The UtilityXpert Series Part 3: How You Can Advance Your Career in Energy Efficiency

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In this edition of the UtilityXpert series, we chat with Guru Kalyanraman, CEO at Enerva Climate and Energy Consultants Inc. A former Vice President at CLEAResult, Guru has nearly two decades of experience in the energy efficiency space.

However, what’s perhaps even more interesting is Guru’s path into the energy efficiency space. Guru was a Commander in the Indian Navy for over 20 years and parlayed his experiences into a fulfilling career in the energy efficiency space. He specializes in building teams and strategy development for his clients, which include businesses and program administrators.

For utility staff and consultants alike, Guru provides an incredible breadth of knowledge and guidance on energy efficiency strategy. We at EnergyX have learned a ton from him, and believe you can too.

How he decided on energy efficiency as a career path

Throughout his naval career, Guru was always drawn to high-level strategy creation. He found a number of parallels between his career as a Commander and business strategy; in both cases, being creative and disciplined were paramount to success.

One area where Guru had to get creative and be disciplined at the same time? How to manage his energy usage effectively while he was on the fleet. As one can imagine, electricity and energy is an even more finite resource when you’re running a naval mission. Guru had to know the energy consumption down to the ampere and as such, energy conservation became a necessity.

As it is in the real world, energy efficiency was the cheapest and best option for Guru’s “business”. When Guru finished his MBA at Schulich (York University), the opportunity came along to work with the Electricity Distributors Association… which he said, “Hey, I know something about that!”

How to get everyone to buy into energy efficiency programs

In the past, Guru worked with government organizations and several LDCs in Ontario to formulate, at the highest level, the strategy for their first conservation demand management program. Ontario, a province that lagged behind other provinces such as British Columbia when it came to things like electricity energy efficiency programming.

The problem? The Government of Ontario needed a strategy on how to meet the province’s energy demands. Often, the options boil down to…

  • Increase energy supply and production to meet demand

  • As a province or state, become more energy efficient with the supply that we do have

The solution? Back then, the province chose the latter. As a result, Guru was helping the Government of Ontario come up with a framework for the CDM rollout and also helping them develop mechanisms for program-based energy efficiency. The planning, strategy and framework development for this program took over one year as the province realized that the cheapest form of the energy that you don’t use.

And it’s not hard to see why. With something like this, there were so many stakeholders that were involved and would realize the direct consequences of the decisions made from a program perspective. For Guru’s strategy formulation, tough questions he had to consider included:

  • How do we convince utilities that selling less of what they want to sell is a good thing for business?

  • How do we incentivize contractors and service providers?

  • What does this mean for ratepayers?

Answer: You incentivize all parties involved. Guru focused heavily on the incentive-setting aspect of the plan. He worked with everyone involved to implement a program-based energy efficiency strategy: by offering incentives for people to make energy efficiency upgrades. Incentives are common in North American programs.

There are incentivize for the utility and their service organizations to hit their targets, and also financial incentives for ratepayers to make building retrofits.

How working with businesses differs from working with utilities

Working with businesses on energy efficiency projects represents the creation of a business case, or as Guru refers to it, a value chain. Most businesses do not own a monopoly, and as such, must fight for their share of the marketplace. As an energy consultant, bringing structures and implementation plans that fit with the businesses value chain was paramount.

With utilities, things are a bit different. Energy efficiency programs are often mandated by states or provinces, and the motivating factor for utilities lies in potential economic penalties, not potential economic gain.

How to stay innovative in the energy efficiency game

“Once the rules of the game are set, and there’s a mandate to deliver, both businesses and utilities will find a way to deliver.”

We all know that the energy efficiency industry is not known for disruption and innovation. For utilities and program implementors, staying innovative is not just something they should be doing because they’ve heard about it at a conference.

Innovation is simply a byproduct of a strong mandate to deliver. And when there are lofty targets set in many states...innovation is bound to happen. Similar to how energy efficiency is the only effective way to reduce demand, innovation is the only way to deliver impact when there’s a difficult business problem to solve.

In our industry, the customer's voice has never been louder. Embracing modern technology and what it can do is, in our experience, the only way for energy efficiency to stand on its own and succeed.

How energy efficiency professionals can advance their career to the top

Whether you work at a utility, a startup or a consultancy, getting promoted is an interesting topic that everyone wants to know the answer to. After all, who doesn’t want to get promoted?

There are “doers”, and then there are “leaders”. For whatever career path you’re in, eventually, you tend to gravitate to either the application of the strategy (ex. tactics) or the formulation of such strategy. Guru always gravitated towards the strategy formulation side of things. So whether you run an energy efficiency program or are trying to mass market it, creativity and discipline are the precursors to success. Another tenet of success, according to Guru, is curiosity.

Curiosity, for energy efficiency professionals, is the number one skill or characteristic you can have. A solid appetite to learn and asking the right questions has gotten many people exactly what they wanted from a career perspective.

Energy efficiency is elegantly simple as a concept. It’s the cheapest form of energy is the energy you don’t use; but complex when it comes to design and implementation in the marketplace. It includes many disparate parts in the delivery value chain from energy policy, program design, program implementation to verification and evaluation.

At some companies, it’s easier to stay comfortable than to keep innovating and learning. Similar to how Guru builds value chains for energy efficiency programs, you can build a value chain or map for your career. No matter what industry you’re in, it pays (literally) to learn about the different areas in your company’s value chain and business model.

For Guru, going from naval Commander to working for a program implementer and beyond certainly reflects somebody who stayed curious and kept learning. According to him, a career is a set of “work-related experiences” in a journey.

What those experiences or journeys are and how you navigate them? That, is entirely up to you.

Bruce Chen