Narrowing a clean energy career path: reflections on Energy Club trip to CA

kitazumeby Koji Kitazume, MEM/MBA ’12

In January, the Fuqua Energy Club organized a “Week in Cities” trip to San Francisco. Ten students networked with alumni and visited companies including Bloom Energy (Fuel Cell), SCHOTT Solar (Solar), SunRun (Solar), 3Degrees (REC & Carbon Offset Trading), Silver Spring Networks (Smart Grid), SunPower (Solar), Claremont Creek Ventures (Venture Capital).

When I first came to school I was told, it’s not enough to just say you’re interested in energy. Nowadays we hear it’s not enough even to say you’re interested in clean tech or renewables. This trip allowed me to truly understand why that is so.

Take solar for example. Along the value chain, there are the solar film and panel manufacturers, the installers, the financers, to name a few key players. And looking at the customer side, there are the commercial, residential and government markets. SunPower is a vertically integrated player addressing all three market segments, while SunRun specializes in financing for the residential market. Further, there are the different incentive schemes among the individual state policies that determine market attractiveness (note: it’s not necessarily insolation!). It takes a lot to be able to say “I want to do XXX in solar company Y because…”clean energy trip to CA

Another eye-opener for me was what Claremont Creek Ventures spoke about their investment portfolio. They don’t invest in generation technology because of the risks associated with its capital intensiveness. It might sound obvious, but this helped me understand that the generation side and the demand side of the business are two completely different worlds. And of course, energy finance by itself is also another world…

Finally, through this trip I was also able to reaffirm another statement I had previously heard: Whatever you do in the energy industry, you’ll be dealing with the utilities in one way or another. Despite the diversity of the companies we visited, all of them touched on their relationship with the utilities. It’s no wonder Bloom Energy says that one of the ideal characteristics of a job applicant is an MBA who has gone through a rotational program with a utility.

Thanks to this trip, by the end I knew that I’m fascinated by the potential of smart grid. But I have quite some homework to do before I can say with confidence “I want to do XXX in smart grid company Y because…” Green Tech Media’s smart grid players’ map that Josh Moore shared with me might explain why – it’s another highly fragmented market with a lot of sub-segments and all sorts of players.