Energy Job Hunters: Being Green is “Tired and Old”

March 7, 2011

Career, Energy Job Hunters

My former boss, Tom, is a utility industry guru. He started in the industry at 17 years old and climbed the ranks with the swiftness and speed of a panther. He’s served in a myriad of roles for utility companies and energy efficiency implementers over the years and “manager” has been a common thread in many of his titles. Since 1996, he has held management roles from supervisor to vice president- and with management, comes hiring new staff and a world of insight into the what candidates need to get a job in the energy industry.

Because I hold Tom (and his experience) in extremely high regard, I asked for his opinion on what current students or career-changers looking to get into the energy industry need to do to become a viable option for hiring managers. I knew what his answers would be as we’ve had numerous conversations about this kind of thing in the past, but I had hoped for some true “Tom” answers that I could quote.

The thing that makes Tom an awesome manager to work for is that he’s honest at all times. You never have to guess about where you stand with him. Sometimes, he can be a bit “brutally honest” as some may say, but that’s one of my favorite things about him – he shoots straight from the hip. I knew he’d be a reliable source for my questions about hiring needs in the energy efficiency industry and that he wouldn’t sugar-coat a thing.

Me: What suggestions do you have for current students or career-shifters to put themselves in a good position to break into this industry?

Tom (my emphasis added via bold and italic formatting): They need to write resumes that illustrate why they want to be in this business. Just saying “I’m green” and “I like sustainability” is tired and boring. Those words are used so much, I’m not sure most people even know what they mean. There is so much more to this industry than not expelling carbon or “greenhouse gases” and being sustainable. People need to learn the business cases for energy efficiency, conservation and demand side management. That will ALWAYS impress me more than just saying they’re “green”, which is almost a turn off for me.

To emphasize how honest this comment is… I will let you know that he said this to ME – the communications officer for our corporate sustainability committee and the office sustainability champion who even started a blog about our efforts in recycling, reducing, and reusing. He knows I love me some sustainability but still put it out there because IT’S IMPORTANT. You may be thinking, “So why did he hire you?

When I interviewed with Tom, I didn’t talk to him about why I feel energy efficiency can save the planet. I talked to him about why I feel energy efficiency can save the economy. I talked about how freakin’ excited I get to help people reduce their energy costs and how badly I wanted to make this my life. I talked about my killer work ethic, my ability to learn at wicked fast speeds, and how variable speed drive technology makes me f#*!ing giddy … I think. Either way, being the sustainability geek of the office didn’t get me my job.

Why? Because not all energy employers give a flying rats butt about saving the planet (and I’m kind of awesome at this stuff, if I can toot my horn a bit). Like Tom said, there are so many other aspects of this business besides the tree-hugging save-the-planet stuff. Even if our traditional “dirty” power sources were clean as a whistle and caused no environmental side-effects, energy efficiency would still be absolutely necessary for three reasons:

1.       Utilities worry about how to generate and distribute energy sufficiently and effectively.

2.       Customers (especially non-residential) worry about how to keep up with rising energy costs.

3.       It is stupid to operate for X amount of energy to produce Y results when you can operate with less energy and produce the same Y results. (Think smarter, not harder concept.)

Please follow me via email subscription or my RSS feed (to the right) for more on these three business cases for energy efficiency that don’t require you to hug a tree – but will help you secure a job in the energy industry.

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6 Comments on “Energy Job Hunters: Being Green is “Tired and Old””

  1. Ben Says:

    This is definitely a thought provoking post. Of course, my comment almost entirely outside the scope of the post (having nothing to do with jobs)…

    Agreed. There are some great economic arguments to be made for EE and alternative energy and pitching yourself or your services to energy companies or clients needs to be focused on the bottom line.

    With that said, the economic argument only works to a point. XYZ Widgets might be on board if their return on investment is three years down the line, but what about investments that won’t see a return for a decade or two?


    • Madam Energy Says:

      Ben, you bring up a great point about ROI and how it affects the bottom line. With commercial and industrial energy efficiency (my specialty), I have not seen many projects that have more than a 7 year pay back period… and those that have been high are LED lighting retrofit projects that are uber expensive due to the high cost of LED technology still.

      Lighting: Generally under 3 years (with the exception of induction and LED, depending on labor costs), typically under 2 if considering operation and maintenance cost reductions since new lighting technology has much longer lift
      HVAC: typically 3-4 year simple pay back period but much less when factoring O&M savings
      Process motors, pumps, fans: Simple pay backs between 6-12 months WITHOUT maintenance savings (beyond sweet!)

      Residential customers are the ones that will see the most difficulty with high ROIs and frankly, they shouldn’t be replacing their current equipment with more efficient models until they’ve nearly exhausted the equipment life of their existing system. (This is why I hate selling residential energy efficiency, haha)

      Lastly, commercial energy efficiency is going to be the major focus of EE efforts now and those to come – because of the bigger investments, bigger returns, bigger savings, and bigger bang for the buck. That is also where the jobs will be. Residential is a necessity but not as flourishing.


  2. Noel Says:

    This is perfect for anyone looking to get into the energy industry!



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