Category: Interview

Elad Orian, Co-founder of Comet-ME

Elad Orian, Co-founder of Comet-ME

Elad Orian, Co-founder of Comet-ME

We here at Isaac’s Science Blog are pleased to be hosting our sixth professional interview, this time with Elad Orian! Elad is the co-founder of Comet-ME, an Israeli-Palestinian organization providing renewable energy and clean water services to off-grid communities in some of the most marginalized parts of the Palestinian Territories using environmentally and socially sustainable methods.

1. Tell us about yourself and your educational/professional background.

I studied physics and later environmental science/policy. I’ve been doing my current work for 10 years now.

2. What inspired you to work in energy?

I’m a political activist along with my partner (Noam Dotan). We started thinking about something more proactive and using our abilities and know-how and energy was a very natural conclusion

3. Why did you help found Comet-ME

We actually started doing this type of work before we officially established Comet. It just so happened that these activities were relatively successful and grew really fast to the point that we needed an organization/framework that can handle this. As a result, Comet-ME was born.

4. Tell us about some of the challenges that of the Palestinian residents that you worked with.

We work with Palestinian communities in Area C of the West Bank. In the Oslo accords the West Bank was divided into three areas (A under control of the Palestinian Authority, B under Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control, and C, which happens to be the majority of West Bank under control of the Israeli government). We work in an area where the Palestinian Authority cannot provide electricity/water to communities. There are communities in A/B that have no electricity but we made a strategic decision to not replace the position Palestinian Authority.

5. What does the life-cycle of an average project look like?

One of the first things we do is to build trust with the community. We know what we do and why we do it, but the people we work with need proof. It is important that we go into a community when we know that we have the funding. We are lucky to have so many long-term donors trust us so when we start a project/budget cycle we don’t know where we are going to work because we need to do a survey of the community, conditions of each place, and then we do a detailed design of system and then we will purchase all the equipment that is required. There are some long-lead items so we do work in houses of the villagers and then once we have everything we install it. Once the installation is finished the hard work is started when service is provided. Because Comet is about providing service and we make sure service is running for a long period of time. In this way, we are like a utility. Every system brings service.

6. What technology does Comet-ME use to help communities establish energy independence?

We always use solar systems. Sometimes wind/diesel hybrids. Our systems can be designed to work from 1 family up to 40/50 families.

7. Tell us about your water program

After a few years of working exclusively with electricity, we decided that we had the organizational capacity to do something else. This is a very different program since many of them already have water, just not enough. Our system is a pump attached to a filter to obtain clean water, it’s a simple single-family system that collects rainwater and pumps it. We developed a system that pumps and filters rainwater using electricity when the batteries are full. There is also a stewardship component where water quality is sampled from all the users on a regular sample schedule to make sure systems are doing what they are meant to do.

8. Is Comet-ME looking at the Water-Energy Nexus and if so how is it?

Very much. Our water systems are dependent on our electricity systems for operation.

9. Have you received any interest from universities on the work that you do?

We have some collaborations with some universities. We also have a few students that have written master’s degrees with us. We don’t do much advertisement so we’re not really a household name.

10. Is Comet-ME looking at how to deal with climate change resilience?

Although we don’t title it, our work is directly tied with climate resilience due to providing an independent source of energy

11. How do you see your organization fit into a long-term Israeli-Palestinian peace partnership?

If there is a peace agreement signed and the West Bank becomes a Palestinian state then we would gladly hand over systems to a Palestinian organization to handle it. I don’t think it would be a problem.

12. Do you think that the Comet-ME model has any application outside of the Palestinian territories?

There are many components that certainly are and some that are idiosyncratic to conditions/politics of the West Bank.

13. What can someone do to help out with your organization?

One can always donate money, also if you’re technically inclined and interested in such issues we do have volunteers from time to time. Feel free to reach out and join us!


So there you have it! Elad, we are very grateful for giving us your time to talk about this very important work. Your organization’s work is a textbook example of how people can apply their scientific knowledge to make the world a better place.


If you would like to connect with Elad and Come-ME, you can find their website here and their facebook page here.


