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My journey with Schneider Electric began back in the fall of 2019. Amongst a floor of a dozen or so companies during Duke’s annual energy week, my interaction with Sam from Schneider Electric’s left a deep impression – she was not only herself a Duke Nicholas School of the Environment alumni, but also answered my questions patiently and earnestly, despite the fatigue after interacting with so many other students earlier that evening.
Several months later, a site visit to a microgrid manufacturer further added to my curiosity as I stood inside a controller enclosure. If you are not familiar with the technology, a microgrid is an integrated energy system with defined electrical boundaries and can enable interconnected loads and generation assets to operate in parallel with the grid or in an islanded mode. A switch was pressed, the generators outside started to hum, and just like that the site had transitioned from parallel to island mode. In that moment, I realized that this technology had the potential to challenge conventional wisdom. In Japan, the country I grew up in, “shoganai” was a phrase many uttered when faced with a situation that couldn’t be helped; it was better to accept fate and move on.
As with any other natural disaster the archipelago has had to endure, many responded with sighs of “shoganai” after Fukushima. Even as I write this, heavy flooding and torrential rains in southern parts of Japan have highlighted the need for a more resilient system. I still remember the beads of sweat across my brow in a crowded Tokyo elevator highlighted the fragility of the modern power system as utilities struggled to meet air conditioning load without baseload nuclear power.
Driven by curiosity and wanting to help, Duke University Energy Initiative generously funded my experience while the Schneider Electric team took on the risk of taking me on during uncertain times. This summer, I have been entrusted with the responsibility of helping to run qualification analysis of microgrid projects in North America. As the first step in project development, our team tells the story of “it can be helped” to energy resiliency, sustainability and cost barriers. Since the start, no two days have been the same as it is often said of microgrids: “once you’ve seen one microgrid, you’ve seen one microgrid” (and no that’s not a typo).
Though unfortunate not be able to experience Nashville, transitioning to teleworking has been seamless with the help of my team. My coworkers have gone on to prove that Sam is not a one off; their response speeds are the envy of customer service reps. It has also been intriguing to witness Schneider Electric’s ‘multi-local’ business strategy in action to allow for flexibility and responsiveness while still able to harness global expertise.
As a solution architect, my main responsibility is to recommend the optimally sized distributed energy resources necessary to solve the challenges our customers face. One of my favorite things about this experience has been that the proposals I have drafted and the models I have run have all been used to engage our clients. Not only has my internship helped me to bridge the gap between classroom knowledge and real-world application, but also impressed the importance of continual learning as technology, regulation, and customer needs evolve.
As I near the end of my summer at Schneider Electric, I can’t help but think that perhaps there is a way to help one of the most pressing issues we face today both in North America and elsewhere. As Mark Feasel, President of Smart Grids, North America, often says at the end of his online meetings: “take care of yourself, take care of our customers, and take care of the company”. I am proud to be a part of Schneider Electric as we tackle these challenges.
About the Author
Shawn Li is a Solutions Architect Intern for Schneider Electric. He will be graduating in 2020 with a Masters in Energy & Environment Management from Duke University. In his free time, you’ll most likely find him working on his red Miata NA.
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