Meeting the New Generation of Energy Leaders


Leaders in Energy has grown into a global network of several thousand members, and each one of them has their own story to tell. At the 4th annual Clean Energy and Sustainability Extravaganza on February 23, 2018, I had the pleasure of spending some time catching up with a few attendees, including a few new Leaders in Energy members.

Armando Gaetaniello, Sales Manager, Neighborhood Sun

MA: Tell me about Neighborhood Sun. 

AG: Neighborhood Sun is your friendly clean energy social enterprise with a mission to empower neighborhoods to choose community solar. Community (or shared) solar allows electricity consumers to purchase solar from a local project, with no need to install any equipment. We were founded by the former leader of Clean Currents, the area’s first exclusively green energy company, which brought together thousands of people, businesses and organizations to switch to wind and solar power. Neighborhood Sun is the only community solar company that puts its members first above all other partners. By standing up for our members, we aim to be the most trusted, transparent solar brand in the market. For us, solar is about creating strong communities.

MA: What is your role in the Neighborhood Sun?

AG: I am shaping up the Sales efforts that are to be launched within the next few weeks. I’ve been working with Neighborhood Sun since January 2016, mostly doing Outreach and Marketing. While I am a big picture person and more of a researcher, I found great value in a business model that sits at the intersection of clean energy and an empowering socioeconomic angle.

MA: Tell us about some of your current projects.

AG: Some of my current projects are making sure that each utility territory in Maryland has a community solar option. Our 2018 portfolio consists of a dozen MWs of solar power across the state.

MA: What are some challenges or goals for the future?

AG: Making sure that the greatest possible number of residents on the East Coast can access solar energy! I would like to see our portfolio grow to at least 100 MWs of community solar projects in the next five years.

MA: Anything else you’d like to add?

AG: Leaders in Energy is an awesome organization that brings together wonderful people working in a great sector of the economy!

Ryan BlockMaster’s Student, Energy Policy, University of Maryland School of Public Policy

MA: What are you studying and how did you choose your field?

RB: I’m currently in the graduate program at the School of Public Policy studying energy and environmental policy. Starting at a young age, I collected rocks and minerals and that spurred my interest in geology. Later in high school, during an environmental science class, I realized that I loved the concepts, but hated conducting lab work. At the same time, I was involved in a youth group and participated in public advocacy and community service. As a result, I became interested in public policy, government, economics, and history.

When I got to UMD, I wanted to combine all of my interests in the natural sciences with my interests in the social sciences, and so I majored in Environmental Science and Policy. I became fascinated with energy systems and how we could leverage them to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Because climate change is a complex and interdisciplinary challenge, I decided to apply to the School of Public Policy so I could start my career in the energy and environmental field, and the rest is history.

MA: What’s next for you?

RB: After I finish the Master’s degree, my first goal is to find a job in energy/environmental policy analysis. It will have to be relevant to modernizing our energy grid through the integration of renewable energy sources. After a year or two, I aspire to attend law school so that I can study energy and environmental law. After completing law school, I hope to return to a renewable energy sector that is bigger than it is now, and I hope to find a job that will allow me to combine law and policy analysis to advance the energy and environmental sectors.

MA: What did you think of your first Leaders in Energy event?

RB: I heard about the Clean Energy & Sustainability Extravaganza event through a professor who spoke on the panel. The event was well-organized, and it was interesting to hear from the speakers about their research and private sector companies. I enjoyed networking the most because it gave me a few leads on where to look for a summer internship.

Aldrich Reuel Raj, Master’s Student, Sustainable Engineering, University of Maryland; President of UMD Chapter, Association of Energy Engineers (AEE)

MA: What are you currently studying in graduate school?

AR: I am currently pursuing Master’s in Sustainable Energy Engineering and Graduate Certificate in Energy Systems Management and Policy. I did my Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering, where I had few courses in Alternative Energy that further enhanced my interest in Energy industry.

I wish to work for a long time in the Energy industry in Consulting and Analyst roles, eventually becoming a subject matter expert. I would love to get more involved in Sustainability and Clean Energy. I am from India, where energy poverty is very much predominant. The energy industry has yet to be developed. What I wish to gain here is KNOWLEDGE and EXPERIENCE so that I can implement some initiatives back home to eradicate energy poverty.

MA: Congratulations on the new UMD Chapter of AEE, officially chartered today! How did you first start the student chapter?

AR: I came to the U.S. in fall 2017 with very little idea about the energy industry and job prospects. In the last five months I have learned a lot about the industry and how it is evolving on a daily basis. Though we get a lot of information on internet, we get the legitimate information through the people who work in the energy industry itself. I was fortunate enough to meet some professionals and gain some knowledge. However, I also wanted to be a part of a global community, which is why AEE seemed a good organization to join. I first checked with my college to see if they had a student chapter, so that I could be a part of it. But they didn’t have one, so together with friends who were equally interested, we decided to start a new student chapter at UMD. The chartering process went smoothly because of the support we got from the National Capital Chapter.

