Day-to-day working life in renewables
Q. Where are you right now?
A. I’m working from home today in south west London. I’ve been in about five times to our new office in central London, and I think I’ll probably travel in once a week for now; hopefully more when the pandemic’s over.
Q. What does your role as Business Development Director involve?
A. My job involves finding customers for our private wire electric vehicle charging networks. For the next few years, this will be charge point operators, like Tesla and Fastned, which provide ultra-rapid charging. But, also, bus operators as they transition from diesel to electric.
At the moment, electric buses are still twice as expensive as diesel buses. And one of the things that’s surprised me about this job is how much time I spend working with central and local government to help bus operators find funding to go electric!
In the future, the next big opportunity will be big fleet operators – the likes of DHL, UPS and Amazon – as they move to electrify their vehicles.
I’ve always been interested in working in B2B (business to business). I like helping people who have difficult complex jobs to work more efficiently. At the moment we’re seeing the transport sector get really excited about new EVs… Then they realise there’s a real challenge in getting enough power to charge them. This is because the traditional way of doing so – through distribution network operators (DNOs), which deliver power from the transmission network to customers – face increased demand. And it can be expensive to upgrade the system to enable this.
So those in need of large amounts of electricity for EV charging are going to have to find new ways of working – and this is where we come in. At Pivot Power, we can provide bus operators with a private wire to get electricity direct from the transmission network.
Then bus operators need to think about the optimum way to charge their fleet. In some cases, it’s all about the range of vehicle and length of routes – so they might cherry pick routes that can be done on a single charge. Or they’ll wait for more powerful batteries and EVs with longer ranges. Or they’ll figure out a way to charge on the go for 15 minutes at a time, because it’s too difficult for most fleets to return to the depot and plug in during the day.
Q. What’s a typical day like for you?
A. It has been different during the Covid-19 pandemic, as the last time I met a customer face to face was in March 2020! Since then, I’ve had a day out to walk a potential cable route from a bus depot to the centre of town. But that’s been it.
Usually my day is taken up with meetings on Teams with colleagues and potential clients. And pretty much half of all the external meetings are explaining what we do.
Fortunately I’d already met some of the customers for most of the projects I work on. So that has helped to keep relationships going as we’ve moved online. And, in some respects, it’s easier to get time in people’s diaries now. But I do miss networking events and conferences where you meet people more serendipitously.
Pivot Power has a good name in the industry, though, so when I do reach out to someone who doesn’t know me, they’re usually interested enough in what we do to follow up. And we have enough friendly advisors and brokers to make these connections for us too. So it’s not been too disadvantageous operating during the pandemic.
Developing a career in the renewables industry
Q. How did you get into renewables?
A. This is my first renewable energy job. I’ve worked in tech for most of my career, and always on the commercial side: in sales, marketing and business development.
There are interesting parallels though: I joined the tech industry when it was at the same stage as energy storage is now – still relatively niche, but with huge growth potential.
After university, my first job was at McKinsey – a large US consultancy. And that gave me a good solid background in general strategy management. Then I shifted into tech – working for one of the few UK software companies to start with, until we were acquired by IBM. It was really fun, and it showed me that being part of a company that’s growing, in an industry also expanding fast, is exciting.
With IBM I was able to spend some time living in California, in the US. I enjoyed my time Stateside; there’s a genuine belief that anything is possible, which is nice to be around.
On my return to the UK, I had the opportunity to work for IBM again. But I’d tired of long transatlantic conference calls in the evening (because of the time difference with the West Coast) and I liked being at the heart of projects.
While exploring opportunities for a new career direction, I met one of the founders of Pivot Power. He suggested I come and work with them on a consultancy basis. They wanted someone from outside the industry who could bring sales and marketing expertise to the business. So I started helping Pivot Power out with their strategy and messaging. Then, after they were acquired by EDF Renewables, I joined the team on a full-time basis.
