April 20, 2023, 11:34 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 third of our three-part series, we sat down with Samantha Reifer, Director of Strategic Alliances at Scale Microgrids, to learn more about how she broke into the field, the work she’s doing at Scale Microgrids, what she’s looking forward to, where she finds her inspiration, and so much more.
Can you tell me more about your role and organization?
Scale Microgrids is a vertically integrated distributed energy platform, with a core focus of designing, building, financing, and operating cutting edge distributed energy assets that offer cheaper, cleaner, and more resilient power. Our team of energy and financing experts accelerate growth in distributed energy projects by providing financing to technology providers, energy developers, and OEMs, while also directly helping large energy-consuming customers to take charge of their energy infrastructure and future-proof their businesses.
I focus on building Scale’s strategic alliances. It’s important to me to ensure that our partnerships are mutually beneficial and that we are identifying strategic opportunities beyond hard projects.
How did you get into the renewable energy/microgrids space?
I knew I wanted to work in clean energy after I took a sustainable operations class during my undergraduate at CU Boulder. Solving energy issues for commercial and industrial customers is where I felt the most important and clear impact could be made in creating a more sustainable future. Plus, it was such a complex, layered, and evolving space, it was very alluring.
Thus, I’ve spent my career in clean energy. Before Scale Microgrids, I was working at the Colorado Energy Office managing research on incentivizing energy efficiency and renewable energy in Colorado’s commercial and industrial sectors. I wanted to take what I was learning on the research side and start applying it to physical projects, which made Scale Microgrids a perfect career move for me.
Why is the advancement of microgrids so important?
Our grid is failing and our towns are burning, freezing, and getting blown over. Not only do we need to reduce our carbon emissions to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, but we need to fortify our electric infrastructure, and microgrids are an important piece of those solutions.
Microgrids improve the resilience, flexibility, and diversity of our grid while using private sector dollars (for the majority of microgrids) to pay for it.
We need all hands on deck as far as technology deployment if we are going to meet the progressive goals as set by the Paris Climate Accord – microgrids are just one piece of the puzzle.
What are you looking forward to in the immediate future and further down the road when it comes to microgrids and DERs in general?
Reducing the impacts of climate change, hopefully.
But more seriously, we are just scratching the surface of how we can start to aggregate and coordinate DERs on the grid, which could eventually seriously disrupt the utility business model and who benefits from clean energy. I think innovation is essential, but I think more importantly this is an opportunity for us to learn from our mistakes in the past (for example, having the majority of dirty fossil fuel generation in low income communities) and ensure that we are building a cleaner and more equitable future for everyone. The conversations happening throughout regulatory and legislative arenas have been encouraging (although more can always be done) and I’m excited to see how programs evolve, particularly in the DER space, to encourage more participation and benefits passed through all communities.
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?
We recently closed a solar and storage microgrid with a casino on tribal lands. Tribal communities suffer from higher costs of service, higher interconnection fees, more blackouts or brownouts and remote and distant service locations. Tribal utilities pay more to electrify reservation homes, recover less of their expended costs, and take more time to connect off-grid homes. While less than 1% of the U.S. population lives there, more than 75% of unelectrified homes are located on Tribal lands.
These are the types of projects that I am most proud of for Scale and drive exactly and my point earlier in how we can focus on building a cleaner, more resilient, and more equitable grid for all.
Any advice for women looking to break into the microgrids and DERs space?
Networking is critical. I started my career by conducting dozens of informational interviews with anyone in the space that would be willing to speak with me. And I always ended each interview asking if there was anyone else they thought it would be helpful for me to speak with. That was how I got my first job at the Colorado Energy Office after an informal interview with my former boss.
Have you had any mentor/mentee relationships throughout your career that have influenced your work?
I’ve been very fortunate to always have bosses that were always willing to lend an ear, let me take on new (and sometimes crazy) projects, and have my back. Having a boss that trusts you and is willing to let you learn and fail has been so essential to my happiness at work and I’m so grateful to each of them.
Where do you look for inspiration/motivation outside of work?
Taking care of yourself in an industry that demands so much of each of us is critical. For me, that is daily movement. Whether that is a run, a walk with my dog, a yoga class, a HIIT class, or heading up to the mountains to ride, moving my body daily is critical for my well-being and reminds me of what and who I’m working to build a better world for.