Image credit

Pierce Gordon, Innovation Catalyst and Design Researcher in Botswana

Pierce Gordon, Innovation Catalyst and Design Researcher in Botswana

Pierce Gordon, Innovation Catalyst and Design Researcher in Botswana

We here at Isaac’s Science Blog are pleased to be hosting our fifth interview with the one and only Pierce Gordon! Pierce is currently working in international development assisting the nation of Botswana. Pierce holds a PhD in Energy and Resources from the University of California Berkeley, a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan, and a  bachelor’s degree in Applied Physics from Morehouse College. He is currently in the Southern African Nation of Botswana working in International Development.

1. Tell us about yourself.

I consider myself a person who is trying to do good to the world. I have been extremely lucky to have worked and received the accolades that I have to make the connections that I am apart of to have the experiences that I have had and in doing so I am trying to find the best opportunities to spread love and do interesting things. 

I guess I can start of my childhood. I have been through a life of constant transition in many different places and many different disciplines because with what I have been offered I wanted to make sure that I can gain the experience to work on the problems that truly matter to me. I initially started with studying Aerospace Engineering to become an astronaut and obtain a PhD. I was first at Morehouse College under the dual degree engineering plan, and later transferred to the University of Michigan to complete my undergraduate studies. Although I was grateful to learn how engineers think, I knew it wasn’t for me. I decided instead to learn about the politics of International Development and Global Poverty since those topics resonated with me at the time. I wanted something that was historically informed and involved people who I aimed to help.

2. What inspired you to work in Development?

It started with a lack of inspiration in Aerospace Engineering. I was sitting in propulsion class and learning how jet engines increase the pressure of incoming air and I just realized I really didn’t care. I went on a dark and lonely path to find out what I did care about. I especially knew that in order to get a PhD you needed to work on something that fascinates you.

I watched the daily show when Jon Stewart was on and it was 9 months out in the Haiti Earthquake and 1.2 billion dollars which was supposed to go to the nation was diverted. I then realized I needed to do something. I partnered with a colleague and realized that I needed to help folks that needed to be helped. I then applied for a program that applied this interdisciplinarity to issues that mattered, and actively searched for projects that were not just novel or rigorously studied, but could represent tangible impact in the communities that I wanted to assist. I worked with a lot of communities but the one with Botswana happened to be my dissertation which is why I am here right now. 

3. Tell us about your professional background

Well, I have never taken a break from school. Over 12 years, I acquired four degrees. While in school I have actively looked for many opportunities. 5 research internships at NIST, MIT, NASA Glenn, Morehouse College, and the University of Michigan. Also, my final internship was with GM where I worked in the Corvette plant. During graduate school, I knew that I had the time to research design innovation in the Bay Area. I founded an organization called Reflex Design Collective to worked on Equity Design in the Bay, and we found some other folks and turned into a loose collective of equity designers all over the US that share, understand, and navigate to put tools of design, systems thinking to fight systemic oppression of all forms and ensure that people from these marginalized communities are empowered to use the design tools available. 

4. What did you do for your PhD research?

My PhD work on investigating innovation practice which was about creating the world to be better and applying it for international development.

Dissertations usually have three separated research contributions. Mine were:

  1. Systematic Literature Review of Human Centered Design for Development
  2. Ethnographic Evaluation Study of Botswana Innovation Community (how Botswana research institutions are they trying to shift the economy of the nation and how do they define success)
  3. A reflection of ethics institutions in supporting practicing innovators in Botswana. 

6. What inspires you about your field?

It is filled with practical dreamers. 

The purpose of design as a field is to try to understand our world and what it is. The point behind design work is trying to understand who we are and how do we shape the world that we live in. It is a trans-discipline that takes from all disciplines to create the world we are in today. It is inspiring to see so many people in this space to understand the problems in this world and trying to develop tangible ways forward.

7. Why did you pick UC Berkeley?

My program offered freedom. When you are trying to go to a PhD, you should not look for the school, but the program. Specifically, for a PhD, you should look for specific individuals that you will learn from and build upon. The Energy and Resources Group is a program that focuses on interdisciplinarity in its best form. It was founded by individuals in the Early 70s that realized global problems are transdisciplinary. This program gave me the ability to learn about International Development and Design when I had no experience and combine fields in unique ways that other PhDs could not. I think it is critical to find people to work within disciplines and to brings people together.