Diversity and inclusion in the renewables sector
Q. Do you think the industry could do more to promote diversity and inclusion?
A. From what I’ve seen so far, the renewables sector is comparable to tech. Both the start-up I worked at – and then, IBM – were relatively similar to Pivot Power and EDF Renewables. Pivot Power is very female friendly in general. And EDF Renewables certainly seems to be making a lot of progress and has a really strong senior leadership pushing the diversity agenda.
There’s always more to be done though – and not just in terms of gender, but all areas of diversity. Because if you don’t hire a diverse range of people you’re missing out on talent. And having a group of people from different backgrounds and perspectives working together leads to more creative problem solving.
Q. Was your experience in the US different to the UK?
A. The CEO of IBM was a woman while I was I working for them, which sent out a good message. But, generally, females were still a minority in my team of 30.
One of the things that women in the US seem to do much better than we do here, though, is support one another publicly. We’re pretty bad in the UK at blowing our own trumpet! But they had a nice sisterhood approach of highlighting good work from their female colleagues, in a very natural way. I’ve definitely brought that tip back with me as a practical way to raise the profile of women in the workplace.
Love what you do; do what you love
Q. What’s your favourite part of your job?
A. What I love most about my job – and it was the same when I worked in tech – is that I’m helping people who have ‘real’ jobs. Getting 150 buses on the road every day is a ‘real’ job that helps to make other people’s lives easier. So if I can do something that makes their role easier in turn, I feel like I’m making a contribution.
Q. And what’s your least favourite part of the job?
A. The thing I’ve had to get used to with infrastructure projects is that they take years to complete. In software, everyone says they can do things in three months – although it may take 6 months in the end. It’s still months, though… not years! I’m quite deadline driven, so if I know something’s not going to happen in a year, I can have a mental block about getting started.
The future role of renewables
Q. What impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had on the industry?
A. Although it’s been an awful time in many ways, the spotlight on the ‘green recovery’ has really helped to prove the value in what we’re doing at Pivot Power. And we’re seeing the government investing in the green recovery too, which is driving growth.
Importantly, the focus on the green recovery has helped our customers that are looking for funding to go electric, too. Also, just having that glimpse of what a low-carbon future could be like – where the air’s cleaner and there are fewer petrol/diesel cars on the road – has shown everyone what’s possible.
Q. How is your role helping the UK accelerate to a net zero future?
A. There are two ways in which we’re helping the UK towards a net zero future at Pivot Power. First, we’re accelerating the transition to clean energy because battery storage allows us to bring more renewables onto the grid.
The second way in which we’re supporting the UK’s move to net zero is by enabling the transition to clean transport. Private wire connections enable the mass rollout of EV charging points – as the Energy Superhub Oxford project has demonstrated. So, on a local level, we’re providing the means to enable electric transport in different areas. Energy Superhub Oxford is the first of many private wire networks we plan to roll out across the country.
Q. Which areas of innovation in your industry are you most excited about?
A. I’m really excited about trucks! There’s a big debate at the moment in the industry about hydrogen vs. batteries for larger vehicles, like construction lorries and HGVs. But I think hydrogen as a technology is still too far out to be useful. What we need sooner are on-route EV charging stations for these types of vehicles – at motorway service stations, for example. And this is an exciting area we could get involved in at Pivot Power.
Q. What would you say to one of your children if they were interested in a career in renewables?
A. I would strongly encourage them to consider it – and to spend time thinking about the hardest problems that we need to solve. When I was working in tech, mobile phones had just come out and we were all wondering, what would make people use lots of data on their phones? Nobody thought of Uber. Or Netflix. Or Deliveroo. Since none of these companies existed back then.
You could argue that we’re doing the same with electric transport now – we’re a bunch of old people thinking about it in the same way we think of how we use diesel or petrol vehicles now! That’s why we need the next generation to get involved – to bring fresh thinking and an alternative perspective to help us come up with new solutions to these challenges.
Does working in renewables appeal to you? Search EDF Careers page for jobs at EDF Renewables. Or follow us on LinkedIn to get more of an insight into day-to-day working life in renewables. For more on our Pivot Power team, visit their website or read more on the Energy Superhub Oxford project here.