Women in Building Performance: Julie Michals
Julie Michals is the Director of Clean Energy Valuation at E4TheFuture. In this role, her focus is on initiatives that improve approaches to measuring and evaluating clean energy program implementation. Prior to joining E4TheFuture, she spent 14 years with Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, most recently as director of the Regional Evaluation, Measurement and Verification Forum.
Lindsay Bachman Flickinger: How did you get started in the energy efficiency/home performance industry?
Julie Michals: My first job out of graduate school (in energy economics) was working for a consulting firm in the electricity field, which coincided with the start of electricity market restructuring (deregulation of electricity generation from vertically integrated utilities). My work focused on the policy construct for integrated resource planning and energy efficiency program funding in a restructured industry, and my work was largely for consumer advocate clients. So, the start of my career didn’t expose me directly to home performance work per se, but rather my learning was concentrated in the broader changing electricity industry and energy efficiency policy arena.
LBF: How has your career evolved?
JM: After my consulting gig, I worked for nearly five years at the Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources, where I led/facilitated negotiated settlements on energy efficiency plans between the utilities and the “non-utility parties” stakeholder group. This phase of my career exposed me to a deeper understanding of energy efficiency programs (design, implementation, and evaluation), and involved establishing energy efficiency program goals, performance indicators, and associated shareholder or incentive structures. During this period, I also developed important facilitation skills that were essential in my subsequent jobs.
Next, I went to Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, one of several regional energy efficiency organizations across the country. My long run at NEEP (14 years) exposed to me to a whole lot of new things. I started as a policy manager, which over time evolved to a director position heading up a multi-state project to develop consistency in energy efficiency evaluation, measurement, and verification (EM&V) practices and reporting of impacts. The exposure to a range of projects, and application of EM&V for energy efficiency to various policies/markets, help me evolve to my current position as Director of Clean Energy Valuation at E4TheFuture.
Over the years, I think I benefited from starting my career consulting in the private sector, then going to public/government sector, and ultimately landing in the non-profit space. My suggestion to anyone entering the energy field is to experience the industry through different lenses—I sometimes regret that I didn’t venture out to the private sector later in my career, purely for the different experience and broadening my perspective.
LBF: When you started out, what was your biggest obstacle? How did you overcome it?
JM: Certainly, starting out in any field, I had huge knowledge gaps about the energy and efficiency industry, and learned from colleagues and hands-on projects. Being neither an engineer nor a statistician, nor having knowledge of wholesale forward capacity markets, there was a steep learning curve on these various fronts. But I was fortunate to work with very smart people over the years who helped me learn a lot.
LBF: What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
JM: The people. They are compassionate, hard-working, and mission driven.
LBF: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges for women in this industry?
I honestly haven’t encountered huge challenges myself as a woman working in the energy efficiency industry, but it may be different at the policy/consulting level versus the home performance space. I’ve benefited from attending the New England Women in Energy and the Environment (NEWIEE) events over the years, which gives recognition to women making a difference in the energy field, and hearing stories of overcoming the ‘glass ceiling.’ It's very inspiring.
LBF: What advice would you give to a woman starting out in the energy efficiency and home performance industry?
JM: There are many hats one can wear in this industry. For home performance, the field is hugely evolving with opportunities for companies to expand services beyond energy efficiency, and for funding models that extend beyond the common utility program model (such as growing interest in community energy programs, and services being broadened to demand response and other integrated distributed energy resources). The electricity field is advancing leaps and bounds with grid modernization underway, the use of software as a service tools (cloud computing and advanced data analytics, machine learning) and integrated services, which together is aiming to support greater customer engagement and focus.
The common analogy at conferences these days is ‘think of how we used telephones 25 years ago …. and now look at these smart phone devices today. Who would have thunk?’ The electricity market is about to go through that major evolution—albeit a bit more complex. But it’s a super exciting time to be working in our industry.
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