8. What are some fellowships you’ve received during graduate studies?

Many. Since I became an adult I have always applied for funding, upwards of 300 individual scholarships. I started with the NSF GRFP, the Ford Predoctoral Fellowship, and the Berkeley Chancellor’s Award. I also obtained the INFWS fellowship which allowed me to travel and present at different places. The reality is that I was able to obtain a large amount of funding from being a really good students and being an engineer but later on it became more difficult as my work became more narrow, interdisciplinary, and not conventionally defined. Unfortunately, funding does not take into account people who have not had continual success and the concept of “failing-forward” and a lot of times the funding is used to support the mission of the organizations which sponsor it. 

9. What caused you to shift from engineering to development?

I needed work with a soul. The work that I was doing in Aerospace so far separated from people that I couldn’t stand it. 

10. New sites/podcasts you listen to?


99% invisible

The Bodega Boys

The Read

I also read a lot of Design sites, especially newsletters on Medium.

11. Favorite thing about working in International Development?

People at many stages of Int. Development have chosen a job that requires them to make them perpetually empathetic with everyone they are in contact with and how to address this systematic and historical problems of poverty. 

12. Least favorite things about this space or would like to see improved?

People in these fields need to understand their limits and understand where their limits lie. A lot of people who work here believe in silver bullets. There are no perfect methods or solutions or people or understanding the limits of what we can do and what we need to do is see what people can accomplish with limited resources. 

13. What should someone do to work in this space?

Find some mentors that you want to connect with and try to work with them. If you’re in international development I would say you learn about the history of the field. A lot of people don’t and just want “to do good” but make large mistakes. These people need to learn the value of doing good work locally. Find people who have worked in this field at whatever school you’re at and really try to learn from them.

14. What are the benefits of a Ph.D. over a Masters?

The point of a PhD is to learn research and trying to generate new knowledge. When I got my final signature, my advisor told me that a PhD is a passport. It is to be an expert in a very small piece of the world of knowledge. Noone can take it away from you.

Though it depends on the program, a Master’s likely will most likely allow people to make more money and get into the workforce faster.

15. If you were to go back and change one thing in your career what would you do?

I would not change anything. I have made every career decision I made and anything people consider a mistake I am happy to say that I have learned from them. 

16. What is your five-year plan?

I don’t have one right now and keep blooming where I’m planted and learn and bloom as much as I can outside of academia and use it where I sit. 


So there you have it! Pierce, it was a great pleasure to learn about your story, and we wish you the best of luck with your future endeavors. Your work and personal background is one of a kind and we’ll make sure to keep an eye on you. If you would like to connect with Pierce, you can find his LinkedIn right here

Allanté Whitmore, PhD Student at Carnegie Mellon University

Allanté Whitmore, PhD Student at Carnegie Mellon University

Allanté Whitmore, PhD Student at Carnegie Mellon University

We here at Isaac’s Science Blog are pleased to be hosting our fourth interview with no one else but Allanté Whitmore! Allanté is a PhD Student at Carnegie Mellon University in the joint Civil Engineering and Engineering and Public Policy Group working on the public policy of autonomous vehicles. Allanté holds a Master’s degree in Biological Engineering and has worked as a supervisor for the McNair Scholars program in Detroit.

1. Tell us about yourself.

I am a proud Detroit native and an HBCU graduate. I also am a former Division 1 student athlete (playing volleyball at the highest collegiate level). And even though I’m working on Autonomous (AVs) now, My bachelors/masters was in biological/agricultural engineering, so I used to work on bacteria cell hardiness and biofuel production from plants

2. What inspired you to work in infrastructure?

Really coming to my current graduate school I was made aware of the opportunities in the Transportation sector and with that I jumped in with both feet and taken to it and really enjoyed the work.

3. Tell us about your professional background

I’ve been doing research since 2009 and after my master’s program I was working at McNair helping undergraduates with their time off and during my one day off I would volunteer at the University of Michigan and volunteer in a lab because I loved research so much.

4. What do you do for your PhD research?

Right now I look a lot into the policy around the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles and the planning that entails. Recently I’ve been looking into how public transportation agencies can leverage shared autonomous mobility for their operations.

6. What inspires you about your field?

I think the fact that my work in Civil/EPP allows me to apply what I’m learning and take what I can do to improve our current society even in a small way through my work.

7. Why did you pick Carnegie Mellon University?

It was for the same reason, to work on the nexus between research and application at CMU.

