Laura Wang is a Project Director at a ahead-of-the-curve startup organization, More Than Smart, working to support the integration of clean, distributed energy resources into the electricity grid. As clean, distributed electricity becomes a larger and larger piece of the electricity puzzle, the challenge of figuring out the best ways to integrate that energy into the utterly complex electricity grid will only become increasingly important work. Laura and More Than Smart are on the leading edge of this trend, working with all sorts of stakeholders to build the grid of the future. Check out below for some of her thoughts on her experience and what she is learning. Enjoy!
Name, Title and Organization
Laura Wang, Project Director, More Than Smart
Educational Background (e.g., college, major, any graduate school or additional certifications)
M.A. and B.S., University of Southern California
How do you stay informed on your sector?
Greentech Media, Utilitydive, EEnews
What does a typical day look like in your current role? What are your primary responsibilities?
More Than Smart is a small think tank/non-profit working out of Powerhouse, an Oakland-based solar incubator and accelerator. We’ve set a vision for how grids should evolve to accommodate more distributed energy resources, and are now working hard to achieve that vision through on-the-ground implementation in California, Hawaii, and at the federal level. I work on everything from facilitating stakeholder groups discussing next-generation grid issues, to reading and writing about policy roadblocks and how to solve them.
Why did you first want to work in renewable energy / clean technologies?
I worked for California Governor Jerry Brown on a range of climate change and renewable energy issues. If California can solve the renewable energy puzzle and bring those lessons to the rest of the world, the potential impacts could be extraordinary – from halting climate change, to reducing resource conflicts in developing countries. The challenge now is that we have a lot to do in a very short time frame, and the large-scale changes we envision take significant time and resources to implement.
What are your two favorite aspects of your job?
Working in California is incredibly inspiring – the people here working on these issues are passionate, driven, and understand the magnitude of change we are close to achieving. I’m lucky to work closely with so many of these leaders everyday. Second, I love that MTS is a small and nimble team – I get to manage a challenging work portfolio and wear a lot of different hats, from policy analysis to communications and outreach.
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?
First, hustle and a willingness to take on different roles. Working at a small nonprofit often means that you’ll get assigned to do tasks outside of your official job description – embrace those opportunities! Second, having a good understanding of the policy environment. For example, California’s future energy vision is fairly simple (if you can learn all the acronyms), but understanding and implementing the steps we need to take to get there is enormously complicated. It’s valuable to understand how the CPUC operates and the various initiatives (and acronyms) it’s taken on to achieve its DER vision. A great starting point is the DER Action Roadmap:
To perform your job well, what is the most necessary skill or personality characteristic, and why?
Public policy is complicated, multi-faceted, slow-moving, and includes a lot of different (and often contradicting) actors, from DER providers to utilities – having patience and being a good listener are really important (and often undervalued) in finding common ground.
What is the one bit of advice you would offer a young person hoping to break into renewable energy / clean technologies?
Clean energy is still a relatively new field and the new-norm changes every day, so there are no traditional paths to entry. Staying humble, keeping up-to-date on current events in the clean energy sector, and seeking out mentors who can provide some strategic guidance as you navigate the field are crucial. I actually got my start in climate change and marine conservation issues, so I owe a lot to my former bosses from the Governor’s office in helping me get where I am now. I’ve also found it extremely valuable to learn from my peers – the Clean Energy Leadership Institute, for example, is a remarkable network of next-generation leaders in this field who love discussing all things energy. Shameless plug – join CELI!
What is something you have learned in your job that surprised you?
How enormously complicated designing and operating a distribution system can be! There’s (rightfully) tons of excitement on the development of new DER transactional markets and new platform models, but getting us to an operational state is going to take some more time.
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 took a three year break from California and focused on international development, working in Samoa, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam before returning to state policy. I’m interested in understanding whether developing countries with growing economies can truly “leapfrog” through adoption of both distributed and large-scale renewables, necessary efforts in grid modernization, and what creative financing strategies (or alternatives to traditional grants and soft loans) can help us get there. Rapid-scale transformation of energy systems in high polluting countries is key to stopping catastrophic climate change.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than a paycheck, what would it be?
Remote offices in Lake Tahoe, New Zealand’s Lake Wanaka region, and Bali. And free coconut water.
Thanks Laura! Keep up the great work!