Becoming ... an Energy Solutions Advisor

August 16, 2022

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Disha completed her Masters in Energy Science and stumbled on energy efficiency. Initially, the work seemed un-glamorous compared to other energy & climate sub-sectors. As she learned more, she realized energy efficiency impacts not just energy infrastructure but other areas such as real estate, insurance, finance, economy, and the very fabric of energy infrastructure.

In her role, Disha works on federal and provincial program deployment by matching top-down strategies to on-ground realities and focuses on what this looks like for consumers. A lot of effort and strategy is put into decarbonization at the federal, provincial, and even regional levels. But deploying at the consumer level requires aligning those high-level goals and strategies with everyday consumer needs. Disha’s typical day involves keeping up with market trends, finding ways to spread awareness and get the word out about incentives, and solving for clients with an engineering, finance, and regulatory lens.

Whether it’s creative troubleshooting or more extensive innovations that ripple through the sector, it’s the continuous innovation that makes Disha proud to work in the energy efficiency sector.

Speaker:

Transcript:

My name is Disha Veena Giridhar. I am the manager for lead generation and outreach at Greensaver.

Today, I’m going to talk a little bit about what my career journey has been so far in the industry, what does my day to day look like in the various roles I’ve held, what is it that I do in my current role, and then I’m going to pivot a little bit. The pandemic has brought to light what is it that we really want from our jobs.

So I’m gonna talk a little bit about the purpose and my why for being into this industry. And then focus a little bit on the customer point of view and how do we actually engage customers if you are in a customer-facing role in the energy industry.

The story so far, my story begins in India. I completed my mechanical engineering in 2012. Did a brief stint in Kuwait as an oil and gas engineer where I was pro where I was working on making sure natural gas is processed and refined to get sold. That was very pivotal for me because it gave me an idea of what is it that I wanted to pursue.

And the answer was I really wanted to enter a field, which was innovation forward, fast moving, very dynamic and extremely challenging. Just the newness of an industry sometimes makes it complex and challenging. And my family friend and mentor suggested I should look into energy as a field, clean energy as a field.

I got into a great university and pursued my master’s in energy science, technology and policy from Carnegie Mellon University, and it was a really great learning experience because although it was engineering, it was still focused on understanding the energy landscape from all different facets: science, technology, finance, policy, and how do they all come together to actually make a solution successful?

As I was looking for jobs, I stumbled into being an energy engineer, which is focused on making sure buildings are performing at their most efficient levels possible. I worked in US for about two years and decided to shift focus, and go a little bit into business development because my background had more than engineering and I wanted to understand different facets of the industry and explore different roles within an organizational structure.

Kuwait was really starting to progress on their climate goals at that time. And it was very new. It’s a country that is extremely dependent on oil and gas, but wanted to shift mainly towards solar. So my job was to find and develop projects in the solar industry there. Which led to my next role, which is, which was focused on business development and innovation in Canada.

It was with a company that was predominantly finance, and the solution was investing in energy efficiency projects and taking away the risk from investor capital. And here we are today where I am the manager of lead generation and outreach at Greensaver, which is focused on delivering programs that are designed and created by federal and provincial governments, even utilities and municipalities.

So what does a day in each of these roles look like. It was a little bit different on each facet. As an energy engineer, my days were focused very much on the technical side of the energy industry. So it involved a lot of site visits, energy audits, modelling, and overseeing a team of energy modellers and advisors.

Reporting, training, up-skilling, really mentoring any new hire we had and project management, making sure the quality was up to the standard that we wanted to present to our clients. The business development and innovation role focused a lot on understanding the market. So you can have a technical solution.

You can have all the engineering knowledge, but an organization really thrives when the internal employees and the business development team is focused on understanding market trends, analyzing it, and keeping up with it. Make sure that there is enough pivot and innovation happening in the organization to keep up with all the changes that come in the industry and we keep meeting the demand and what the industry’s asking for.

So we’re focused on markets, building business cases, proposals, and contract negotiation. The innovation side was process improvement, making sure that an organization has processes that move things along fast and product development as a part of the role. I was key in developing Canada’s first energy efficiency as a service product, and also leading the first ever investor-ready energy efficiency certification in Canada.

