Fellow presentation and intro to your career path
Welcome to the Renewable Energy Overview! In case this is your first insight into this industry, fear not! Renewable Energy itself is a new industry, and professionals with more than five years in the industry are already considered to be veterans.
I was born and raised in Argentina. When the time came to attend Highschool, while I was convinced that I wanted to get an undergraduate degree, I had no clue what I really wanted. That led me to choose Business Administration, which was broad enough to allow me to focus a few years later. In retrospective, this worked out well. As I began to experience different roles in business and finance, I became very interested in businesses that were oriented to solve some kind of social challenge. That was when I decided to go to the UK to pursue an MSc in Social & Policy Sciences that I thought I could combine with my undergraduate in Business. The content of the MSc and the different case studies that I was exposed to, had a huge impact in the decisions that I would make going forward.
After some years working in Microfinance and Social Investing, I decided to move to the US for an MBA. That is when I became interested in Renewable Energy, since I thought it could become a great career path where I would be acting to prevent some of the consequences of Climate Change. Without any formal engineering training, after the MBA I joined an energy company in 2010. This first role was in the development and financing of gas-power plants. It was not Renewable Energy, but it got me very close. After about a year in that role, in 2011 I could make the transition to a solar power company. The technology was very new, and the equipment needed to build a solar power plant was extremely expensive – particularly solar panels. The driver that made the industry possible was subsidies, mainly by European countries.
The Renewable Energy industry is now very different. After more than a decade, the technology has improved dramatically, and the prices of key components have decreased dramatically. As the industry continues to grow, there are more and more locations where subsidies are not even required to make risk-adjusted, market returns.
Renewable Energy career options
- Development Manager
Development Managers (or “Developers”) have typically an entrepreneurial spirit. Their task is to identify potential opportunities to develop and build new renewable energy projects. The investments in these projects can range from $1 billion (for example, offshore wind farms) to $20k (for someone installing solar rooftop in their homes). In the case of a solar power plant, Developers will have to negotiate a land lease agreement where the project could be built, process all environmental, land, building permits, and secure an interconnection with the responsible utility company. Given there is risk in obtaining all necessary permits, some projects are abandoned or discontinued. Once the project is in a “mature stage” of development, they would handoff the project to the Construction Manager. Sometimes projects can take up to four years to reach a “ready to build stage”.
Developers many times have business degrees but is not a requirement and any degree can be combined with an entrepreneurial drive to become a Developer.
- Construction Manager
Construction Managers have a clearer path forward than Developers. They need to negotiate the construction and equipment contracts, and make sure the projects are built on schedule and on budget. The time to build a renewable energy project could be two days (for some residential rooftop projects) to several years (for large offshore wind projects).
Construction Managers are typically traveling to the construction sites to supervise the work.
Construction Managers many times have Engineering degrees, but this is not always the requisite.
- Project Finance Associate
Renewable Energy projects are typically built with a large amount of debt. Large projects are typically financed using Project Finance (also called non-recourse debt). This means that the future cash flows of the project are the guarantee to the debt – provided by banks and other financial institutions.
The Project Finance Associate role can be at banks or financial institutions as well as in Renewable Energy companies.
Project Finance Associates require excellent Excel and financial modeling skills. They typically have business & finance degrees.
- Market Research Analyst
As Renewable Energy companies multiply and get larger, more investors enter the market.
Investment Banks, Private Equity and Venture Capital companies require Market Research Analysts that would help evaluate the financial situation of Renewable Energy companies and help predict how they could perform in the future.
Market Research Analysts typically have economics, finance, or business degrees.
- Electrical Engineer
All renewable energy projects, large and small, require an electrical design. Most renewable energy companies have some internal capacity of Electrical Engineering, but they also typically outsource to Engineering firms a large portion of the electrical engineering work. Some Electrical Engineering companies have hundreds of engineers.
Electrical Engineers travel less frequently than the Construction Managers to the construction sites and typically spend more time on their laptops involved in the design activities.
A good level of understanding of CAD software (many times AutoCAD) is typically a requirement.
- Civil Engineer
All renewable energy projects, large and small, require a civil design. Many companies do not have Civil Engineering in-house and outsource all the Civil Engineering work to specialized engineering firms – which many times do both electrical and civil work.
Civil Engineers travel less frequently the Construction Managers to the construction sites and typically spend more time on their laptops involved in the design activities.
A good level of understanding of CAD software (many times AutoCAD) is typically a requirement.
- Performance Engineer
Performance Engineers focus on how to improve the electricity generation of the power plants. In addition to having a very good engineering understanding, they typically have very good modeling capabilities.
They rarely travel to the sites and are spend most of their times understanding and modeling different scenarios to improve performance of the plants.
- Operations and Maintenance Manager
The Operations and Maintenance (O&M) managers spend significant time visiting the different projects that they service.
