Interview with Tasha McCarter of RWE

Interview with Tasha McCarter of RWE

From SunPower to Silicon Ranch to now RWE, Tasha McCarter has provided engineering leadership at every stage in the lifecycle of a power plant. She is now tasked with ensuring continued cleantech growth by focusing on people, processes & technology for RWE, which has nearly 20,000 employees in 30 countries. In this Green Light episode, Catherine spoke with Tasha about where she anticipates the most utility-scale energy storage growth taking place in the coming years, & how she & her team are overcoming key obstacles to cleantech deployment through policy & technology. Tasha also shared her key tips on how to recruit & retain a diverse team; how her interest in energy was sparked by a literal light bulb during a third grade science project; & about the ways in which she is giving back by supporting other energy professionals.


Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me Tasha McCarter. Tasha is the VP of Cleantech Strategic Growth at RWE. Thanks for joining us, Tasha.

Tasha: Thank you. I’m happy to be here, Catherine.

Catherine: And Tasha is joining us from Austin, Texas, one of my favorite cities. So I’m a little jealous. I love it there. So, can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about your current role at RWE?

Tasha: Sure, of course, as you say it Tasha McCarter I am the VP of Cleantech Strategic Growth here at RWE. It is a new role for me. A new role for a company as a matter of fact, previously I was the VP of Project Engineering where I lead the technology agnostic execution of wind battery storage in green hydrogen once we bring more line facilities and solar, of course, but now in this new role, which I started on January 15th, my focus is on non project delivery tasks that support our ability to grow and sustain our growth. And really what that means is organizations have to be ambidextrous right you have to focus on delivery, but then you also have to focus on that engine, that content that creates continuous growth. So I’m looking at technologies of the future and what is relevant to RWE as we continue to grow and scale. I’m looking at our team, working with our team to upskill our team and position them for our growth trajectory, and then also focused on some other aspects of integrating our teams. So it’s really a people process technology focus that I have right now.

Catherine: You initially became interested in the energy sector from a science experiment in the third grade I hear? Can you share that story and what sparked your initial interest in energy?

Tasha: Yeah, and I love the story. Third grade was such a long time ago for me, and I like to give that teacher a hug if I could. But when I was in third grade, our science teacher was very hands on, different projects that we would do. And one project that we did was we hooked up some wires up to a hand crank generator. If you think of the old school pencil sharpener, that’s the hand crank generator. We hook some wires up between that and the light bulb. When we crank the generator, the light bulb came on. I was just so fascinated with that. I was just, just like wow, light is produced from something that’s so simple. That point, I knew or I said I want to do that for a living whatever it is. I was told at some point, in my youth, that that was engineering and that I should become an engineer. So hearing that knowing how it made me feel to be able to produce electricity, just continued that throughout my high school and then college career.

Catherine: I really love that. I love that. Sorry. You majored in electrical engineering, no surprise from that story. And also went on to receive your MBA. Can you talk a bit about how global conflict and energy security ultimately motivated you to focus on renewable energy?

Tasha: Oh, yeah. So when I finished undergrad, I started working in the architectural engineering space. And being from Detroit originally, a lot of our work was with the automotives and some healthcare facilities. So I spent the early part of my career designing power distribution systems for automotive facilities. And then I went on and got my MBA and then I did a few things in the commercial space about 17 years ago, which is quite some time ago. Now when I think about it. My husband took a job transfer from Michigan to Austin, Texas. And at that time I had an opportunity to kind of step back and recalibrate and think about what I really enjoy doing and where I could add most value. And at that time, renewables were in a relatively nascent stage that was like 2008 or so. The industry wasn’t at a nascent stage. I looked at it, I studied it, I did a SWAT analysis on myself. I thought about going back into engineering, which is what I was looking at, I said, I want to go back in space that I was passionate about, and around the same time that 2008 timeframe is when we were entrenched in a war in Iraq. It was my contemporaries that were actually physically over there fighting. We lost a few friends, as a result of physically being boots on the ground. And I told myself, if I move back into engineering, again, I want to do something that I’m passionate about and I felt that renewables at that time was a way for us to be able to diversify our energy mix. I weighed in my contribution of taking a pair of boots off the ground in Iraq because I truly felt that that was about oil over there and we needed to diminish our reliance on oil and this would be my contribution to that.

That is just so incredible, so powerful. Did you say your husband was in the military?

Tasha: Husband is not in the military. He was working with an IT company. Yeah. And a lot of people know were. Well, he had friends from undergrad that had gone into the military.

Catherine: From your roles at SunPower to Silicon Ranch to our RWE, you provided engineering support to virtually every stage in the lifecycle of building a power plant. What are some of the projects that you’re most proud of having worked on in your career?