8. What are some fellowships you’ve received during graduate studies?

The K&L Gates Presidential Fellowship, the GEM Consortium Fellowship, and the Mobility 21 Diversity Fellow (add link), and during my Master’s degree at the University of Illionois-Urbana Champaign I got the SURGE fellowship as well as the Agricultural Health and Safety Trainee.

9. What caused you to shift from engineering to policy?

I think in my research I kept on thinking about how important the work was but how it needed to be applied.

10. New sites/podcasts you listen to?

None for educational purposes.

11. Favorite thing about working in infrastructure?

Probably working in GIS is something I really enjoy doing and create cool graphics to go with my work. The level of interests in my work is awesome because I am able to work with a much broader spectrum of individuals besides academics.

12. Least favorite things about this space or would like to see improved?

I think I’m still a little new because I’m quite new (just 2 years in) and will probably need more time before I can give meaningful criticism.

13. What should someone do to work in this space?

The great thing about transportation as a sector is that there are so many opportunities in it so I would say to go audit it for a bit to see what skills you have that you could apply (engineering, policy, marketing, etc.)

14. What are the benefits of a Ph.D. over a Masters?

It really depends on what you want to do. If you want to create new knowledge and not just work with new knowledge then the PhD is for you.

15. If you were to go back and change one thing in your career what would you do?

I would probably have taken my classes more seriously sooner. It was not until after I started my research (in undergrad) that I really began to focus.

16. What is your five-year plan?

Finish this degree and honesty I’m learning that there are so many opportunities with my work that I’m still scouting what I really want to do.


So there you have it! Allanté, it was a great pleasure to catch up with you, and we wish you the best of luck with your future endeavors. We’re all excited to see how your research will have a lasting impact on how we move around. If you would like to connect with Allanté, you can find her LinkedIn right here.

Frederik vom Scheidt, PhD Student at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Frederik vom Scheidt, PhD Student at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Frederik vom Scheidt, PhD Student at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

We here at Isaac’s Science Blog are pleased to be hosting our third interview with Frederik vom Scheidt! Frederik is a PhD Student at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology working on renewable energy economics issues. Frederik holds a Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering and Management with an emphasis on Energy Technologies and Economics and has done research at MIT on how to improve electricity tariffs to support economically efficient electricity consumption, as well as efficient installations of solar and battery storage while ensuring distributional equity e.g. for lower-income households.

1. Tell us about yourself.

My background is in 2 major fields. Business administration and different kinds of engineering disciplines (called industrial studies in my field). This allows me to think about energy in a multidisciplinary setting

2. What inspired you to work in energy?

I really started getting interested in the energy sector during my Bachelor’s thesis on optimizing charging procedures for electric vehicles to shift electricity use to a low-CO2 footprint (charging EVs when it is cheap/sustainable).

3. Tell us about your professional background

During my graduate studies I worked part-time as a student research assistant at KIT for a year in the field of distributed electricity grids. I then also started working at the research center for informatics with a group working in energy informatics on topics like smart grids. There I worked for a half-year on EV-integration as well as data scraping/analysis on Germany’s energy center. Then I worked in industry at E.ON, one of Europe’s largest utilities. I worked in their offshore wind projects in Sweden supporting the organization on offshore wind-turbine blades. Blades there have to deal with corrosion, wind gusts, sea water and we were interested in using different materials to keep a blade alive for longer and conducted some lab and field trial tests to compare different types of so-called leading edge protection materials. We looked at companies all over the world to see what would be the best fit. Afterward I came back to study while working part-time as a technology transfer consultant to get technology from universities to the real-world. After I had done all of these things I was sure that I wanted to work on improving regulatory aspects in energy and therefore came to MIT for my Master’s thesis to work on energy tariffs with Scott Burger.

