A colleague of mine refers to working in the renewable energy industry as “the ultimate liberal arts career.” To anyone who has worked in renewables, the accuracy of the statement is obvious. Renewable energy is a growing industry that is still largely in its infancy, only recently surpassing 11 percent of all US energy generation. Tremendous breakthroughs in the industry have occurred over the last decade – new financial instruments to address issues of liquidity, innovative chemistries and materials to increase the feasibility of batteries and solar modules, and countless other solutions that share the end goal of increasing the proliferation of renewable energy.
Four years ago, I joined a team at Enel Green Power responsible for structuring investments in large-scale renewable energy projects. Enel has quickly become a leader in the US renewables market, deploying more than 5GW of hydro, solar, wind, and geothermal assets throughout North America. Every project that I have worked on has been unique. They each have particular characteristics that pose challenges to their financial viability. Mitigating those challenges requires a diverse team of experts in a variety of fields to work together and create solutions. Each day is a constant and interesting cycle of inquiry, digestion of new information, and action based on the findings of the team. The topics span everything from statistical distributions of commodity pricing, to migratory habits of a sensitive species, to financing structures necessary to optimize a project’s yield. The days themselves mirror a liberal arts curriculum.
Boston College has a unique opportunity to become a university leading the way in the renewable energy industry. The dynamic nature and broad knowledge base of the industry requires professionals with a liberal arts mindset. The fact that the industry is young means that so much of it has yet to be articulated. In an age where so many universities push young people towards specialization to become financial professionals, legal experts, and doctors, the renewables sector rewards polyglots who are capable of using a variety of tools to navigate towards new solutions in unchartered waters.
While Boston College provides the academic diversity and rigor necessary to succeed in the industry, our alma mater is also located in a city that is quickly emerging as the US headquarters for renewable energy development. Boston has substantial financial resources, as well as a storied history of discovering innovative breakthroughs in the hard sciences. While other schools are focused on specialization needed to develop the next great battery chemistry or financing structure, Boston College should recognize the opportunity to prepare its students to deploy these breakthroughs in an emerging industry that requires the diverse knowledge afforded by a liberal arts education. Our community stands prepared to seize the moment and become the leading institution in one of the most promising industries in the world. Our students are diverse, well-educated, and cognizant of the changing energy paradigm. We simply need to show them which way the wind is blowing.