Welcome Josh Gould, New Expert in the Digital Utility Community- [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]
- Jun 3, 2021 12:28 pm GMT
We spend a lot of time on Energy Central talking about innovation, but it’s not a buzzword to us—it’s way more than that. Our community members truly take innovation to heart and they’re constantly looking for the best and most exciting new programs that will be taking their utilities and stakeholders to the next level.
We want to make sure you continue to hear from the innovation leaders across the industry, and a key area to keep an eye on for that is the Energy Central Network of Experts. This network is made up of the elite group of Energy Central Community Members who are established thought leaders across the industry and are helping to drive the future of utilities, and today we welcome another expert member who does just that via his work in innovation.
Josh Gould is the Director of Innovation at Duquesne Light and he’s constantly on the lookout for the next great technology, program, and idea that will inject new life and opportunity into the power sector. Specifically when it comes to the Digital Utility Group, Josh is known to have a keen eye for what to watch. As such, I was excited to get to interview him as a new member for a session of the Energy Central Power Perspectives ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series’:
Matt Chester: This interview is one of the most direct ways we have to introduce you to the Energy Central Community so they know to keep you in mind as they have questions on your topics of expertise or to know why they should pay attention to your posts. So, can you give a quick background on what your background is in the utility industry and what your areas of expertise are today?
Josh Gould: My career is all about the intersection of energy and innovation. I started as a strategy consultant to utility clients and then caught the entrepreneurial bug to do my own startup: Energy storage advisory services in 2009. I was right about the market, but a few years early! That startup got folded into another startup, and I eventually made my way to the “moonshot” energy agency within the Department of Energy: ARPA-E. I was responsible for commercialization of our power systems portfolio, both hardware and software. I then joined Con Edison in New York City and started an innovation group there called the “Innovation Hub” before joining Duquesne Light in late 2019 to launch and lead the Innovation Center there.
Given that history, my key area of expertise is around innovation in the utility industry. That includes the “soft stuff” of change management, communication, and culture change at a utility. I can also speak to the “nuts and bolts” of innovation at a utility – everything from how you set up a group, to how you budget for it, to how do you determine what to fund and work on – as well as best practices for selling an innovative product or service into a utility. Given my “day job,” I also have a good pulse on emerging vendors and technologies relevant to our industry – everything from power flow control devices, to LiDAR and GIS technology, to AI-enabled solutions for both customers and operations.
MC: Innovation is the common theme running through your career and your focus today. Can you share what are some of the most challenging new innovations you’ve had to bring to fruition in your experience? What made them so difficult to overcome?
JG: For very good historical and regulatory reasons, utility incentives and business models are designed to optimize for safety and stability over trying new things. Innovators are therefore “swimming upstream” at each stage of the process. I find this is particularly true of new hardware solutions in this industry.
There’s the “chicken and egg” effect of having enough deployments/history under one’s belt to make a customer feel comfortable, having the appropriate financing and insurance, finding product/market fit, getting customers to actually buy what you’re producing and last – but certainly not least – ensuring that something new/different actually works. Because hardware solutions have more obvious and potentially more dangerous “failure modes” than software – and they often lack a recurring revenue stream that software has and are therefore often more difficult to finance against – they are tough innovations to bring to market.
The best experience I had of overcoming this challenge was at Con Edison selling a meter collar device designed to more cheaply and safely interconnect solar. For this effort, all the stars aligned: it dovetailed perfectly with what our regulators wanted, it was an area of strategic need/focus for the utility, solar installers wanted to sell and distribute it, the technology worked, the vendor was trustworthy, and perhaps most important of all, it was something customers wanted. Where you can get all pieces of the value chain aligned – from regulators, to the utility, to customers – you can overcome some of the inherent industry challenges to innovation.
MC: As an expert in the digital utility community, you surely have your finger on the pulse of where this sector is headed. Care to share any predictions or forecasts for the coming years of digitalization that may surprise our community members to hear?
JG: One: Innovation will accelerate. Ok maybe this isn’t a surprise but gratuitous Energy Central reference to the reasons why are here. Pandemics and periods of great social upheaval displace capital, people, old ways of working and create vast new opportunities in their wake. Think of the societal forces at work here almost like tectonic plates under the earth. What’s driving innovation is greater, stronger, and longer than any specific policy or politician and the impact will be greater as well.
Two: Innovation will come from the intersection of multiple trends. Big data, automation, imaging technology, automation, robotics, energy storage, machine learning, and I could go on. All are important but history also shows the most game changing innovations come not from one trend but the combination of multiple ones. For instance, Google and modern internet search relied upon the confluence of greater internet usage and the inherent network effects therein, all enabled by cheap microchips, to make search fast and easy. The Model T changed transportation not only because of new mass production techniques, but also the mature railroad network that could bring a reliable source of high quality materials like steel to factories.
I don’t know which combination of current trends will be the winning ones, but I am sure it’s the combination or intersection of existing innovations will be the ones to truly “change the game.”
Three: Most – but not all – of innovation will be net positive to the utility industry. The grid will become more – not less – important as a means to integrate and enable distributed resources, electric transportation, and electric aviation. But that increased importance and reliance on the grid will not come without challenges. Climate change, the attendant extreme weather events, and cyber attacks will also demonstrate the downsides of that reliance. While the grid becomes more important, the downsides and shortcomings of both the grid and utilities will also become even more apparent in coming years.
MC: Working at the cutting edge can be quite exciting, but it also means you’re more likely to run into people saying no to new ideas or doubting that certain things are possible. Have you found that to be the case, and if so, how have you learned to keep pushing along when it may feel like you’re hitting a brick wall?
JG: I love that you’re asking this question, because it’s such an underappreciated component of why an innovation job is not all fun! Encountering no’s and naysayers is very real. What distinguishes successful entrepreneurs and “intrapraneurs” is the following, uncommon mix: persistence in the face of doubts, challenges, and naysayers AND active listening / an open mind to solicit and address the feedback that the naysayers are giving. In other words, it’s critical to have a deep reservoir of persistence, but also a sufficiently open mind to listen to feedback and criticism and adjust one’s approach along the way.
It’s an interesting question as to how or why one develops both skills. I think both persistence and active listening are skills that can be learned, but active listening much more so. Ultimately the key to persistence is to believe deeply in what you’re doing, and to believe in yourself. Ultimately my personal motivation comes from being able to help people, whether customers or employees. Having an impact on people’s lives inside or outside of work is the ultimate motivator for me.
MC: What motivated you to get more involved with the Energy Central Community—what’s in it for you? And as an expert on Energy Central, we’re definitely looking forward to the insights you’re going to be able to bring—so what value are you hoping to impart to your fellow community members?
JG: As I alluded to before, I derive the most personal and professional satisfaction out of helping people. I can’t deny there’s also some enlightened self-interest there. The more utilities we can get to innovate successfully, the more it helps us all (and especially people like me who are in the trenches). Ultimately, I’m very motivated to do what I can to see utility innovators (both inside and outside) succeed!
MC: Anything else you want to share to let people get to know you more?
JG: Long ago in my undergrad days, I was a soccer player. I remain deeply in love with the sport, and also with English Premier League side Arsenal. Unfortunately for me, my team has fallen from once lofty heights but if there are any Energy Central readers who also revel in the recent misery of being an Arsenal supporter, I would love to hear from you.
Thanks again to Josh Gould for joining our Expert Network and sharing his time and experience with the community. As you see Norbert engaging across Energy Central, be sure to share any comments or questions with him to tap into his wealth of knowledge!
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