In this Greentech Media series, we’re asking people with jobs in cleantech — from installing solar panels, to permitting wind projects, to promoting building energy efficiency software — to tell us what they really do all day.
We hope this series can serve as a source of information and inspiration for recent graduates, cleantech professionals planning their careers or anyone who wants to transition into the industry. We also hope it makes cleantech opportunities more visible and accessible to those groups, including women and people of color, who are underrepresented in our growing industry.
What do people in energy storage business development do?
2019 was the biggest year ever for energy storage in the United States. As of late 2019, there were planned or contracted utility-scale storage projects in 47 states, per Wood Mackenzie.
Laura Meilander is one of the people working to expand the energy storage market even further. Meilander is vice president of business development at Convergent Energy + Power, a storage-focused developer, owner and operator based in New York. She is responsible for growing Convergent’s book of business with utility companies.
“The [utility business development] team’s goal is to build as many energy storage projects as possible, as long as it is advantageous and feasible for both us and the utility customer,” Meilander explained.
Front-of-the-meter storage has found a foothold across the United States by providing a range of services, according to Wood Mackenzie’s most recent Energy Storage Monitor. Services for utilities include ancillary services in the territories of PJM, NYISO, ERCOT, ISO-New England and CAISO, standalone and solar-paired capacity applications, and distribution upgrade deferral and non-wires solutions in constrained parts of New York and Massachusetts.
“As part of my role, I identify and connect with utilities that could benefit from a battery storage system. As a result, I am constantly communicating with potential customers,” said Meilander.
Meilander’s day-to-day involves finding potential customers, pitching her company’s value proposition to prospects and then tracking her progress on the back end in her company’s customer relationship management (CRM) platform.
Having a strong CRM tool is crucial in this kind of role, where organization is key. Keeping track of who she has been in touch with helps Meilander stay organized and allows her colleagues to see the status of her client meetings.
Laura Meilander of Convergent Energy + Power
Prior to COVID-19, her business development role involved a lot of travel. Meilander notes that the further along one is on the path of a business development career in storage, the more travel is required to see site locations and utilities.
In her efforts to grow the company’s portfolio, Meilander is on the road often for meetings, as well as attending and speaking at conferences to raise awareness of her company and the value-add of energy storage.
What skills are needed for storage business development?
To achieve success as a business development professional, one “need[s] to feel comfortable speaking with potential clients about energy storage,” said Meilander.
For newcomers to the storage space, Meilander advised, “It is important to have a fundamental understanding of the industry and how the electric grid works. If you are able to speak this language, it will make you more credible.”
A technical degree (Meilander has a degree in chemical engineering) may be useful for this but is not required. Meilander and her team also make sure to keep up with energy storage industry news and regulatory changes that might affect Convergent’s business.
Sales skills, from technical skills like originating and signing contracts to soft skills like relationship-building, are needed for a business development role.
“A key aspect [of the job] is being able to build trust and relationships between yourself and the potential client,” said Meilander. It is crucial to understand electric utilities’ goals and concerns and collaborate with them to achieve their project needs, but ultimately, she adds, “Trust is what is going to get the project signed.”
As a vice president, Meilander also manages staff. She spends time considering how to promote the professional growth of her reports and helps identify the areas in which they may need more training.
Because Meilander and her team are operating in a nascent industry, there is no blueprint for many of the things they do. Furthermore, the company is small, so employees need to be resourceful when problem-solving.
“People at my company wear many hats and help out where they can,” said Meilander. Being generous with your time is important in a growing company. When Meilander is able to lend her expertise to her colleagues, she will pause what she is doing in order to help them out and then jump back into her own work.
“Everyone helps [one another] out,” she said.
Meilander also recommends that business development professionals find a mentor to coach them when they are first starting out, in order to become confident in negotiating with clients and making projects happen.
What might people not know about being in business development?
“What I do requires a lot of organization,” said Meilander.
“At the moment, I am talking with 50 potential customers about their project needs, but really the number of people I talk to is double that amount, which includes contacts that haven’t necessarily shown interest in projects yet.”
Keeping track of all these relationships and deciding how to best prioritize different conversations can be challenging.
Not only is Meilander responsible for managing the client relationship through project completion, but she is also the point of contact for the customer even after a project is completed and in operation.
“Even after a signed contract, I am still the relationship owner, even though other team members will be helping out, [such as] our project management team.”
What’s your favorite thing about your role?
Meilander enjoys helping utilities transition from natural gas and coal-fired electricity to renewable energy.
“When we deploy these projects, it’s typically the first energy storage project for these utilities, so we are really helping to lay the groundwork for a more renewable and reliable grid,” Meilander said.
She also notes that when utilities invest in energy storage projects, it can save them money in the long run.
“I find it extremely rewarding that we are using energy storage to solve the customer’s problems and reduce costs for them…[while supporting] the grid and the future of renewable energy.”
What are the biggest challenges you face? Further, what might stop someone from succeeding in your role?
In Meilander’s role, educating potential customers is a challenge.
A business development person may need to hold multiple seminars for multiple groups within the utility in order for everyone to be on the same page. Meilander explains, “This role requires a lot of patience, as it can take time to gain the trust you need from the utility and get everyone up to speed on how energy storage can benefit their business.”
Business development professionals must be willing to “take the journey with the customer, all the way from education, to understanding, to choosing to pursue a project.”