4. Tell us about your work at MIT

For my master’s thesis I worked with Scott Burger on evaluating the impacts of electricity tariffs on low-income customers. For this, we analyzed the bill impacts of alternative rate plans using interval metering data for more than 100,000 customers in the Chicago, Illinois area. We combined these data with granular Census data to assess the incidence of bill changes across different socioeconomic groups. We found that low-income customers would face bill increases on average in a transition to more economically efficient electricity tariffs. However, we also demonstrated that simple changes to fixed charges in two-part tariffs can mitigate these disparities while preserving all, or the vast majority, of the efficiency gains. These designs rely exclusively on observable information and could be replicated by utilities in many geographies across the U.S. We recently released a working paper which can be found here:

Now, one of the very interesting next steps is that we are adding some DERs into that analysis, i.e. simulating PV adoption and residential battery adoption and how that is affecting our results. Our preliminary results indicate that as we add more and more residential PV then under the current real-world tariffs you will see more and more cost shifts from higher to lower income households. This supports our call for more efficient tariffs.

5. What do you do for Grad School?

I conduct data analysis, market mechanism engineering, and behavioral experiments in order to assess the effects of electricity tariffs regarding economics, the environment, and equity. This way I aim to put together a dissertation with a holistic view on important tariff issues.

6. Why did you decide to research policies for lower-income communities in solar?

The main goal is to do research that helps us mitigate CO2 emissions. Tariffs can contribute to this by adequately representing the real costs, including environmental costs, that people cause. Moreover, efficient electricity tariffs can help us significantly reduce system costs. Both of those benefits can facilitate progress to mitigating climate change. In order to implement such welfare improving tariffs we need to consider societal aspects. In the U.S. in the second quarter of 2018, state electricity regulators rejected over 80% of utility requests to increase fixed

charges, frequently citing the potential impacts on low-income customers.

7. Why did you pick the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology?

I picked it for the Industrial Engineering program which teaches economics, business and engineering courses while allowing you to put a focus on fields of your interests early on. This way I was able to learn about the energy sector from different perspectives which I felt is very useful in order to address current issues.

8. What caused you to shift from engineering to policy?

I think the obvious answer is that in a field like energy it simply does not suffice to engineer a beautiful technological solution if you can’t convince people in power to implement adequate policies.

9. New sites/podcasts you listen to?

I sometimes listen to The Energy Gang to stay up to date about US related energy matters. For the European/German energy scene I rely on the German magazine Energie und Management. Besides energy-related media and academic papers I read newspapers (New York Times, Der Spiegel, etc.) to see how current energy topics are discussed in general media.

10. Favorite thing about working in energy?

It gives me the feeling that I am working on one of the most urgent and biggest problems that humanity is facing that is the same time one of the most complex ones. I feel that I am making good use of my time and brainpower to create solutions for that problem.

11. Least favorite things about this space or would like to see improved?

I think that in a lot of cases we do not use potential technical solutions in the best way because of political and societal reasons. Understanding those reasons and finding solutions for the hurdles they create can be complex and require a lot of patience.

12. What should someone do to work in this space?

It’s a very broad question. You should have an interest in technology and economics/policy/behavioral science as well as patience (the energy sector commonly doesn’t move too quickly) and the ability to work on complex issues.

13. What is the benefit of a Ph.D. over a Masters?

In Germany, Masters studies are more similar to undergrad studies as you mainly take courses and do little research. Also you do not get paid. As a Ph.D. student, I am free to do the research I want to do. At the same time I am a paid employee of my professor with teaching responsibilities, paid holidays, etc. The best thing in my opinion is the freedom to research on something in a very focused manner for three years.

14. If you were to go back and change one thing in your career what would you do?

I can’t think of anything right now that I would like to change.

15. What is your five-year plan?

Finishing my Ph.D., and then use my research that I am doing now to set up a startup out of the university for data analytics in the energy sector. I’m a huge believer in research bringing value when you bring it into practice. If that project fails (like most startups do after all) I will work to bring good tariff design and implementation practice to utilities and regulators!


So there you have it! Frederik, it was a great pleasure to talk with you, and we all wish you the best of luck on your journey to finishing your Ph.D. We all want governments and utility companies to pick up on your tariff research and make things more equitable for everyone. If you would like to connect with Frederik, his LinkedIn can be found here.

Sada (薩達) Wachche, Graduate Student at UC Davis

Sada (薩達) Wachche, Graduate Student at UC Davis

Sada (薩達) Wachche, Graduate Student at UC Davis

We here at Isaac’s Science Blog are pleased to be hosting our second interview with none other than Sada Wachche! Sada is a Graduate Student at the Institutes of Energy and Transportation at the University of California-Davis. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and has worked as satellite researcher, solar energy startup founder, and an energy consultant before continuing his higher education.

