The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with Mazen Turk of Greenwood Sustainable Infrastructure
With a name like RENEWPR, we are often viewed as a renewable energy-only PR firm. We aren’t, but renewables and sustainability are an important part of our work and a key area of interest and focus (particularly since we’ve worked on numerous wind and solar campaigns and client projects). So we were thrilled when our friends at The Libra Group re-introduced us to Greenwood Sustainable Infrastructure (GSI), a company we had worked with previously.
GSI is led by Chief Executive Officer Mazen Turk. We have the good fortune of working with Mazen and his team to help promote their work, including the announcement earlier this year of a terrific new solar energy acquisition. Given GSI’s focus on sustainable projects across the country, it made sense to profile them and talk with Mazen about their work. We’re thrilled to include Mazen in the Common Sense Colloquy series.
At GSI, Mazen focuses on GSI’s growth strategy through development and acquisition of early-stage utility scale solar PV and battery projects. Mazen also oversees the operational asset management of the company’s numerous sustainable energy project portfolios. The company “develops, invests in, and manages sustainable infrastructure assets, such as renewable and waste to energy projects throughout North America.” Prior to joining GSI, Mazen held several managerial positions at other Libra Group subsidiaries. In these roles, Mazen had responsibility for managing the day-to-day operations of distributed generation solar projects and engaging in business development activities aimed at growing the Libra Group’s renewable energy portfolios.
Mazen is a registered Professional Engineer in New York State and began his career as a Civil Engineering Consultant focusing on large transportation and infrastructure projects for the private and public sector. In addition to his strong background in sustainability, Mazen has a clear understanding of how markets affect development and what that means for long-term project opportunities.
My thanks to Mazen for sharing his wisdom with us – and you.
Q: How would you describe the state of the clean energy marketplace today? What are the current challenges and opportunities?
A: I have always viewed the renewable energy market in the US, whether it is the Mandatory/ Compliance Market, or the Voluntary market, as a highly policy-driven market. Regulatory regimes not only affect the end user or purchaser of green power, they affect all stakeholders from developers, to utilities, and the investment community (among others). There is no doubt that the switch to renewable energy is necessary and already happening at a large scale due to favorable economic policies, but it is not without its challenges:
1. Adoption of renewable energy at a large scale requires a large reform in the country’s power infrastructure. The power grid in the US dates to the early 1950s and was built for fossil fuel plants. The grid is in need of capacity upgrades and smart grid updates to handle the variability and intermittency of the various renewable technologies including battery storage.
2. Developers and investors continue to face long-term price predictability over the lifetime of the project. This is especially challenging as long term contracted revenue (i.e., long term PPAs) are steadily getting shorter. Developers and investors don’t like volatility and uncertainty.
3. As renewable technology continues to become more and more affordable, there is an influx of projects fighting for interconnection queues across all major utilities in the US. Utilities are often bogged down with numerous interconnection applications, some of which will never materialize, creating a backlog and straining the utilities.
The most interesting opportunity for renewables is in the storage space. As the cost of batteries continues to decrease, the widespread use of batteries can improve grid stability. Allowing utilities or independent power producers to deploy power when needed the most not only stabilizes the demand and supply, but also helps minimize major infrastructure upgrades to the grid.
Q: What do you think the renewable energy industry needs to do or say differently to continue to grow and prosper? Are there key messages that you think need to be highlighted in outreach and promotion?
A: The goal of the renewable energy sector is to eliminate our reliance on burning of fossil fuels and to deploy clean sustainable renewable energy solutions to counter climate change. Traditional power plants have historically been large-scale centralized facilities which are located far from the end user such as coal-fired power plant and nuclear plants. The various technologies used in the renewable energy sector have created the ability to decentralize the power supply; now referred to as distributed generation. Distributed generation has many environmental advantages, and its use reduces the amount of electricity that must be generated. Distributed generation, however, does require a mix of local, state, and federal policies to compete with the traditional power plant.
In addition, the deployment of decentralized power generation requires a smart grid. The challenge of upgrading the power grid in the US cannot be understated. It is crucial this is highlighted in the context of regulatory regimes so that utilities can keep pace with growing demand. A digitalized smart grid needs government expenditures and should be led by the utilities. Grid planners and operators face significant complexities especially with the deployment of electric vehicles and grid interactive residential solar. With the new mix of technology, the grid must now adapt to these variables load patterns and bidirectional power flows.
Q: What have you learned in your engineering career that has been applicable to your role at GSI? Any key lessons that you have applied to help GSI succeed?
A: One of the fundamental techniques of problem solving is the reverse engineering approach. Reverse engineering is the act of breaking down or dismantling an object to find out how it works. The knowledge gained from understanding how things work, gives you the ability to recreate a system or an object with added enhancement. Being an engineer by education, I learned to apply this systematic and analytical approach to problem solving. Breaking down one big problem into may smaller problems makes it easier to systematically find smaller solutions.
Also, in a competitive environment such as the solar sector in the US, the adoption of new technologies can be a game changer for certain projects. Whether it is the deployment of automation to improve efficiencies and reduce cost, or the use of new products aimed at increasing revenue, the deployment of the appropriate technology can improve the economics of a project and increase its value. The effective deployment of technology requires a deep technical know-how and experience, and when combined with the appropriate capital structure, optimum performance can be achieved.
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?
A: Listening. A good listener has the ability to “peel the onion” and get to the core of the matter. When people sense that you distracted and not mindful of the conversation, they refrain from sharing the core truth. By being a good listener, your conversation partner will be aware that they have your full, nonjudgmental attention, enabling better communications.
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?
A: Other than listening, my advice would be to speak less, and keep things simple. Being calculated with your words is not only prudent, but it is also a more effective way to communicate. Being concise and relevant ensures your audience is focused on the message.