Charging Up: Climatetech career moves at Sunrun, SunPower, Enel, NextEra, Virtual Peaker, Elemental and more

Plus, a Q&A with battery expert Linh Tran, VP of sales at FranklinWH Energy Storage.

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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 [email protected]​canarymedia.​com. Canary thanks GAF Energy for its support of this column.

Linh Tran: An energy storage expert who knows how to make something out of nothing

Linh Tran
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Linh Tran is an energy storage and battery expert who is currently VP of sales at FranklinWH Energy Storage Inc. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for brevity.

1. How did you end up on this career path? 

The short answer is waiting tables. I had just finished my MBA and I was waiting tables while also working at the plutonium facility at Lawrence Livermore Labs as a senior electronic technologist. One night, executives from Comverge, a California aggregator with offices next door, came into the restaurant and we got to talking. They were interviewing for some sales jobs, so I applied and was hired. That’s how I started my career in energy: doing sales for commercial demand-response programs for some of the largest energy users in California. I introduced Tesla to some of their first battery customers and realized that lithium batteries were going to be a huge player in the energy market. I’ve been working on storage solutions ever since. 

2. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Someone once told me to do my job as if I were running my own business. This was especially helpful since I was in an emerging space without a lot of direction or blueprints. Much of the time it was like swinging in the dark. That mentality gave me an opportunity to springboard on a lot of personal and professional goals.

3. What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it? 

I started my career working in a plutonium facility, which was very male-dominated. While I was getting my MBA, someone said to me that I was not facing a glass ceiling but one made of two-foot-thick concrete. So, of course, there have been barriers. It’s tricky to say how I have overcome them because I don’t know that I have. I think, unfortunately, barriers are still very present.

4. What are the most exciting new career opportunities in climatetech? 

Hands down, solar sales. I have said for years that solar is really all about people knocking on doors and telling homeowners about their options in solar energy. But it’s difficult to communicate effectively. Most people do not know how to interpret their utility bills, so how can we expect them to understand the nuances of generating power on their rooftops? People selling solar systems have a huge challenge — but also a great opportunity. We can make homeowners part of the solutions to the grid rather than part of the problem, and there’s a lot of revenue to be made as well.

5. What is your superpower? 

I have the ability to make something out of nothing, and because of that, I am able to see opportunities where others might not. That is what we were able to do at LG very early on with the battery products. On a personal note, I can go into my kitchen and make a complete meal that you would not know came from limited ingredients, like in that show Chopped. I’ve always thought I would rock that show. 

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Career moves

At SunPower, Maureen Obiri was promoted to senior manager for multifamily construction projects; Katie Brown was promoted to senior director of analytics and remote operations; and Whitney Archon was promoted to diversity, equity and inclusion program specialist. SunPower sells, installs and finances solar power products and batteries. 

Kendra Hubbard, previously with Hyundai Energy Solutions America, is now customer solutions architect at EagleView, a provider of aerial imagery, property insights and software for customers in the government, construction, insurance and solar industries.

Monica Padilla was promoted to chief operating officer at Silicon Valley Clean Energy, a community-owned agency that provides electricity in Santa Clara County, California. She is also director of power resources at Silicon Valley Clean Energy.

Kirsten Millar, previously with RMI, is now director of policy at Virtual Peaker, a cloud-based software platform used by more than a dozen U.S. utilities to connect to, communicate with and provide real-time control over a range of household devices. Earlier this year, the Louisville, Kentucky–based company raised a $16.6 million Series A funding round led by Moore Strategic Ventures and joined by Emerson Ventures, the venture arm of Emerson, maker of industrial control systems, HVAC equipment and utility software.

Karen Keane joined Greenskies, a commercial solar developer and operator, as VP of project finance. Previously, she co-founded Hello Career Guru, an AI-powered virtual career trainer that helps women advance professionally, and she served as a director at Deutsche Bank Securities. 

Julie Love was promoted to senior manager for transmission and interconnection at solar and storage project developer 8minute Solar Energy.

Melissa Miyara, previously with GAF Energy, is now director of customer experience at a stealth-mode solar company. 

Poonum Agrawal was hired as senior manager for regulatory affairs at Enel North America, a developer and operator of a portfolio comprising 7.6 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity. Prior to joining Enel, Agrawal was with Silicon Valley Clean Energy.

Nora Hennings was promoted to senior director of business development at leading residential solar installer Sunrun.

Nicole Efron, previously at Pacific Gas and Electric, started as director of development for mobility at NextEra Energy, one of America’s largest capital investors in infrastructure, with $50 billion to $55 billion in new infrastructure investments planned through 2022. Efron is leading late-stage development for NextEra Mobility’s fleet-electrification projects.

Kristen Dore was promoted to head of people at Modern Energy, which invests in, builds and operates energy-transition businesses in the United States and Brazil. 

Antoinette West, previously with the Fax Partnership, has joined Elemental Excelerator, a women-led nonprofit with a 135-company portfolio, as career pathways manager. In the role, she will help foster careers in the climate sector, particularly for frontline and lower-income communities of color. Also at Elemental Excelerator, Christina Angelides, previously with Natural Resources Defense Council, has joined as co-director of the Elemental Policy Lab, where she guides portfolio companies on policy strategy issues. Aparna Reddy, previously with law firm Winter LLP, has come on board as in-house counsel.

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GAF Energy is transforming the rooftop solar industry to generate Energy from Every Roof.” As a Standard Industries company, GAF Energy works in partnership with North America’s largest roofing and waterproofing manufacturer, GAF, offering homeowners elegant, roof-integrated solar options. The company also provides commercial tax equity funding for large-scale rooftop solar projects. For more information about GAF Energy, visit gaf.energy.

Eric Wesoff is the editorial director at Canary Media.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial and research associate at Canary Media.