Sep 17, 2012

What I do Monday - Friday

For those interested in my career, read on. If not, I'll be posting more photos of Henry soon!

After thoroughly investing in a strong social sciences background, I graduated wanting to get a career in environmental issues or international development. I ended up getting my first job out of college in DC working on environmental issues for the electricity sector. After attending a few engineering conferences and learning about the policy issues behind generating electricity, and understanding how much the environment is impacted by the energy choices we all make, I decided to attend graduate school to get a Masters of Public Administration in environmental science and policy. Upon graduation, I secured a job working for utility regulators - the elected/appointed public officials who set your electricity rates/tell the utilities if they are able to build power plants/manage energy efficiency programs/coordinate regional electricity planning/etc. I work on education and training for these public officials.

I really like the programs I manage - energy efficiency, renewable energy, lowering emissions for coal and natural gas power plants, and nuclear energy. Within these programs, there are incredibly complex issues that are chipped away at year after year, that are unfortunately often stymied by political whims. When I graduated, I had a fresh perspective of the changes that needed to happen in order to clean up our air, our rivers, and improve the lives of poor people who often live in dirty cities and can't afford health care or high electricity bills. Now that I've been working for 3+ years, I see the trenches and stubbornness and realities of the almighty dollar winning at the end of the day. Decisions are not made, they are bought. Even if your State starts a good program, like controlling emissions from coal plants and saving the money to reinvest in energy efficiency to lower electricity rates, that same State can then pull that money out and use it to pay off State government bills. Or another example, renewable energy is becoming more affordable until a huge gas resource is found in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania/New York, and now the price of natural gas is so low for electric power plants, that renewable energy seems less affordable. Yet, there are now new environmental risks created by the process of fracturing shale rock, or "fracking" that aren't accounted for in natural gas costs, so what's cheap on the front-end can later come back with additional costs.

I've also, however, become something of a realist and I get that you cannot operate an electricity system on all renewable energy. I get that it's expensive to rebuild power plants and transmission lines or add technologies to transmission that would digitize it and enable more energy efficiency, thus lower usage and lower costs. I also get that we are a nation of power hungry people - we live out in neighborhoods that require us to drive everywhere - the grocery store, work, school, restaurants, etc. and we rely on our cell phones and computers for everything. Did you know that the Google servers use enough electricity to power all the homes in Richmond, VA? And that is just Google! Imagine the rest of data servers in the world. That's a lot of electricity tossed around.

In my job, I try to educate our members and other electricity stakeholders about energy efficiency programs - like how to enable YOU the customer to lower your usage and electricity bills. Here's a tip - did you know that electricity rates are the highest in the late afternoon and early evening? You can cut down your electricity bill by doing laundry in the mid-morning and at night, or going out for a walk after work instead of running your AC and watching TV. Another program I manage is our nuclear program. I used to be anti-nuclear, but I am actually a believer in nuclear energy for many reasons, mainly that you get a whole lot of electricity, not a lot of waste, and nearly zero pollution. And boy are the tensions high when discussing nuclear energy, but some countries run their entire country on it and are protected from the swells of gas and coal prices, which sounds good to me.

I am passionate about my job, but it has it's highs and lows like everything. Some days I feel like what I do is pointless because money talks, and I am at the other end of the spectrum. It's also become a lot harder to focus on these issues since Henry came along, but at the same time I feel renewed to work harder to create a better world for him and the generation coming after us. I'm writing a post about being a working mom, but it has been hard to write about. It truly is heart breaking to spend time away from Henry, but when I know it's to do something I care about, it makes it easier. Plus, let's not kid ourselves, being a stay at home mom is relentless hard work! I've got it easy over here!

Congratulations if you made it to the end of this geek-post. It is really just the tip of the iceberg for what I do with my job, and what my career interests are. Call me a nerd, but it feels really good to work for a cause that I believe in. And especially call me a nerd because I get really happy when I can geek out on transmission cost allocation and renewable energy grid integration. PS if you google me, you can watch a super boring presentation that I did in grad school, all while having bangs (which I kind of look back on with disdain, it wasn't always a good look for me). Aw yeah.


Jamie said...

Thanks for sharing. How very lucky to find something you are so passionate about and are able to dedicate/educate your self about. It sounds very energizing and worthwhile.

hanner said...

i'm glad i read the whole post, if only just to find out the tip about the washing machines!

Laura K said...

I have to admit, I read the whole thing she thought it was great and interesting and I got to the bottom and thought Oo! Henry swimming!

Laura K said...

*and thought

Robby said...

Bravo Julie. Thanks for putting a voice to something I understand. Even though I work in healthcare and you with energy efficiency(?), still being who you are with kids is something that is important to me. I'm still defined by being Jodi and my children by being who they are. You voicing this passion is a beautiful part of you!
Love this post. Thanks. Jodi

Robby said...

Hmm. Someone is posting under my name. I would have said something to the effect of yes, Julie, you are a geek. Still love you and miss you all like crazy.