Tasha: Most proud of working on? So working with SunPower was my entree into the industry. And so, we were at that point coming down the cost curve, focused on projects that were very large scale to facilitate coming down the cost curve, and then also ferret out some of the challenges that may exist on plants of smaller scale. And so, I ended up being at SunPower. When I started I was a utility scale design engineer. I became the lead engineer on Antelope Valley or solar star was the name of the plant and it was a 579 megawatt solar plant. And so this was the biggest design that I was responsible for. It was one of the most challenging, obviously, because, again, we were learning about the equipment as we were deploying it. And at that point, there was a lot of activity when it came to municipalities and engagement there. So it was a lot of things to drive and manage, and also support the design. So that’s the one that I’m most proud of, because of the scale and scope and just when it was in I think this was in 2014 timeframe, a few others that I’m definitely proud of. When I went to Silicon Ranch, there were a number of GA projects, one in particular CEO, I was very involved with delivering as a manager, but more importantly, as a partner with the utility. And so some of the ways and approaches that we engage with the utility made me proud to deliver that particular project.

Catherine: It’s so interesting to me too, because the projects that you’re mentioning like they’re really from coast to coast, you’ve worked so passionately, really not sort of what and region looks like. And, according to the EIA, US battery storage capacity has been growing since 2021, could increase by 89% by the end of 2024. If developers bring all of the energy storage systems they have planned online by their intended commercial operation dates. California, no surprise, has the most installed battery storage capacity of any state with 7.3 gigawatts, followed by Texas with 3.2 and Arizona with 800 megawatts. RWE has successfully completed projects in these regions as a robust storage pipeline. What challenges do you see when it comes to scaling energy storage deployments and how do you mitigate these challenges?

Tasha: Yeah, so let me start with the fact to say that the grid was not designed for renewables and definitely was not designed for battery storage projects. And so this alone makes it challenging because you’re faced with integrating a new technology into an existing legacy system. Right and by the nature of battery storage, being so diverse, and I would say that diverse in the standpoint of energy storage can be a generator. It can be low when it’s charging, it can be part of the critical infrastructure. And so when you look at the roles that battery storage plays, they can play multiple roles in any given setting. And our policy framework was not written to support one single technology operating in so many different ways. Well, I would say that the regulatory and energy frame of the policy framework is one of the biggest challenges because right now, as it stands, when you go from region to region, ISIL to ISO, NERC and FERC you have a different set of policies, across all these different entities. And so you really have to get strategic in terms of how you pick your markets that you play in the readiness of those particular markets, given some of those complexities. So, our web as a company is committed to finding that path forward regardless of the market, with the goal of scaling our energy mix, or our delivery mix from 1%, last year up to 25%. So when we’re looking to deploy and restore it, it makes a lot of business sense, especially when you look at the Texas and Arizona and California markets. Were committed to doing what it takes to support policy, shape policy, and drive technology such that it cuts down the cost curve. So I would say just the legacy and the legacy construction of our energy system. That’s the biggest challenge, but we are committed to overcoming that challenge.

Catherine: Where do you see the most opportunity for growth outside of those three states? Just curious.

Tasha: Great question. I think that we’re starting to see some opportunities, say in the Midwest, and Illinois, as an example. I would say that that would be probably the next big market. And that’s about, Georgia’s uptake at this point. I’ve spent some time in Georgia reports when I was in silicon Ranch, but I’m not sure about the uptake there. But definitely in the Midwest, as the interconnection partners PJM. And as some of the companies there start to commit to the storage concept.

Catherine: A little bit now about diversity. I mean, you’ve had a very successful career renewable energy and have unsurprisingly moved into managerial roles as your careers progressed. Do you find it kind of challenging to recruit a diverse team? What are some of the recommendations that you might have for managers looking to diversify their teams?

Tasha: So I would say that, is it possible? Yes. Do you have to be intentional? Absolutely. And so, just basically when you think about diverse I think about gender diversity, I think about ethnic diversity and you think about when I’m part of our engineering organization, there’s the population, the energy engineering population and community is not a huge community, right? How do you find talent in this community? So first, of all, there are individuals out there, and I’ll just use an example. Folks that I’ve recruited, over the last few years, were actually brought to me by a recruiter, and he was very deliberate in going out and sourcing talent. Now did that individual fit the exact same description at the time? No. And I was in the process of building my team, but I’ll give you, I’ll say that as I was building my team, I was able to be creative about how I shaped those roles, and how a person could fit within those roles. And deliver value and then so on and so forth, apply the same concept with additional hires. So I would say that you have to be creative and you have to be deliberate and you have to be intentional when you’re sourcing talent, understanding that they are just as bright as anyone they might not have had the same set of experiences, but they’re very capable of delivering on your goals.

Catherine: I think that’s great. That’s great advice. You’ve attributed some of your career success to fostering strong communities. And you’ve also been a big proponent of mentorship. And can you share more about the role that organizations like WRISE have played for you in your career? I’d also like to hear more about your involvement with EDICT and elemental accelerator and ways in which you’re giving back by supporting early stage career professionals. Obviously gave one example but hiring them, which is good. So if you could talk a little bit more about other ways that you’re helping as well.