1. Tell us about yourself.

Well, I started out by studying mechanical engineering in India. I was really into everything that Mechanical Engineers were supposed to love like cars and spacecraft. I joined the satellite team at my school and worked on building a satellite for ISRO (The Indian equivalent of NASA). That was my introduction to really important things like design thinking, using a fab-lab to prototype things, etc.. I then was able to work with the MIT Media Lab in Pune (my home/college town) on their Fab Lab. Me and some teammates focused on creating a solar energy startup in India focused on Concentrated Photovoltaics systems (which work by focusing solar energy onto a single highly solar cell) that we called “Medley Energy”. It didn’t go that far, but it was very interesting. That was when CPV was really coming out and labs all over the world were trying to make it market scalable. It was much more efficient and required less silicon less material is used than a traditional PV system, making it more sustainable. All of the hope was that this cell was multi-functional their efficiency can go up to 40%. All of the big labs were to make this cheaper than silicon. It was really hopeful, but after a decade of R&D and cost decreases conventional solar from China became really cheap and the case for CPV did not exist anymore. This experience taught that there are really important things besides engineering [when working in energy].

2. What inspired you to work in energy?

I would say that my work as a Summer intern consultant at Black & Veatch (A U.S-based energy consulting company) during a really flipped on the light. Although oil-and-gas was their main focus in India, they had lots of people in renewables and gave us training in all of the systems. What I did there was design energy systems (boiler, condenser, etc.) at a high level. This really made me want to change from component-level mechanical engineering thinking to system-level policy thinking.

3. What do you do for Grad School?

When I had first came here, I had a PhD in mind but I wanted to try out a Masters first. After realizing the sharp increase in interest in India, I decided to do a double masters in Energy and Transportation. I’ve focused on the life-cycle assesment of EVs and 10 years down the line what will the clean-vehicle market will look like. I am particularly focused on the policies of India, the U.S, and China.

4. Why did you pick UC Davis?

UC Davis is known for energy efficiency, economics, and transportation. This entire combination really attracted me. The research of a professor here named Alissa Kendall also attracted me. She works on lifecycle analysis which can see the total environmental impact of a system, material, or product. During my first semester I worked with her on a lifecycle assesment of CPV for U.S and Chinese made solar panel supply chains and how they differ. This was also the same time the trade war went on and how China shifted manufacturing to other Asian countries so we took that into consideration. We even thought about an import tax proportional to environmental impact. The final results were not that much difference in GHG emissions but still noticeable. Dan Sperling, who’s the author of California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard [one of the most important documents in the field], is also a professor here.

I also really wanted to come to California because I thought that it’s really on the forefront of energy policy and very friendly to immigrants [turns out both were true!]. When I came out to Davis I went through a cultural shock as people randomly waived hi to me.

5. What caused you to shift from engineering to policy?

When I was Black and Veatch I went from component level to system level. I really enjoyed that transition, and when I’m on a higher level I’m really enjoying everything. The solar startup was the final nail in the place since we really struggled with finance and policy. That’s when I learned the importance of policy. I really enjoyed the interdisciplinary nature and working with a diverse group of people.

6. Why are you learning Mandarin (普通话)? How is it going?

I just took one course in Mandarin last fall (and I’m already forgetting it!). As an energy student, you probably know all of the things happening in China. The scale of transition happening in China is CRAZY! Any new clean technology that comes out they will implement it in large scales. They’ve on the forefront of adoption of not only electri but also hydrogen electric vehicles! At UC Davis there is also a China-energy center where I get to learn about things going on in China. We even recently got an autonomous shuttle on the [Transportation Research Institute] campus.

I’m also focused on China because I think that India can learn more from China because of the cultural and political climate. Most of the time India will try to imitate the West and not everything will work (such as subsidizing high-cost EVs). 2-wheelers and 3-wheelers and cheap electric vehicles that’s how it will work. India needs to diversify where its getting its lessons from and I’m trying to be the change. Energy change is a systemic change and needs the government to push it, even through it might not seem cost effective it does in the long-run.

