How my internship in public power inspires me

When I was a senior in high school, I thought I had my whole career path planned out. I was going to be an engineer.

I entered college as a mechanical engineering major. While I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to do, my hope was that this education would prepare me for a life in research and development of new solar technologies, wind, or hydroelectric power.

A serendipitous schedule conflict landed me in an environmental science course. After studying a wide variety of factors that affect the environment, from methane-producing micro-organisms to anthropological influences, I decided that making renewable energy more viable was the best way I could help the environment.

In my third semester of classes, my advisor shared an email about a scholarship opportunity through the American Public Power Association’s DEED research and development program. My interest was piqued. As it turned out, this particular scholarship was not your ordinary “write an essay and maybe you’ll be considered for a lump sum of money” process. Rather, I liked how it was an opportunity for me to design an internship specifically suited to my own interests, and connect with a public utility.

A couple weeks later, I finished an internship proposal and was in contact with both the Association and Austin Energy. Before I knew it, my proposal was accepted and I was offered my dream internship!

By the end of my first week on the job, I came to realize how little I knew about the complicated ins and outs of renewable energy – who knew solar and wind caused so many issues for electricity distribution systems? At Austin Energy, I have been able to hone my interests and understanding of renewable energy generation, and I’ve also worked on some cool projects.

One of these awesome projects is called “Austin SHINES.” Austin Energy was awarded $4.3 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative to pilot a platform to enable and promote integrated distributed energy resources. The project utilizes solar, energy storage, smart inverters, forecasting tools, market signals, and a software optimization platform to integrate more renewable energy to the grid, while minimizing potential issues related to volatility, power quality, and cost. I have had the opportunity to study this project in depth, lead a change management initiative, and communicate the value of DER integration efforts via operating guidelines, technical overviews, presentations, and a report. How cool!

My newfound understanding of the value of grid modernization has made me realize how much must be done to make our nation’s electric grid ready to transition to a large amount of renewable energy. It doesn’t matter how efficient solar panels get, or how plentiful wind farms become, if the grid is not set up to handle them. Through this internship, I have learned a way to realize my dream of making renewable energy more viable: I want to help utilities adopt strategies for integrating distributed energy resources.

Thank you to the American Public Power Association and Austin Energy for opening my eyes, inspiring me, and giving me such a truly wonderful experience.