Tasha: Yeah mentorship is definitely very important. And, my interaction with WRISE came a little bit later in my career. WRISE has probably been it was it was women of wind energy, actually, years ago, and I became aware of the organization when I moved here to Austin, I was looking away to get into the industry. At that time, the focus was a little bit different, but as the organization pivoted to WRISE, I really started to engage. And Kristen was the executive director at the time, having dialogue with her listening to some of the leadership forum content, participating in being on panels when it came to the leadership foreign. So it really at this point in my career, was more of a gift take where I would engage and support the concept of mentor mentoring and sharing my knowledge, but then at the same time, learning from some of the more senior keynote delivery type, visuals, so it was that back and forth. So elemental accelerator in my EDICT interaction came through my experience with Seelye. So a couple of years ago, I was part of the CELI cohort and I believe it was, pandemic there were so many years that that seemed to blend together. I believe, as I was in a 2020 class of CELI and that’s when I became And that’s clean energy Leadership Institute for those who don’t know. but during that time, I became aware of the edict program and the edict program focus was primarily to work with men and people of color to bring them into the industry so targeting college age students, giving them an opportunity to learn more about the industry, so that they can be conversant when they went out there and started to explore the job market. So, I was very attracted to that. This was a hands-on, high-touch way to equip this segment of the population with tools and knowledge to be able to come into the industry. And so Esther created the first EDICT advisory board and I sat on it and we shaped some curriculum. I delivered some content. I’ve mentored a few students. And so that was my involvement with edict at the time, which is in partnership with Elemental Excelerator, that’s a mouthful.

Catherine: One of the things that would be interesting to me is like, how did you find getting into the industry because I feel like back, you were getting into the industry. Maybe it was a little bit easier because it was such a new industry. Everyone was getting in the industry, because I just feel like now there seems to be this resistance to hire people who are not in the industry, and I just continue to find it baffling. Like, wow, are we meant to fill these jobs if we’re not allowing anyone else to come in.

Tasha: Yeah. And, it’s interesting to your point that everything’s about supply and demand. And so, when I came into the industry back in 2011. Now, granted, I had worked for a number of years, both in engineering and commercial space. So I was bringing stuff to the table. A lot of people had, say industry specific experience. So when I pitched my background to the individual that hired me, I had the functional background that was a right fit. So it made sense. Now as you look at it now what 13 or so 14 years later, you’re right, in terms of how the industry has grown. And now people in theory would have three to five years experience. People are now focusing on that past experience which is really not a predictor to success, to be honest. And so we have to be cognizant of the industry. What it takes to continue to sustain the growth of this industry, right? Yes, we want good talent. We also want talent that has a fit, right in terms of commitment and this is not necessary, but this is my own story. When I got on the solar coaster and the reason why I’ve stayed on the solar coaster is because I’m committed to eradicating climate change. I was committed to diminishing boots on the ground. We have to look a little bit broader when we’re sourcing talent, because then sometimes it’s those individuals that are committed to the concept of the industry but may not necessarily have had industry experience. That can be some of your best team members.

Catherine: I totally agree. The next question, titled Calculated Genius, which I’ve seen super intrigued by, you’re also involved in an organization called Calculated Genius. Tell me about this and why you decided to support it.

Tasha: Yeah, Calculated Genius is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, and the founder of Kim and I’m going to just get cat plays her last name right now, but Kim is an African American, a woman who owns a engineering design firm, and I think she probably has the largest engineering design firm in the nation. She’s flown under the radar for years, and she’s really been growing her team. Her team does transmission and distribution design. And I connected with her additionally, if I connected with her as she was starting to get her nonprofit calculated genius when the time came and they were looking for board members, I’ll put my name in the hat to become a board member because her approach to grooming talent you know is different than a lot of other organizational approaches. As I mentioned, I value the EDICT program, high touch, high impact type of engagement. You won’t necessarily find 1000s of people that are part of the program. What you will find is a few 100 People who have really been groomed really have not only talked about engineering, but talked about other aspects, more wraparound types of topics and aspects that can support them into getting into the industry and then saying in the industry. If you look at a certain segment of population, there might be some concerns that they may have versus the broader set, a broader population. And so really kind of understanding, is it a ride to school that is a big problem for you, that’s just a personal thing, but it can make a difference for certain. And so it’s that type of wraparound high touch, high impact service that they’re providing to these young women is what I’m attracted to and that’s where I tend to lend my time.

Catherine: Kimberly Moore.

Tasha: Kimberly Moore! Thank you. Sorry Kim.

Catherine: Okay, great. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us and I really wish you the best of luck in your new role at RWE.

Tasha: Thank you