7. What do you think will be the future mix (2030 US, India, and China) of transportation?

Frankly no one will know, but battery electric will be the major driver and all of these key markets will get more of these vehicles and East Asia should have a sizeable penetration of fuel cells. For example, the Olympics in Tokyo will have a large scale deployment of fuel cell buses. India will also go with battery electric. For a thesis I have been thinking about using life-cycle methodology to evaluate vehicles in a better way. There is no unified analysis since petroleum vehicles were built in a similar way with their tail-pipes but there needs to be analysis on the impact on the production side for EVs. LCAs can really guide that work. A lot of EU countries were thinking about this for a while, but now is a good-time to start working on this.

8. New sites/podcasts you listen to?

A LOT. I keep on changing, but The Energy Gang and The Energy Transition Show are pretty constant. I also like this podcast from energy enthusiasts in Bejing called Environment China (link).

9. Favorite thing about working in your field?

I think my favorite thing is the interdisciplinary aspect. Once in a while I will be surprised by people taking a new angle on an issue and show how their approach is completely different and how their way is completely new. I really like listening to different kinds of people and meeeting and discussing with them.

10. Least favorite things about this space or would like to see improved?

I don’t know the least favorite…. But my pet-peeve is the same thing I see in many lifecycle analysis. There is a lot of greenwashing going on through marketing by private companies.

11. What should someone do to work in this space?

I think that energy is a really broad field and needs to be taken as such. I see this as climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience. All of these are different sectors and you specialize in one or more of these areas. Get in experience to what you learn as an undergrad and then see what has been missing.

12. What is the benefit of a PhD over a Masters?

Do a PhD if you really want to work oin certain technologies or a particular problem (energy access to developing countries). Do a Master’s if yu want to go into the field quickly.

13. What are good graduate programs for this field?

This is a very broad field, but for interdisciplinary transportation California has 4 or 5 of them. Public policy and engineering programs that are good are TPP at MIT, Maryland (MPP), Minnesota (Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy), Carnegie Mellon (Engineering and Public Policy, Energy Science and Policy), UChicago, UT Austin, and UC Berkeley (ERG).

14. If you were to go back and change one thing in your career what would you do?

I’m the person who thinks a lot about the past, and when I talk to economics people I get really impressed. Sometimes I think that I should have majored in economics instead! I feel like economics is the overall thing that solves these energy problems. Mechanical Engineering concepts are not that hard to get later.

15. What is your five-year plan?

Oh god, that’s a very difficult question to answer! I really don’t know, but trying to figure out my thesis. When I started this program, I really wanted to go back to India, but experience in the US is good no matter what. If the work is good then I might stay here. Energy is a global problem and everyone is hurt and benefits from it. I need to see if I will work with the industry or the public policy and I think that consulting will be able to utilize my skills well. Both the public and the industry don’t really know or are not certain of things that really bleeding edge like the impacts of higher penetration of electric vehicles.


So that’s all folks! Thank you to Sada Wachche for being such a wonderful interview, and wish you the best of luck with graduate school and your career! For anyone wishing to connect with Sada, his website can be found here, his LinkedIn can be found here and his Twitter here.

Steven Patrick Chan, Project Engineer at New Energy Equity

Steven Patrick Chan, Project Engineer at New Energy Equity

We here at Isaac’s Science Blog are proud to be hosting our very first interview! Today we will be speaking with Steven Patrick Chan, a Project Engineer at New Energy Equity and recent graduate from UC Berkeley with a B.S in Engineering Physics. Come in and learn what it’s like to start a career in solar.

  1. What inspired you to work in energy?

I came into Berkeley as a physics major initially. I myself am a curiosity-driven person, want to know about the world. [During college] I came to realize that climate change is a really huge problem, if we don’t have a climate to live in then we won’t have anything! So I started to change my focus, transitioned from semiconductors to solar. [I wanted to work on] developing the best solar technology. But then, what I realized the real bottleneck is not technology but policy/business models. We have the technology,  but we don’t have the policy. In fact, if we were to completely stop R&D and simply focus on implementation, then we could effectively solve global warming! So that’s where I am.

2. What do you do for your job?

I work for a company called New Energy Equity. We are a 5-year old startup in Annapolis Maryland, and we do commercial solar development/financing. We are primarily a developer, kind o like a real-estate developer who builds out new houses and hotels, but for commercial solar. What we do is work at the Commercial and Industrial (C&I) scale. It’s kind of between small-scale residential and large scale utilities. We focus on from 100’s of kW to 5 MW or so. For a sense of scale, a 5 MW would be five (American) football fields.