That leads me to my current role where it’s, although it says lead generation and outreach, it’s focused heavily on strategic planning, one direction, the what kind of opportunities and partnerships the organization as a whole needs to pursue. Building partnerships that bring in leads for programs, making sure that the incentives are aligned in a win, win, situation.

As lead generation is a core part of it, a lot of my day to day also involves enrollment in coaching. So anyone who wants to be a part of the program, why is it beneficial for them? What are the opportunities they could explore? How can they navigate sometimes complex options that they have in front of them?

Contracts, progress management, project management, all of these are also a part of my core function as a lead generation and outreach manager.

So I chose my current role because it had direct altruistic outcome to it. The programs that we deliver helps their target audience in one way or the other. So the current two programs that we’re delivering is the small business program by ISO. It is targeted to help small businesses have some incentives to upgrade their energy infrastructure, lighting, HVAC, or thermostats, for example.

It’s a little bit of a step to help them recover from the losses they might have faced during the pandemic. The Green Homes Grant is really meant to help homeowners incentivize their energy infrastructure. Let’s say someone’s boiler is breaking down, $5,000 could help make that choice.

I was at a conference recently and the topic was really about if a homeowner had to choose between either buying the required tools and accessories for their kids to succeed in school versus upgrading equipment early, they would probably choose their kid. Obviously. And Greener Homes and grants like this actually help give some relief to such a population where they had to make tough choices and prioritize and incentives like this help make sure that we keep on the energy efficiency part, but at the same time help citizens and residents of a geographic region.

So moving a little bit away from what I do on a day-to-day basis. As I mentioned during the pandemic, a lot of us have had time and I personally know a lot of people who had a career pivot. And a lot of times it’s about understanding the purpose and motivation. I figured out about a decade ago that following for climate change was my calling.

And I realized why it was as I’ve reflected more on it throughout the years. The energy industry helps me exercise two muscles that mean the most to me. I love problem-solving, I love complex challenges, and the energy industry, unlike other industries in some ways, really needs science and technology, finance, and regulation, or policy, all to come together for a solution to be truly successful and to have great adoption.

And the other reason I love the energy industry is it has such a positive impact on not just one facet of your life, but every single industry that you can imagine. Even in your daily life, you wake up, and your phone is charged by the electricity that is delivered to your home. You get hot water from the natural gas or electricity which is powering the boiler to make the water hot. Transportation, mining, manufacturing, industry health all of this is powered by energy. Just imagine that we spend 90% of our time indoors and we pay very little attention to how the energy is used to power that lifestyle, or how is actually keeping the air healthy for us to live in. It’s amazing. So I threw in a few fun facts about how energy actually impacts our lives and why energy efficiency is important, not just from reducing GHG emissions, but also from other qualitative aspects.

For example, a building that is energy efficient can have a valuation up to 10% more if it’s energy-efficient versus not energy efficient. Health problems such as asthma or respiratory issues, people that have been researching and reports suggest that there are 12% fewer visits to the doctor with indoor and quality-related health issues.

Just in Ontario itself, if we decarbonized all the buildings and made them all net zero, we could reduce up to 60 mega tons of greenhouse gas emissions on an annual basis. And who doesn’t love savings? Theoretically, you can save up to a hundred percent on your energy bill if you make your home or the office net zero.

So this is my favourite part. So as a consumer, there is a whole host of choices. If someone wants to upgrade their lighting and change it out, the options are LED, CFL, controls ballast versus ballast test. If I were not in the energy industry, I wouldn’t even know what is ballast versus ballast test. Wanna upgrade your heating equipment there are base poles, furnaces, and heat pumps.

You wanna add air conditioning? There are cool solutions like solar, and having electric vehicles in your home. There’s geothermal, there are batteries, insulation. Even within finance, there are so many rebates and incentives flooding the market. There are low-interest role loans, and forgivable loans you can lease or rent equipment.

Or you can use your own money whether you’re a homeowner or a business and take money out of the results and savings and invest in capital upgrades. Regulatory compliance. This is changing so rapidly because so many government cities, and municipalities are bringing in laws or regulations or disclosures. Building codes get updated all the time.

