Position title: (’04)
Posted June 2021 | Written by Keerthana Sreenivasan
Carmen Best graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2004 with a master’s degree in Land Resources and a certificate in Energy Analysis and Policy from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and is now the Vice President of Policy and Emerging Markets at an energy software start-up called Recurve.
As destiny has it, she found herself at a Future Homemakers of America conference in South Dakota where she was inspired by a climate change motivational speaker and as an Al Gore fan, she started charting a path in environmental diplomacy. Carmen pursued a bachelor’s degree in Geology at the University of North Dakota where she appreciated the long, long term perspective of climate change. She then served in the Peace Corps in Niger, supporting soil restoration and subsistence farming where the link between energy generated and energy used was very tight. She thought that she would continue working in international and rural development.
In the early 2000s, when renewables were still expensive, there were a select few energy programs in the country, UW–Madison being one of them. Carmen’s research at UW–Madison was on energy program evaluation, primarily looking at the economic impact of energy efficiency initiatives in rural Wisconsin. While at UW–Madison, she explored different disciplines including public policy, rural development, emissions modelling, statistics and to this day, appreciates the multidisciplinary education she pursued. Soon after graduating, she continued doing energy efficiency evaluations of programs across the country, including California. Seeking a change, she transitioned to the California Public Utilities Commission doing regulatory oversight. Public service allowed her to understand the industry players, different perspectives, and the regulatory legwork needed. She recommended gaining experience with the state services or cities to build patience and to understand their mindset in making decisions, which are essential in the energy policy field. Working at utilities can also help you learn how they optimize their business model to incorporate relevant clean energy goals.
After leaving the California Public Utilities Commission, Carmen joined a start-up called Recurve. Recurve offers an open source software solution for utilities and aggregators investing in energy efficiency. By using advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) hourly consumption data, Recurve can quantify the impacts of changing consumption patterns so that it can serve as a reliable grid resource. She promotes policies to create a space for Recurve to gain traction in different markets.
Current energy efficiency models are outdated and focus on implementing technology, without accounting for the time or performance values of the installed technology. Carmen actively engages in regulatory proceedings to inform decisions to move to a meter based approach rather than a simplified technology installation approach. She is constantly building partnerships with clients to help them with regulatory or policy hurdles. But that is not all, she partners with different industrial and public partners to promote the bigger idea for Recurves models. Finally, she ensures that the new models being released are compliant with the current regulations. To her, the fun part is contributing and working with people to come up with solutions.
Throughout her journey, Carmen has learned and picked up various skills to add to her toolbox. She emphasized that a basic knowledge in statistics would be beneficial as most data is manipulated and understood through statistics. Her science background was quite intentional, as it gave her a different way to access the policy conversations and be more of a bridge. The Energy Analysis and Policy (EAP) certificate program gave her a great cross-disciplinary education that she used to answer the questions in energy. She also had the freedom to build her own adventure in education by taking classes in economic development and cost benefit analysis, as these are foundational in policy decision making. However, she wishes that she would have taken classes in finances, to understand how markets work, and how to amplify investments.
With her experience, she recommended various resources for students to consider when pursuing a career in energy. For example, internships at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners focus on equitable regulations and procedures and have international branches and partners such as USAID. Municipal utilities and regional transmission organizations give one the understanding of how different states work towards energy policy. Community choice aggregators are a subset of utilities, who provide load services to communities at a cheaper rate. This is a growing energy service model that allows for high community interaction and work towards a more equitable energy model.
In her words of advice to students: energy is a “diverse industry and can lead you in many directions.” Make sure you “do what you enjoy and care about.” Put in the effort into those aspects that are difficult and make your stomach turn but add to your knowledge. It will make you more adaptable and resilient.