Our advantage over other companies for our scale is our financing. The necessary capital [for projects of this scale] can go into the millions of dollars, but our founder comes from a banking background and has a lot of connections. He knows finance people and is even a finance person himself [having a degree in the field]. The founders of our company also put up their own capital and have a sold reputation [in finance].

I really like the fact that I get to work in a different state than California. There are already a lot of people like me back home while here I feel like there is not enough.

3. How did you get the job?

Actually, I got this job through a grid alternatives job fair. After I graduated, I was looking for a job that could contribute to fighting climate change. I was so lucky. I came to an event called Solar Power International in Anaheim. Brought a resume, my strategy, my pitch, and met them. Explained to them about how I was extremely passionate and qualified and offered me the job pretty quickly. They needed an engineer pretty badly.

4. Favorite thing about working in renewable energy?

To start off, I would say that the people are awesome. [Everyone] is fighting pretty hard to prevent catastrophe. Other side benefits. People who come into this industry are selfless and ethical. There’s also a lot of talent in this space. It’s slow-moving, but a lot of people who were in tech are switching into this space. I think its the grand challenge of climate change that really is diving a lot of super high achieving people to enter this space.

People think of this as fighting for our lives. I also think that its a financing opportunity, billions of dollars and jobs to be created! Once the older generation dies off/wakes up then real change can happen.

5. Least favorite things about this space or would like to see improved?

The thing I would like to see more improved to see solar companies put themselves in the political forefront (lobbying). Sunpower has done so, but more need to do so.

I lobbied last week. There was a bill that would open up the solar market in Maryland (where there is currently none). I went to the Maryland Congressional Hearing and explained why solar would be a really great opportunity. [The problem is] the biggest lobbyists are oil and gas companies. They can completely buy out politicians. There just needs to be bolder solar lobbying.

6. How was testifying?

Frustrating. It’s hard. You kind of get dismissed as a young person.[A lot of the politicians] are only listening and looking for people their age. To a certain extent I can’t blame them. I don’t know if they really ever listened to me. I’m doing it because I’m going to do it. It doesn’t feel great, didn’t feel as if I did as good as a job as I could have.

7. What should someone do to work in this space?

I would say, do your homework, subscribe to podcasts, learn the industry. The way you get a job is through networking and relationships. At the end of the day, you may have to submit a resume to a website, but keep in mind that most people get jobs through personal connections.

Start talking to people in general, specifically about the industry. Take a potential employer. Take this for example. Let’s say you talk to someone who works at Sunpower. Sunpower recently bought Solar work, which increases its manufacturing capabilities. Combining this with the recent tariffs, you can ask how this changes the solar industry. It’s much better than simply saying “what do you do?” to a potential employer.

8. New sites/podcasts you listen to?

Podcasts: 3 Green tech media podcasts (Energy Gang, the Interchange, and Political Climate). The latter is hosted by a moderator who brings in a high-ranking Democrat and Republican and argue over their political sides. It’s great coming from California where I all I hear is Democrats [who tend to think closer to me] and I finally get to hear the other side. I’ve learned so much from the Republican that I would never think of.  For example, the Republican will often say that to get people in his party to install solar, such as don’t have to agree on the source of the problem [climate change] and suggest things that agree to them (superior economics, energy independence).

9. What do you think the energy mix of the future should be?

As much renewables as possible. Not 100% renewables through. There should also be some nuclear (if it can prove itself). I think that CCS will have space (it might even be a necessity).

10. Your opinion of the Green New Deal?

I think it’s amazing. I have to say what it’s meant for. I think what the Green New Deal is right now has a lot of flaws, but it is a national conversation, a platform. Every presidential candidate will have to answer “do you support the green new deal?”

10. What is your five-year plan?

I see myself staying at this company for a while (5 years sounds reasonable). This company is expanding. I’m also considering higher-education, I initially thought that [earlier in my schooling], but I see the industry as actually putting boots on the ground. I’m also considering starting my own company, but not until I have very stable finances (enough to pay my own rent and other necessities).

So there you have it. Thank you to Steven Patrick Chan for being such a wonderful interview, and wish you the best of luck with your mission! For anyone wishing to connect with Steven, his LinkedIn can be found here.