Article by Kevin Smith, CEO of the Americas: 

Bring your valuable skills from traditional energy to solar

I started my career working in traditional energy, remaining in that career path for many years and then transitioned to renewables. I’m not alone in making that transition. Here’s what I learned from my team members who also made the switch.

Skills developed in traditional energy can transfer to solar

I began working in the fossil and nuclear power industry and switched to wind about 20 years ago; I then moved into utility-scale solar energy a few years after gaining expertise in wind. I know how much my experience in traditional energy helped me during the second half of my career, and, as I hear from the talented people on my team, I realize how many of their transferred skills have helped us drive the renewable energy transition.

Take Emilie Wangerman, our senior vice president of business development, heading up our power origination activities, power trading, and M&A. She joined us from a large public utility where, as she stated: “I worked with all types of generation – natural gas, hydro, large storage, and nuclear. It was across the board, so I had a much greater familiarity with the broad range of what the company was doing.”

That means Emilie understands what our utility customers need, so “when we talk, it’s more of a consultative discussion about how we can fit what we provide into their needs.”

Her experience makes a difference for Lightsource bp as it navigates the growing world of renewable energy.

And there’s John Horishny, CCEP, PMP, our director of regulatory compliance. A trained psychologist, he also joined us from a utility with predominantly fossil fuel-fired generation.

“Regulatory compliance is regulatory compliance, whether the focus is medicine, finance, or, in this case, grid reliability.” John said. “My transition was pretty straightforward as a 100 MW solar project has to comply with the same exact regulatory standards as a 600 MW combined cycle or 3900 MW coal-fired plant.”

When we develop solar farms, we need to acquire access to land. That’s where Phillip Guerra, a land acquisition manager, comes in. He uses the skills developed in oil & gas exploration to help us acquire the land we need. “Land is land,” he said. In his view, project management, negotiations, title research, GIS, lead generation, due diligence, drafting documents/contracts are all skills that are transferable to solar.

Julian Campuzano, Senior Quality Manager, developed the data analysis skills he uses for Lightsource bp in traditional energy. “We’re collecting a lot of data and looking at the data and saying, okay, what can we do with this data? How can we process this data so that we can report out to our construction team some meaningful information that can help them make optimal decisions?”

 Our Operations Analyst, Jorge D. Burgos, said that “Data analysis skills mastered in traditional energy can be applied anywhere. It’s just going to be different technical data that’s being used, depending on the industry.” Jorge’s established skills are now helping us operate our solar projects more reliably, efficiently, and cost effectively.

 As an engineer in the oil and gas industry, Hannah Kuney monitored project execution and costs, skills that are in even greater demand in solar, she said, “because project profit margins aren’t nearly as high, or aren’t typically as high in solar energy. So, it’s important that you have really strong cost estimates.” Now as a Project Manager in our construction department, Hannah’s expertise in engineering and project execution provides a valuable skillset to build our solar projects on schedule and at budget.

 Health and safety expert William Manchas, CSP, CSHM, CHST developed policies around managing the risks involving electricity at a traditional utility. “From a health and safety perspective,” he said, “there’s a lot of similarities around how we manage those risks.” Building our solar projects safely is paramount, so bringing in experienced safety professionals into the relatively young renewables industry is facilitated by the training received at well-established utilities.

Global energy companies know that success depends on a set of best practices to govern each project. Employing people with experience at utilities and fossil fuels who can implement best practices into our company has made us massively stronger.

These talented people are helping us enhance standards for developing and building our solar projects, including such areas of safety, grid interconnection, power marketing and trading, development and data management.

“When you’re doing health and safety for one plant, there are basic steps that you follow all the time,” said Will Manchas. “They would tend to be transferable if not exactly the same.”

Jorge Burgos sees each day how team members joining Lightsource bp from the fossil fuel industry “are providing insights on the optimal methods, how to improve scaling essentially in growth for Lightsource.”

Hannah Kuney is bringing the standardization of procedures from her previous jobs to solar. Those are helping her control costs essential to long-term profitability.

The climate crisis requires an energy transition that is difficult to fathom. Some people have questioned whether it can be done. Others have emphasized the need for a transition where former traditional energy workers aren’t left behind.

What I hear from my team leaves me encouraged about our future, and our ability to meet our ambitious goals while helping workers transition to careers in renewables. Our staff demonstrates how solar provides dozens of applicable opportunities – across a broad range of fields, from finance, to safety, to land acquisition, power trading, to data and logistics. Each person has a different background. Each person highlighted here was at a different stage of their career when they made the leap, and they each completed that jump successfully.

People transitioning from traditional energy can absolutely use their skills to help us build a cleaner, renewable energy future.


About the author:

As CEO of the Americas, Kevin Smith leads the expansion of Lightsource bp’s solar activities in the U.S. and regionally. Kevin joined Lightsource bp with over 30 years of experience in the energy industry, with the last 15 years in renewable energy (solar and wind). Kevin has developed and built energy projects in more than a dozen countries across five continents, while securing long-term electricity sales contracts with total cash flows in excess of $55 billion. Smith has held CEO and senior executive positions with a number of energy companies, including SolarReserve, Invenergy, Insight Energy, Rolls-Royce Power Ventures, and Indeck Energy Services. Kevin earned his MBA in Finance from the University of Chicago and his Mechanical Engineering degree from Purdue University. He is on the board of the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA).

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