April 11, 2023, 11:24 am . MRC
As you may know, March was Women’s History Month. We fully believe women should be recognized and celebrated year-round, but we also thought it was the perfect time to kick off our Q&A series spotlighting some of the incredible women who are making big impacts in the world of microgrids.
In the second of our three-part series, we sat down with Jana Gerber, President of North America Microgrids at Schneider Electric, to learn more about how she broke into the field, the work she’s doing at Schneider, what she’s looking forward to, where she finds her inspiration, and so much more.
Can you tell us more about your role and Schneider’s work in microgrids?
I was appointed president of Schneider Electric’s North American microgrid operations in May of last year. I oversee a team of 20 amazing people who diligently work with hundreds of customers, partners and industry experts across the globe and am responsible for growing the commercial microgrid business here in North America. We work hard to support customers in their sustainability and resilience journeys.
Microgrids are a big component of the work that we do at Schneider Electric. At a time where climate intervention is critical while extreme weather events lead to disruptive outages, we are proud to provide our customers with the best possible solutions to enhance their sustainability goals while ensuring resilience for their operations.
Schneider Electric has installed over 300 microgrid projects in the U.S. – and we’re just getting started. Increasing costs and the push for electric vehicles have created a seismic shift in our current energy landscape. It’s incredibly rewarding to be a part of the solution and to help create a pathway for other female engineers and team members to see the opportunities in the microgrid industry.
How did you get into the renewable energy/microgrids space?
I started off in engineering in the earliest part of my career and eventually moved to a business development position at a mechanical engineering firm because I wanted a role that came with more customer engagement. Within that role, I was exposed to all aspects of the business, including performance contracting, which involved working on energy efficiency and savings for public sector customers. This is where I was first exposed to the renewable energy space and is what really sparked my interest in it — this also sparked Schneider Electric’s interest, as they purchased the company in 2004. It was an exciting time as I embarked on my now 20+ year career at Schneider Electric.
Today, my interest and knowledge in the energy space has only grown. In recent years, communities reeling from extreme weather events and blackouts, unpredictable energy costs, and the increasing pressure for a reliable infrastructure to support electric vehicle ambitions, are only making power grid efficiency and resiliency more critical. As I lead the North American microgrids strategy at Schneider Electric, I aim to directly address these critical challenges by helping the industry digitize energy and become more dynamic.
Why is the advancement of microgrids so important?
Microgrids are resilient, affordable, and a force multiplier for digitized, decarbonized power. Demand for microgrids is growing in large part because they offer resilience for today’s energy needs, which makes the advancement of this technology that much more important. As a distributed energy resource (DER), microgrids generate electricity on-site and can be used while connected to the utility grid or while disconnected in “island mode,” providing backup power and answering critical demand when the grid goes down or when prices peak, and readily integrating renewable energy sources.
In many ways, microgrids are a relatively new concept, but if their adoption is going to continue growing and achieve greener outcomes, the industry needs standardization. In doing so, organizations can accelerate adoption and realize a faster return on their investment.
Further, we need to ensure that we have light, heat, and power when and where it’s needed. We believe access to energy is a basic human right. Microgrids help serve as a reliable power source when the electric grid is unreliable or unavailable. As a result, microgrids provide resilience to vulnerable communities where weather and climate-related events occur frequently. With microgrids, you can generate your own electricity on site, take control of your energy and get the outcomes you need to meet your business and sustainability goals.
What are you looking forward to in the immediate future and further down the road when it comes to microgrids and DERs in general?
The potential of microgrids as catalysts for sustainability is undeniable, and now it’s time for the industry to usher the technology forward with a standardized path to market. I’m looking forward to that standardization from a broader perspective, but more specifically, I think there is great potential in microgrids’ ability to have a direct impact on both our environment and our global approach to energy management and resilience.
It’s an exciting time as we work to tackle climate change and find innovative, sustainable, and resilient ways to build a new energy landscape.
Is there a particular project that you or your team have worked on recently that sticks out that you’d like to tell us more about? What was it? Why?
Yes! Our team has been working tirelessly on a recently announced project; we will deliver our leading microgrid technology, software, and services to the JFK New Terminal One (NTO) project, which will be the largest international airport terminal in the United States. This microgrid, led by AlphaStruxure—a joint venture between Schneider Electric and the Carlyle Group—will provide immediate greenhouse gas emission reductions of 38 percent over grid-sourced energy. The project will ensure the infrastructure at JFK NTO is not only resilient and sustainable but built to keep up with fluctuating energy demand.
Working alongside our partners like the Carlyle Group to create opportunities for organizations and communities through AlphaStruxure, a venture that works to solve the world’s most complex energy challenges by helping organizations finance, build, and maintain a microgrid, has been extremely impactful in growing microgrid adoption in areas that are in desperate need of energy solutions.
Any advice for women looking to break into the microgrids and alternative energy space?
My advice to women looking to break into the microgrids and alternative energy space is that they should not be afraid to challenge themselves with non-traditional career paths. Diving into these spaces can provide a wider lens on the energy business and serve as a highly valuable experience. It’s so important for women in our field to keep learning and looking for the next opportunity to expand one’s knowledge. We need to take every chance to go on a site visit, talk to someone new, or pursue a new position. Each career move is another piece in the puzzle and reason to be excited about what’s coming.
Have you had any mentor/mentee relationships throughout your career that have influenced your work?
Throughout my career, I have had many mentors inside and outside of Schneider Electric. One that has been very impactful in my past and current roles is Annette Clayton. In every opportunity I have had to engage with her through the years, I always leave with great advice and inspiration. She takes bold bets on those in the organization to grow and innovate. She is my second woman boss in my 20+ year career, and I have learned so much in even the last year on how to challenge and drive organizations to change and be accountable for their actions. I still stay in contact with various mentors who have since left Schneider Electric or even retired. I think it is a great opportunity to understand the perspectives they may be more willing to share as they are no longer in the company, even to help me better understand my brand, strengths, areas to improve/development opportunities, and reflect on areas of growth since we worked together.
Where do you look for inspiration/motivation outside of work?
Younger generations. My kids are a great reflection to me about the power in the work Schneider Electric is doing to decarbonize and build better – more renewable and reliable – energy systems moving forward. Every once in a while, my son will say that what I do is cool and important to him. It warms my heart every time.