The Minnesota Women in Energy series highlights influential women who are part of our state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. CERTs is highlighting these leaders during the month of March in 2017, which is Women’s History Month.
As part of the series we interviewed Jenny Edwards, Director of the Innovation Exchange at Center for Energy and Environment, to learn more about her work, what inspires her, and how other women can get involved in the industry. Read on to learn more!
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do in the energy world in Minnesota?
My organization, Center for Energy and Environment, works primarily on energy efficiency implementation, research, and policy. I oversee our Engagement and Education team, where we do a lot of stakeholder and technical work to move smart energy ideas into the world faster, and in ways where they will stick. My group focuses a lot on the “people” – the users – and what they need to adopt or advance better energy solutions. Sometimes those are communities wanting to put together an energy plan, professionals who need a technical training process, or outreach to address various implementation barriers. Sometimes we provide those services directly, and sometimes we conduct research to try and understand the opportunities.
How did you get into this work?
I was lucky to stumble on energy early in my career. I was a physics major as an undergraduate, thinking that was much more connected to the real world than my original path, mathematics. As it turns out, physics can still be pretty abstract, but it is a perfect background for opening doors in the energy field. Early on I worked mostly in a research capacity which allowed me to develop deeper technical skills, but when the California energy crisis hit full swing (I was working in CA at the time) it was so obvious that overly technocratic thinking had really screwed things up. While technical at heart, I wanted to make sure I always harnessed people and process for better outcomes, which was partly what motivated me to get a professional degree in urban planning. That also cemented my focus on the local level and the role communities play in energy.
What is a typical day like for you?
Our work has a fun balance between active daily deliverables and longer term projects. So my day typically involves a mix of real-time problem solving, and work on some longer-term strategic projects. These days a lot of collaboration, which means plenty of communication and keeping people in the loop. The best parts of my day are when I can help give someone a new perspective on a problem that unlocks things for them. A day certainly never feels long.
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
One of the best parts is, without a doubt, the people, and the variety of people, I get to work with at CEE. For practically any question, on technology, program implementation, policy, I can find someone with a thoughtful and informed answer. This really helps me feel confident in what I do, and that it is a team effort.
One of the hardest parts might just be the nature of being in a broad field – things move quickly, and you can’t keep up with all of it. I do worry that as a community we rush quickly to outcomes without making sure we are all on the same page about the question or the problem we are solving – unpacking assumptions is a big part of what I spend my time on.
What about your job inspires you?
The energy system has always inspired me as an amazing feat of human ingenuity and coordination. At my core, I do this work to be a good steward of earth’s natural resources, but I love that multidimensional approaches are part of the solution: technology, innovation, consumer shifts. A lot of other environmental issues feel more dire and more black and white, frankly, whereas energy is entering an era where solutions abound, and progress is being made.
What advice do you have for women who are thinking about working in energy?
Energy is such an interdisciplinary field that it really does allow you to play to your strengths. I would say make sure you get grounded a bit in the energy system and how it works, bring some pragmatism and critical thinking to the topic, but then the world is really your oyster to build an individual approach. Energy touches everything. Don’t be held back by the way others have done it.
Director of the Innovation Exchange
Jenny is the Director of the Innovation Exchange at CEE. Among her many roles, she leads CEE’s local government engagement and planning work, conducts research, and contributes to the strategic direction of CEE’s policy and program activities. She also directs CEE’s Innovation Exchange, a department focused on research, peer-to-peer engagement, and technical outreach.
Jenny has been involved in energy analysis and planning work at the local, utility, and federal level for over 15 years. She has previously worked at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, UC Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Lab, and the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. She holds a B.A. in physics from UC Berkeley and a Master’s in City Planning from MIT.
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MN Women in #Energy: Jenny Edwards
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The Minnesota Women in Energy series highlights influential women who are part of our state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy industries during Women’s History Month.