Recognizing Military Veterans Across Utilities: Ben Byboth's Nuclear Journey from Military to Utilities - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Interview]
- Nov 10, 2022 12:59 pm GMT
To celebrate Veterans Day this upcoming Friday, November 11th, the Energy Central Community Team will be shining a light on the many outstanding utility professionals in our network who also spent time in the military. This week, we'll be featuring interviews with these veterans sharing how they found their way into the industry. We will also highlight their unique perspectives of the industry and how they are influencing the utility space.
All the interviews will be collected at this special Veterans Day 2022 topic tag.
To all the veterans in the Energy Central Community, we want to say thank you for your service and we wish you a Happy Veterans Day.
Navy veteran Ben Byboth’s journey in the energy industry has been an eventful one. It has spanned different roles, technologies, and geographies (including a submarine).
It started with a simple decision.
Byboth joined the military in 1997 because he wanted to make sure that he didn’t screw up while he was “young and dumb.” His choice of program, arrived at after extensive research, consultations with professionals, and discussions with friends, was hardly dumb.
He enlisted in the US Navy to participate in the the prestigious Naval Nuclear Power Training Command . After completing the required coursework and prototype training, Ben worked as an Electrician’s Mate on a submarine for eight years. Post-graduation, his route to energy was briefly derailed by time spent working in a semiconductor firm in Texas and volunteering in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. But he returned to the industry’s fold and hasn’t left.
In his twenty-four years in the energy industry, Byboth has worked at commercial nuclear power plants, identified opportunities to improve non-nuclear conventional resources, and established operations strategies for renewable assets at utilities. He helped build an innovation lab to develop rooftop solar and Distributed Energy Resources (DER) products. On the regulatory side of things, he has directed efforts to modernize the grid by working with public service commissions and stakeholders
Byboth currently works on educating potential customers and stakeholders about what he sees as the next big thing in energy, clean fusion energy. at Commonwealth Fusion Systems, a Boston-based startup.
Exploring Complexity at Utilities
The forty-three-year-old says he didn’t consciously set out to make a career in the energy industry. In fact, after graduation, his goal was to simply find a well-paying job that allowed him to move back to Texas and figure out next steps. But two factors tipped the scales in favor of the energy industry.
The first one is the industry’s complexity. Byboth’s fascination with the many moving parts of the industry – that need to be balanced in perfect cohesion – has increased over the years. “My desire to understand the integrated picture of energy systems drove me to new roles,” he explains.
His firm belief in climate change has also determined the Texas native’s trajectory in the industry. Working in nuclear, improving efficiency of fossil resources, establishing renewable operations, and now working to commercialize fusion energy are all in line with his goals to expand access to the type of energy needed to bring down the temperature on our planet. about
‘Learning How to Learn’
In his career traversing the energy industry’s terrain, Byboth has had to learn new concepts and technologies in relatively short timeframes. To do that, he summoned his experience from the military.
“I had to learn how to learn,” he says, describing his initial days at nuclear school in South Carolina. Cadets there are subjected to a barrage of information – about technical, process, and living protocols – during their initial days at the school.
Drinking all of it in requires discipline and an ability to soak up facts quickly. Byboth describes it as “behavior learning” rather than “technical learning” because it teaches you to optimize time and capabilities.
Working as an electrician’s mate in a submarine also taught him how to work with a diverse set of people in a controlled environment for long stretches. Plus, the level of camaraderie and teamwork during Byboth’s time there has remained unmatched in his civilian career.
He says he also learned about the importance of delegation in leadership, not from his own personal experience, but from great leaders he worked under at the naval school. “[They] showed how to push power downwards,” he explains.
Veterans and a Career in The Energy Industry
For veterans looking to make a career in the energy industry, Byboth says there are many similarities in their purpose. “There’s a great fulfilment in working in the energy sector and providing service to the surrounding community and thinking about the customers whose bills we reduce,” he says. That service ethic is similar to the one provided by the military in protecting the nation.
“Utilities have a great appreciation for veterans,” says Byboth.
The diverse and inclusive nature of the military translates well to the utility industry because it means veterans have excellent interpersonal skills and can adjust to the demands of various stakeholders, he says. The military’s emphasis on leadership and accountability also makes military personnel natural leaders.
It works the other way as well. This is because military personnel are open to being coached and have a positive mindset about improving their capabilities. To that end, Byboth says military professionals should look for mentorships early on in their utility careers. “Find someone who can translate civilian life to a veteran,” he says.
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