MA: How many members do you currently have? Do you have plans for future events?

AR: Currently, we have 25 student members, a chapter mentor, a faculty adviser and Co- adviser. We have a lot of things planned in the future, such as conferences, a World Energy Day celebration, Science fair, Career fairs etc. We are also planning to take up a Solar DJ project–you can see it’s going to be fun through the name itself!

Sabahat Fatima, Undergraduate Student, Electrical Engineering, University of Maryland

MA: What excites you most about the field of energy and sustainability?

SF: You turn your blinds to enjoy the refreshing sunlight… What if your window is coated with a clear solar energy-generating paint, powering your room? The vision of affordable and globally available solar energy draws me toward energy engineering. At the University of Maryland, I am studying electrical engineering due to the broad lens it gives on technologies.

The field of clean energy is exciting because it can help address our climate change problem, and with finding sustainable and secure sources of energy. Though research in solar is not very new, there is so much more to be discovered in this field – the opportunities are endless!

I started my work on solar cells in a house kitchen setting, and I am now able to work on transparent solar cells in the lab. I enjoy this field due to the diverse ways one can get involved, whether it be chemistry, engineering, finance, or education.

MA: What did you enjoy most about the Clean Energy and Sustainability Extravaganza?  

SF: I saw the promotional messages for the event around UMD, and the fact that this was clean energy related conference intrigued me. The idea of meeting many experts and enthusiasts in various fields related to clean energy was exciting. I particularly enjoyed meeting people in diverse parts of the clean energy industry, like sustainability investment, energy policy, and current clean technology applications in smart infrastructure.

MA: What do you hope to after finishing your undergraduate degree?

SF: I aim to be involved in helping to make next generation of solar energy and clean energy technologies available to the wider public. I plan on continuing research in graduate school, but I also want to engage in sharing this information and technology with students and people who do not have easy access. Through the Science Technology and Society Scholars program at the University of Maryland, I am able to think more about technology as part of a sociotechnical system, dependent on its relationship with society for any success/impact.

One important thing I am learning as a student researcher is to value the opportunities and resources that are available. Further on in my career, I want to support the many innovative young minds out there, in the same way I benefit from the many dedicated educators and mentors I am lucky to have.

Shyama Srikkanth, Undergraduate Student, Operations Management and Environmental Science and Policy, University of Maryland

MA: What are you studying?

SS: I am currently a third-year undergraduate student studying Operations Management and Business Analytics and Environmental Science and Policy. I have always been interested in the intersections between sustainability and business, and I believe that approaching environmental causes from data-driven and operational standpoints can be beneficial to enacting change. Quantitative models can be the driver for making environmental policy decisions. I am hoping to pursue graduate study in sustainable development and environmental economics or energy and resource management.

MA: This was your first Leaders in Energy event. What did you think of the Extravaganza?

SS: I heard about the Extravaganza event through the Director of the Federal Fellows program at the University of Maryland. I am alumna of the Energy and Environmental Policy Fellows Program here at UMD and was really excited to hear about an event that brought together professionals and businesses focused on promoting energy efficient practices. I was especially excited to hear from women leaders across the region who are making their mark in the clean energy and technology space. Since the event was being hosted at the University of Maryland for the first time, it was great to meet people from Leaders in Energy and the Association of Energy Engineers and hear about the types of career paths available to people interested in the future of global energy systems. Being a student volunteer was a great way to network with energy professionals and hear from them on current trends in the industry.

The most impactful part to me was hearing from the Women in Energy Panel, where each panelist explained how her non-traditional path led her to where she is now. It’s reassuring to me, as someone just starting out in my career, that there is no set path to follow to become involved in the energy sector.

MA: Do you know what you’d like to do when you finish your degree?

SS: After graduating from UMD, I hope to become involved in energy and environmental consulting or work for a consumer products company and work on projects that deal with sustainable supply chains. It is incredibly important to me to have a career that focuses on the importance of environment quality as a priority. As a junior, I am still looking to explore my options and get a better understanding of the several types of jobs available in the energy sector.

Leaders in Energy is building a community of engaged leaders to create a sustainable energy system, economy, and world. The three main areas of action are the green economy, sustainable communities, and multigenerational leadership. With operations in Metro Washington DC, we’ve built a base that spans most major metropolitan areas and over 100 countries. More information is available at and in the Leaders in Energy Research, Communication, Policies & Analysis (LERCPA) LinkedIn group


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