Jennifer Szaro: Overcoming Obstacles

June 17, 2009
Jennifer Szaro knows the challenges to renewable energy and knows how to overcome them.

Jennifer Szaro knows the challenges to renewable energy and knows how to overcome them. As renewable energy coordinator with Orlando Utilities Commission, she analyzes projects and programs with multiple lenses.

“One thing I’ve learned during my career is that the biggest challenge to making a renewable energy project work isn’t usually about making the technology work; it’s about managing change within the organization,” Szaro said.

In her current role, she manages the development and implementation of renewable energy, carbon reduction and alternative fuel programs for OUC and resides within the Customer Relations and Sustainability Business Unit.

OUC is the second largest municipal utility in Florida. It provides electric and water services to more than 254,000 customers in Orlando, St. Cloud and parts of unincorporated Orange and Osceola counties. To provide for future generations, it actively encourages conservation of the region's natural resources through renewable energy resource development and customer education.

Szaro will be sharing her advice for meeting challenges to renewable energy in the session, “Engaging Stakeholders and Educating Decision Makers,” on July 29 at the Utility Solar Conference in San Jose, California. She will cover OUC’s experience in obtaining a Solar America Cities grant from the U.S. Department of Energy with the city of Orlando and Orange County government. The utility, city and county worked together to promote the development of a long-term solar market in the region. Her session will provide a summary of their efforts to engage the local community about solar in a way that identifies key barriers, defines best practices and allows them to come to consensus on potential solutions through groupware-facilitated brainstorming and ranking sessions.

“It’s important to understand the challenges utilities face in reaching out to engage the customer about renewable energy. It’s especially important to help groups like renewable energy advocates understand that our decisions impact every single customer from a rate standpoint,” Szaro said. “We don’t just serve the customers that are willing to spend more on renewable energy; we must also serve customers that struggle to pay their monthly electric bill.”

As an instructor, Szaro has presented at the Florida Green Cities Conference on OUC’s sustainability efforts and green customer programs.

“The message I focused on was the value of diversity in our utility’s approach to power generation and the need to focus on the bigger picture for everyone’s long-term benefit,” she said.

Next month, she will be presenting about the development of renewable energy opportunities for the green job market to a class of undergraduate engineering students. As a coordinator, she works with nearly every business unit in the company as well as key external stakeholders to implement new programs.

“Our team-based approach allows us to view an issue from multiple perspectives and prevents silos from forming,” Szaro said. “It also encourages ownership of the project beyond our business unit. If people are a part of something, they are less likely to fight against it.”

Szaro’s interest in renewable energy was sparked when she was in college. She said that she had a “really great professor in undergrad with a passion for renewable energy. His name was Jack Parker. While taking a course with him my junior year in college, I fell madly in love with renewable energy and all of the solutions it could potentially bring to our society.”

Szaro also loves the excitement of change in her job. Her work is never dull and never done.

She said when she is not working, she is happiest when she is immersed in nature. She is interested in gaining a better understanding of industrial ecology, or using nature as the basis for designing human systems.

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