Charging Up: A chat with Tracey Ogden, VP of drilling operations at Brightcore Energy
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.
Tracey Ogden: A veteran geothermal driller with an eye toward the future
How did you end up on this career path?
I have been in the drilling space for about 30 years. Twenty-six of those have been in geothermal. I was part of a family-owned drilling company, eager to find more opportunities to keep our rigs running, and in 1995, after installing a few geothermal wells, it dawned on me that this could be a viable way to ensure our equipment stayed operational. I could see that geothermal energy would become more prominent in the future, and I had heard some rumblings that legislation would begin to favor sustainable energy sources. With that foresight, I got certified as a geothermal installer by Oklahoma State University in 1997, adding to my credentials as a licensed driller.
Fast-forward to now. I recently joined Brightcore Energy in a role that has reignited my interest in drilling and sustainability. I have the exciting task of building out the drilling division for a company that’s been in this space for about four years.
One project I’m notably proud of is the Java Street Project in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York, which is one of the largest residential geothermal projects in the country. Besides this, I’m involved in other confidential projects with some Ivy League institutions, and expanding our operations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and New Hampshire. I’ve kind of spread my wings a bit. There’s a lot of grant money available, and we’ve been able to capture that.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I don’t know about the best piece of advice I have received, but the best advice I could give someone is that often mistakes are the best lessons. Because I have been doing this for so long, I have a lot of lessons under my belt and have learned how to do things better from a process standpoint. And geothermal is evolving — 30 years ago, there weren’t many experts or professional installers of these systems, so we learned a lot from trial and error in the field. I would also say that it’s important to learn from those of us who have been doing hands-on work and have significant experience in the field.
What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it?
I can’t say that there’ve been very many barriers in my own experience. I’m tenacious, so I tend not to take no for an answer, and I like to just power through things. But as an industry, as this technology is growing, we’ve encountered some workforce issues. We need to develop and train the workforce; we need dollars to help drive this technology and to help us build plants to make the equipment such as rigs or the mechanical pieces we use inside the wells. There is also a supply-chain issue — it takes months and sometimes years to get the equipment needed to install a system.
What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech?
There’s so much opportunity and room for growth in this industry, but we need to find a way to ignite the minds of the younger generation. Drillers are an aging group. We tend to be born into this business — if your dad was a driller, you’re a driller too. But we need young blood to come in. A lot of these projects for geothermal use federal or state funding, so there is great potential for them to have prevailing wages or apprenticeship programs where there is room for growth to become a journeyman and then become a master installer, just like there are programs for plumbers and electricians. I think the [opportunities are] endless at this point. It’s a growing profession.
What is your superpower?
I don’t know if it’s a superpower, but I’ve been around for a long time. I’ve been a driller for many years; I own a drilling company. I grew up with a drilling background. And I’ve been a consultant where I’ve tried to teach people from a construction standpoint how to do these projects properly, how to save money and how to level bids. So I think that I strike that balance between being the person who installs it and the person who’s going to own it. I can bring the owners and the construction teams together because I’ve been on both sides of the business.
Christine Weydig is now VP of transportation at AlphaStruxure, a joint venture of Schneider Electric and the Carlyle Group that designs, finances, builds, owns, operates and maintains sustainable, customer-sited energy infrastructure. Weydig previously served as executive director at the Coalition for Reimagined Mobility and in sustainability and energy leadership roles at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.
Anissa Rodriguez Dickerman is now chief executive officer at Pecan Street. Dickerman has extensive leadership experience applying big data analytics to policy and systems in the education field. Most recently, Dickerman served as chief program officer for a national nonprofit centered on system-level leadership and professional learning for educators. Pecan Street is a nonprofit institute focused on climatetech applied research and commercialization.
Claire Broido Johnson has joined Inspiration Mobility, an EV solutions platform, as chief operating officer. Johnson was previously COO at Fermata Energy, and before that, she was a co-founder at SunEdison, once the largest solar energy services provider in North America.
Lara Cottingham, previously vice president of strategy, policy and climate impact at startup incubator Greentown Labs, is now the operations and program management lead at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations.
Check it out
Canary Media is hosting a live event at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, California on Tuesday, October 3. Tickets to attend in person are sold out, but you can tune in to the livestream here from 6–9:30 p.m. PT. The event will include conversations with expert panelists from government, advocacy groups and VC firms, including State Senator Josh Becker, Nancy Pfund of DBL Partners, Arthur Bart-Williams of Grid Alternatives, Mona ElNaggar of Valo Ventures, Bernadette Del Chiaro of the California Solar & Storage Association, and more.