There is a big push for buildings to be net zero. In residential buildings, there’s now a talk about standardizing or mandating a requirement for an energy score on any residential building or home. There are so many certifications and especially after the pandemic, there will start to focus on wellness and healthy buildings.

You have LEED, you have value, you have fitment. Which certification to go with and which certification will get you the maximum bang for your buck? And then there’s constant talk about the carbon tax, waste tax, water taxes, increasing. And as companies, there are a lot of disclosures that they have to do with this corporate social responsibility.

These CFP disclosures, ISO greenhouse gas reporting. So many different reporting to do. Are you confused? Is it feeling a little bit overwhelming? That’s probably why there is a lot of hesitancy to jump into doing any sort of energy efficiency, upgrades, or solutions. Even though it’s one of the easiest and lowest hanging fruits to impactful climate change measures.

When I was doing my master’s, there was this professor who was very impactful to me personally, and really shaped the way I looked at the industry and the problem in general. We would have debates and discussions throughout and after a particularly enthusiastic debating session in one of the days the professor asked all of us, “okay, you care about being green, you care about the environment. You care about emissions, but at the end of the day, what does anybody want once they’ve gone back home after a really long, tiring day? We all want to open a cold beer.”

That’s all we want to do. We may care about the environment. We may care about emissions. We may care about all this whole host of things, but at the end of the day, we want to relax and have a good life. That is the biggest priority over anything else. And that could mean different things to different people. If we can align anything that we propose, what is it that a customer needs, that is the only way to make sure that any solution or any program has success?

So let’s talk about that. Some of the common barriers that a customer faces to implementing energy efficiency, the options are overwhelming. Sometimes there isn’t even an awareness that there are all these different financial instruments that consumers can make use of, to make sure that they don’t take the full financial burden of what they are doing.

There are a lot of coaching-focused programs and webinars and information sessions held that people aren’t aware of. Sometimes it’s a lack of reading. Sometimes it’s a lack of interest to get into it. And a lot of times, you educate yourself only on things when you need it.

So when someone is not always looking for energy efficiency solutions, they’re not always aware of all the available tools out in the market that they can use. And when they are, they really want a reliable advisor to help them navigate through the different options that are there, provide unbiased opinions, and That they can actually use without, actually losing out on any peace of mind.

So technology helps with this a little bit, and there is some push from all levels of government to increase the workforce, to upskill people and the labor market to make sure that you have advisors available for people who need the advice. There are technological solutions that help you figure out which product would best suit a home or a commercial building or an industrial building.

There is a lot of technology out in the market, which makes energy efficiency a no-brainer. You can just set something up as occupancy-based or you can set your heating and energy infrastructure automated so that you don’t have to think about it. That comes the investment part. So the small things like replacing your lights might be affordable, but when it comes to replacing your boilers or replacing

larger equipment or adding solar, for example, or having an electric vehicle charging station. All of that requires a lot of money. So there are capital constraints, even with the richest industries, the money allocation is prioritized first to focus on their core business, their operations, and the base minimum that they need.

And then the rest is squirrelled away for reserves. And a lot of times, The idea that if something’s not broken, then we don’t need to up upgrade it is usually the lens that people look at it from. So there are lots of rebates and incentives. So we overcome that barrier with rebates and incentives, loans and other financial instruments to make sure that money is not a barrier or even resource is not a barrier.

Then comes the lack of need. As I mentioned, a lot of times, we, I personally would think of upgrading, say the heating in my home only if it was broken. Proactively wanting to do it would depend on a lot of factors depending on how much money I’ve saved and how much time I have available to research the different options I have.

And really just, I would rather go out into the sun rather than think about fixing a broken heater. That’s not yet broken. So that’s where the regulatory mechanisms come into play. Usually, there are mandates that buildings have to be X percent efficient when they’re built. They need to have a minimum efficiency of X, Y, and Z if the equipment is being installed.

But regulatory mechanisms sometimes play catch up to market innovation. And this is where a lot of companies, nonprofits, organizations, and municipalities, all come together and address the one main theme, which is education and awareness of a customer going through their energy efficiency journey. Just explaining to them and providing timely advice on what are the benefits, why this actually matters, and how it could benefit them more than just reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And that’s how we reach cracking open a cold beer.

Sponsored by:

Funding acknowledgement NRCan
ElectricityHR

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