Sheryl Carter, NRDC: Solutions "ripe for the picking" led to energy policy career
Over the years, CEE has benefited from working with amazing people — multitalented, experienced professionals who are instrumental in helping us bring energy efficiency solutions to Minnesotans and advance the field through research. Stay tuned to our new series taking a look at where past CEE employees are now.
Sheryl Carter is power sector director at the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco, and has served on numerous boards, such as the Electric Power Research institute and the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy. She is also the recipient of the 2008 Clean Power Champion Award from the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.
From 1992 to 1995 Sheryl worked at the Center for Energy and Environment as Research Analyst. We recently reached out to Sheryl to get her thoughts on her time working at CEE.
How did your time at CEE help shape your career goals?
I started working at CEE as an intern in between my first and second year of graduate school. I already knew that energy efficiency was the cheapest and cleanest solution to reduce global warming pollution, and that it just made good common sense (I’m a Minnesotan, after all.) But I had no real practical experience in the field.
At CEE I was privileged to work with some of the smartest engineers, researchers, and energy efficiency practitioners in the region — led by Sheldon Strom at the time. Through them and my work that summer, I learned more about the benefits of energy efficiency for people and utilities, and the challenges we face in fully realizing them.
Despite the fact that energy efficiency should sell itself, people weren’t receptive to it back then, and I saw a need for more advocates of smart, enabling policies. My plan was to go back to graduate school in the fall, but Sheldon didn’t let me walk out the door. Instead, he extended my internship through the school year and, eventually, to a full-time position. I had already decided to pursue a career in energy policy to fight climate change, but my experience at CEE is what really made me the energy efficiency advocate I am today.
What inspires you to advance the field?
The extraction, production, and use of energy — in our transportation, buildings, and industrial sectors — are the biggest contributors to climate change, and provide the biggest opportunities to combat it. In my studies, I saw so many common sense solutions and opportunities ripe for the picking that pursuing an energy policy career seemed like the best way to make a difference. Those solutions and opportunities have only multiplied over the last few years (and they’ve come way down in cost), which has made our job easier and more complex.
My work now centers on deep carbon reductions through strategies that rely on a mix of energy efficiency, demand response, renewable energy, electrification of vehicles, decarbonization of end-uses (such as water heating that uses fossil fuels), and enhancing electricity grids. This will require nothing short of a transformation of the electric and natural gas systems and their utilities, and energy efficiency remains the essential base throughout. There is so much to do, but thankfully there are a lot of very smart people dedicated to making it happen, and that gives me real hope.
Any career advice for people interested in the field?
Understand the technology if you’re going into energy. Know what “loop flow” and “reactive power” is, even if you only plan to be a policy wonk. Believe me, at some point somebody will ask. I’ve also learned not to look at energy efficiency in isolation, either from other resources or from its relationship to electric and natural gas systems.
What’s the best part about your current job?
The incredible people I get to work with. We’re lucky enough at NRDC to have experts in just about every discipline (law, science, policy, communications, and advocacy), working on environmental and public health issues — which means our positions and facts are vetted from many different angles before being vetted more broadly outside. In addition, having the organization’s history and reputation behind me when I walk into a room, gives me a level of credibility and confidence that makes doing my job easier and more enjoyable. My work also puts me in contact with many incredibly good and smart humans outside of NRDC on a daily basis, and who can help but be energized by that?
Spring Forum: Strategic Electrification (2018)