Liquefied natural gas
Canary Media’s Charging Up column chronicles gender diversity in the climatetech sector. Part one is a short Q&A with an industry role model about their career path. Part two features updates on career transitions. Please send feedback and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hannah Bascom: Leveraging corporate clout and utility know-how to drive energy innovation
Hannah Bascom is chief market innovation officer at Uplight. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.
How did you end up on this career path?
During college, I worked extensively with the public schools in Providence, Rhode Island, and after graduation, I joined an educational nonprofit, believing that nonprofits were central to social change. However, I began to realize nonprofits could only achieve so much. Large corporations have large philanthropic budgets, vendor relationships and a lot of political clout, so I made the decision to go back to grad school to try to go work for a large corporation and create social change from within.
During my business studies, I took a course on the future of clean energy. I was totally hooked because it was so interesting to think about the ways these new technologies were going to fundamentally change how we as a society consume energy — plus, it was also mission-aligned for me. I was fortunate to secure an internship, and later a full-time role, at PG&E in their customer-care division. I did a lot of things in that role, including managing the utility’s demand-side management portfolio to enhance customer technology experiences and the low-income program. It was in that role that I realized that understanding people’s needs was crucial for addressing climate challenges.
Another insight I gained was that PG&E’s innovations often came from collaborations with nimble tech startups. And so when I decided to leave PG&E, I specifically wanted to go and find that kind of an environment. I did a brief stint in utility consulting, and then I ended up joining Nest in 2014. We wanted to bring together my utility experience and Nest’s technology to help consumers achieve energy savings. I built partnerships that did a ton of market-development work to set up demand-response programs at scale. And then we got integrated into Google.
I stayed on for some of the integration work and then worked on Nest Renew — a platform to help customers live more sustainable lives. And that was really great work that I am very proud of, but after a few years, I felt the need to join an organization with climate as its core focus and a more entrepreneurial spirit. I transitioned to Span, working on electrification, and helped it evolve from a consumer product to an energy services company.
But when Uplight approached me, I could not resist. I have known the team for a long time and really believe in their potential, so I accepted the role of chief market innovation officer. My task is to foster market conditions conducive to decarbonization and then promote this to the world. It’s reminiscent of my early days at Nest — collaborative, exciting and challenging.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I don’t think that this was intended as career advice, per se, but my mom really instilled in me the belief that because I came from such an incredibly privileged and fortunate position in life, it was my responsibility to create social good. My dad grew up on an organic farm before organic farming was really a thing, and both of them really instilled in me that caring for the earth and caring for one another is so important — that has been a North Star for me, both in my career and my life.
What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech?
I see climate as encompassing a broad spectrum, so whether you’re inclined toward event planning, coding or grassroots organizing, there’s a place in the climate movement for you. With the rise of dedicated job boards and resources in the climate sector, it’s become a welcoming space that needs diverse talents.
I do also want to emphasize the value of utilities. A significant portion of professionals in utilities are nearing retirement, creating many opportunities. My own journey with a utility has been invaluable; they play a central role in driving change. Even if you decide to shift within the climate sector later on, understanding the dynamics of utilities will always be crucial.
What is your superpower?
My actual superpower is to be able to make dinner out of almost anything that is lying around in the pantry or fridge, but that’s probably not what your readers are looking for. I do think that skill translates to a work superpower — just the idea that you can always chart a path forward with your available resources, and then adapt as you go. That has proven to be really helpful in my career because it’s such a dynamic industry, and you always have to kind of roll with the punches but know that you are headed toward a full meal on the table — and ideally, even some dessert after that, too.
Aimee Witteman is Rewiring America’s new head of investment. Witteman is the former deputy assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy, the former Energy Foundation VP for states and regions, and the former director of U.S. states policy at the Climate Imperative Foundation. She spent a decade at the McKnight Foundation designing and leading their climate grantmaking program aimed at decarbonizing the Midwest economy.
Jennifer Peterson Rouda is now head of financial and technical assistance at the Alliance for Tribal Clean Energy, a nonprofit that offers energy-related support and guidance to Native American communities. Rouda is also a developer at Navajo Power and CEO of 7Skyline, an environmental consulting services firm.
For the record
Based on data from 29 countries, women working in the energy sector earn an average of 15 percent less than their male counterparts, even when controlling for skill and education levels, according to the International Energy Agency. The sector also employs 76 percent fewer women than men — a much more pronounced gender imbalance than the 8 percent difference in the general global workforce.
Check it out
Next week, the Inflation Reduction Act officially turns one! Join us for a live virtual event on Wednesday, August 16 — the first anniversary of the biggest climate bill in U.S. history becoming law. Canary Media’s Julian Spector will be chatting with David Crane, the Department of Energy’s Under Secretary for Infrastructure, about the IRA’s impact on the clean energy landscape over the last 12 months. You can register here!
This Colorado community is already living in the all-electric future