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November, 28, 2016 Caroline Heilbrun, Beyond Coal Campaign Intern, Sierra Club

It’s great to hear folks are loving the cleantekker profiles. One thing we have heard, though, is a call for intern profiles, too. Thus, today we profile Caroline Heilbrun, sophomore at Yale University, member of the Yale swim team, and our very first intern profile! This past summer Caroline had an internship with the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign. A terrific campaign indicative of how organized, professional and influential many NGOs have become in the push towards a renewable energy powered world. Speaking with Caroline I could not have been more impressed with her poise and her passion. If Caroline is indicative of the rising batch of clean energy leaders, we are in great hands! Anyways, I hope others looking for their path as a cleantekker will learn something valuable from Caroline’s experience. Enjoy!


Name, Title and Organization
Caroline Heilbrun, Beyond Coal Campaign Intern, Sierra Club


Educational Background (e.g., college, major, any graduate school or additional certifications)
Environmental Studies major with a concentration in Climate Change and Energy, currently a Yale University undergraduate


How do you stay informed on your sector? 

I’m subscribed to Energywire, Climatewire, and EENews as well as renewable energy Google Alerts


What does a typical day look like in your current role? What are your primary responsibilities?
I advocated for increased renewable energy portfolios and electric vehicle deployment in the Northeast region of the United States. Most of my work consisted of drafting memos and Sierra Club stances on clean energy practices (including energy efficiency in buildings, carbon pricing policies, and electric vehicle deployment market strategies) and then, armed with this information, attending state government hearings and submitting public comment


Why did you first want to work in renewable energy / clean technologies?
A single graph summarizes my motivation to work with clean technology: the Keeling Curve, which shows an alarming increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration over the past 60 years. I want our planet to remain hospitable for future generations, and I believe that a transition to renewable energy in America is a vital contribution to the global commitment to cap warming at 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures


What are your two favorite aspects of your job?
I loved the interdisciplinary nature of my job. In order to be an effective advocate for renewable energy and electric vehicles, one must accurately highlight their benefits to national and local economies, the environment, electric grid efficiency, utilities and ratepayers, low-income consumers, and overall public health. This requires a comprehensive knowledge of many different fields. I also appreciated the level of camaraderie and caring at the Sierra Club. All staff members from every different branch of the Club were extremely willing to help newcomers and answer any questions. Overall, our close bond elevated our level of teamwork and efficiency


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?
A prospective Sierra Club intern should, above all, be passionate about preserving the environment and stopping climate change. Having a general knowledge of current events and Beyond Coal’s achievements would demonstrate excitement for the movement and a desire to learn more specific jargon on the job. An action-oriented person with a history of grassroots campaigning, petitioning, or outreach for causes they care about would make a great fit for the organization


To perform your job well, what is the most necessary skill or personality characteristic, and why?
A successful research intern must synthesize data and information into a convincing argument. I was often presented with technical reports such as cost-benefit analyses or utility-ratepayer models, and I had to interpret them in the context of winning public policy victories


What is the one bit of advice you would offer a young person hoping to break into renewable energy / clean technologies?
Don’t give up! Like all new technologies, clean energy technology faces initial market penetration barriers such as fledgling infrastructure and lack of funding compared to traditional technologies. As you work in this field, homeowners, utilities, or government officials might reject the concept of an energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables. Many people aren’t yet aware of the myriad benefits that renewable energy can offer. Be persistent, and keep fighting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions


What is something you have learned in your job that surprised you?
I was pleasantly surprised to learn how electric vehicles can serve to make regional electric grids more efficient. If the public utility companies who control grid output were to structure their rates to offer cheaper electricity after dusk, then electric vehicle owners could charge their cars’ batteries overnight. This saves consumers money from cheap off-peak electricity, and utilities also save by not overloading the grid during the daytime and by selling nighttime electricity, which so often goes to waste


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’m very interested in the potential for off-grid solar energy in rural areas of developing countries. Energy poverty due to the lack of a national electric grid can be ameliorated by implementing village-wide solar ‘microgrids’, which can supply enough wattage to power water heating, street lighting, communications systems, and even medical facilities


If you could be compensated for your work with something other than a paycheck, what would it be?
The best rewards for my work are tangible milestones of progress: for instance, a state committing to its first offshore wind project, or an expansion of an electric vehicle rebate program. However, I would not be opposed to a complimentary hiking trip through a national park, either – I love to spend time outdoors!


BONUS QUESTION: What do you hope to do after graduation?

Although I am certain of my desire to work in the clean energy industry, I am uncertain as to whether I want to work in the field of policy and advocacy, energy consulting, or scientific research and engineering. I intend to pursue a Master’s degree in Environmental Science or Environmental Management, and from there, I could potentially see myself as a researcher for a corporation or the government, a lobbyist or nonprofit employee, or an installations project consultant. Over the next three years, I will try to gain exposure to many different types of organizations and discover where in the clean energy movement my skill sets are most valuable


Thanks Caroline! Keep up the great work!

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