the market and ancillary services on the grid in the face of the growth of renewable power supply, which is volatile hour to hour. What can replace fossil generation, to balance renewables, that would actually be scalable and economic in current power market constructs?

LB: One is that major companies that were historically dependent on fossil fuels are now developing their renewable resources. Our parent company, Engie, a French-based company, has set some pretty high goals towards cutting out fossil fuels from their fleet of generation and promoting renewables and alternatives. It gives me hope that even without federal guidance,  private companies see the future and value in renewables.


JPM: Any advice for current students? And what about for students here who want to get involved in energy?

DG: Princeton is fun! Make it a priority to enjoy your time there. Career-wise, don’t undervalue time spent Networking and make sure you constantly invest in building genuine connections. If you are interested in energy finance specifically, I would be most interested in Energy Private Equity at the moment - that is where the capital is flowing towards, and where the most interesting things have been happening.

LB: If you want to get into energy, there is definitely a place for you. You may not find it right away at your first job, but as you learn more about the industry and develop context and understanding, you can move towards a job that fits your interests and talents. Always keep reading about the industry because it is a fast-paced game - utilities are notoriously slow, but many private companies are doing things on a much faster scale.