- Sales Manager
The Sales Manager is a frequent role with companies focused on selling services to install smaller projects (typically rooftop solar).
- Tax Manager
The Renewable Energy sector has numerous industry-specific tax policies that are many times critical to the economic returns of renewable energy projects. As such, Tax specialists are highly valued in the Renewable Energy industry.
- Renewable Energy Policy Manager
The Energy sector in general, including the Renewable Energy sector, is a highly regulated environment. Utility companies, regional electricity markets, public entities, and local governments, have extensive regulations that impact how renewable energy projects are developed. This affects both large-scale projects (e.g., think of a large farm covered with solar panels) and small-scale projects (e.g., think of solar panels in home rooftops). Professionals with Public Policy backgrounds are therefore valued at large companies and some renewable energy consulting firms.
Main hard skills you use on daily basis in your current job
While I had the chance to explore many different jobs in Renewable Energy, most of my renewable energy experience has been as a Developer and as a Construction Manager. Both roles require the following skills:
- Advanced Microsoft Excel
I know, Excel is almost everywhere, right? It is heavily used in renewable energy to: (a) prepare, review, and modify construction budgets, (b) review, update financial models, particularly for Developers.
- Finance skills
Particularly for Developers, a solid understanding of concepts such as Net present value (NPV), internal rate of return (IRR), is a must. You will not always be required to have such advanced skills to build yourself a financial model for a project, but you will be required to open an Excel spreadsheet with a financial model and be able to understand it.
Truth is there are not many hard skills outside of Excel and Financial Skills. Companies usually hire individuals with no energy background and no technical software skills. For example, Autocad is widely used for engineers. However, many people in managerial positions don't even know how to use this software - and it has not been any impediment. The key here is to develop soft skills.
Soft skills you use on daily basis in your current job
The Developer and Construction Manager roles require managing workflows from team members who are peers or who are in other teams. Moreover, many times the work is carried out under tight timelines. There are two skills that I found to be very helpful:
- Planning skills to keep on top of the development and construction schedules.
Delays to the project development and construction timelines are very costly for renewable energy companies since they typically commit to providing renewable energy to their clients by a certain date. To honor those commitments, the project needs to be in operation.
- Strategic thinking to anticipate any problems that could jeopardize either the schedule or the budget of the projects - and to act to prevent those from becoming a problem.
For example, when a project requires specific consent by the landowner, it is important to negotiate that early on because as the construction timeline approaches, the ability of the project owner to negotiate gets reduced.
- Ability to provide and receive feedback.
Providing feedback requires empathy so that the other person is open to receiving and acting on this feedback. This ability creates more effective teams and improves the performance of teams and team members. Receiving feedback is equally important and, while sometimes this points to areas of improvement, this does not need to be taken personally but rather to improve teamwork.
- Ability to communicate effectively.
This includes both the ability to summarize the most critical items and to be clear on what is expected from the other person.
Your personal path
My application to jobs in the US was quite focused. Rather than applying to many companies and roles, I focused on those that I thought were the best fit for me – about 6 to 8 positions. However, I also tried to be very realistic to make sure that I was not applying to jobs for which I was not qualified. For example, at some point, there was a job at a great company that required to have a very good understanding of engineering. Thanks to a friend, I was able to get interviewed for the job. But while I was interviewing, I realized that I was not the right person for that job.
Once I realized that there was a job posting that could be for me, I then researched a bit about the company. If these were publicly listed companies, I would go to their 10K public filings with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) and I would read the qualitative description of the company and its risks. This proved to be extremely effective because you will surprise almost anybody with your knowledge of the company! I also looked if I knew anybody who was working in that company – or people I knew who in turn knew someone there (LinkedIn can be extremely helpful for that). I tried to talk with as many people as possible in that company and when writing a cover letter, I always mentioned the conversations that I had with their employees. This proved to be an effective way to show evidence that my interest in the job was genuine.
What would you tell your younger you regarding building your current career?
I would tell my younger self three things:
- Explore what are the job options that you feel are the best fit: reaching out to people in roles that you think are the roles you would like to be in is a wonderful way to learn if that is really what you want. People are much more open to sharing their experiences when someone younger approaches with a genuine interest in learning more about their roles.
- You will have days where you will feel the world is against you: don’t pay much attention to that. With time and perseverance, you will realize that after a few “bad” days many “good” days will follow. So don’t get discouraged if one or more job searches do not work out.
- Practice interviewing: Reach out to Career Services or even with friends who might also be looking for a job and mock interview! Those experiences prepared me much better and helped me gain confidence in my ability to have good interviews in real life.
Final tips and insights
The Renewable Energy Industry is growing very fast and there are many openings available at renewable energy companies. For me, it is a fantastic way to find a meaningful purpose to preventing the worst consequences of climate change.
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