If you’ve read any of our other Cleantekker profiles you will have noticed that virtually every person we have profiled mentions Greentech Media (GTM) as one of the primary resources they use to stay informed. With market research, events and a highly respected clean energy news platform, GTM has grown into the leading clean energy information services outlet. So today we are profiling one of GTM Research’s rising stars, Benjamin Attia. In an sector full of smart, knowledgeable people, Ben stood out within 5 minutes of our first conversation as someone who is smarter and more knowledgeable than most. With a role that requires him to keep a pulse on the latest market trends and developments, there are few people as plugged in as Ben. It’s a good thing he’s an outgoing and friendly guy because I think he gets a lot of people asking his opinion everyday. To that point, Ben was generous enough to share with us some of his thoughts what it’s like to be an Analyst with GTM and all that he is learning. Enjoy!
Name, Title and Organization
Benjamin Attia, Analyst, Emerging Markets Research at GTM Research
Educational Background (e.g., college, major, any graduate school or additional certifications)
Master of Energy & Environmental Policy, University of Delaware B.S. Economics and Energy & Environmental Policy, University of Delaware
How do you stay informed on your sector?
I am definitely biased, but of course GTM, the Energy Gang, and the Interchange should be your go-to starting point, among many other sources for frontier markets. I also have regular calls with people working in solar all over the world to stay ahead of what’s happening in the market.
What does a typical day look like in your current role? What are your primary responsibilities?
I am an Analyst on GTM Research’s Global Demand team with a specific regional focus on grid-tied and off-grid solar market developments in India, Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa, so my job is essentially to stay ahead of what’s happening in these markets and identify, understand, analyze, and interpret these trends, risks, and policy changes for our clients so that they’re better able to make decisions in their business now and in the future. This takes the form of data gathering and analysis, demand forecasting, writing research reports and articles, consulting, presenting, and direct bespoke advisory for specific issues or questions our clients have. So a big part of my job is to pay very close attention to the news and happenings in the industry, and as a result, I spend a lot of time on the phone with people all over the world asking questions about some of the market conditions on the ground, risks, costs, and other useful data points that can inform or confirm my analysis. I also spend a lot of time in excel and a lot of time writing out my findings for our clients and preparing presentations for conferences or webinars.
Why did you first want to work in clean energy / clean technologies?
I first became interested in solar back in high school, working on a project to use optics to increase solar cell conversion efficiency. I then actually wanted to work in energy regulatory law, and found the program at the Center for Energy & Environmental Policy to be a good pre-law background. When I began to see my interest in clean energy as critical technology for our time and a catalyst for international sustainable development, I shifted from law towards economics, finance, and policy and rural development.
What are your two favorite aspects of your job?
I really love the people I work with and the hybrid environment I sit in that allows me to work with a sharp and committed analyst team to produce timely and interesting analysis that (hopefully!) lots of people are interested in. It sort of feeds both parts of my brain: the research-minded brain I developed in grad school and the professional brain I developed in the workplace. I also really enjoy that my primary purpose at work every day is to learn as much about my research focus as I possibly can. The more subject matter expertise I develop, the better of an analyst I am. It’s kinda neat to have people who are much more senior in the industry ask me directly for my take on what’s happening with some policy or a new tender or trend because of what I do for work.
If someone was interviewing for your role, or a role like yours, what would they need to demonstrate in the interview to give themselves an advantage?
You’d need to show that you have an analytical mind that can really read between the lines. A lot of the analysis we do requires us to rely on the best data we can gather, which is very often incomplete. To be able to collect pieces of insight and line them up and recognize a trend in financing or forecast a big shift in a market based on some seemingly unrelated factors is essential to doing this kind of work, especially in such a dynamic industry ( we don’t call it the ‘solarcoaster’ for nothing!).
To perform your job well, what is the most necessary skill or personality characteristic, and why?
I think you’ve got to be comfortable with being wrong. The conditions in the market are constantly changing and evolving, and a lot of times we’re right on top of that and can really see how things will piece together. Other times, we can get blindsided and things shift entirely away from our base case expectations. You’ve just got to be able to shift your perspective to adapt to a new reality pretty regularly and quickly. Our work is only slightly less an art than it is science. We have to walk a delicate line between the best data we can collect and analyze and taking our insights beyond our own modeling and understanding what’s not captured or quantified and accounting for those trends as well.
What is the one bit of advice you would offer a young person hoping to break into renewable energy / clean technologies?
Others have probably said this before, but seek a mentor and through them, connect to as many people as possible. When I was first looking for an internship in this field, I set up a lot of informational interviews with people who’s careers followed a similar trajectory I thought I might like mine to follow, which really helped me understand what kinds of work I liked and didn’t like while I was still in school. In my experience, people who work in clean tech are generally very open to talking and helping, and it’s a pretty well-connected and tight knit industry. But do your research in advance. Read some of their written work, visit the website of their company, check out their linkedIn, etc and don’t be shy to ask people for a few minutes of their time to answer specific, insightful questions about what they do, how they got where they are, etc. I may not have much to offer, but I’m happy to be that person or do my best to introduce you to a person who could be a way better mentor than me. Find me on LinkedIn or Twitter or via carrier pigeon if you want to talk.
What is something you have learned in your job that surprised you?
I am constantly amazed by the crazy amount and pace of progress renewables have made in the last three years. There will be double the amount of solar installed in 2017 across the world as there was in 2014. The world will have about 700 GW if installed solar capacity by 2020, which is roughly enough to power a third of US demand. The DOE SunShot target of a $1/W solar cost profile by 2020 in the US was unofficially met three years early. On average, solar recently became the cheapest form of electricity in the world, even cheaper than onshore wind. Global record-low bid prices for competitive (almost all of which is unsubsidized) utility-scale solar are broken every few months or weeks. The list goes on.
Other than the focus of your work, which realm (technology, geography, or other) of renewable energy / clean technologies is particularly interesting to you right now and why?
I am deeply passionate about rural energy access and the power it has to transform rural livelihoods, especially in regions with bulging youth populations like Sub-Saharan Africa. This probably sounds a little cliche, but I think what people don’t realize is that the future belongs to our generation and that most of our generation lives in the Global South, places where solar represents more than fossil fuel displacement, but a completely new set of opportunities. Some of the work I did on community-based financing structures for rural micro-grids was driven by this view. Also, energy storage and novel battery technologies have the power to completely and totally re-write the rules in the next decade.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than a paycheck, what would it be?
Hmmm, I guess it’d be really cool to be granted some form of professional sabbatical to work on whatever interesting work I wanted, wherever I wanted. That’d be pretty neat. That or backpacking trips.
Thanks Ben! Keep up the great work!