Samantha Weaver; Renewable Energy Strategy Analyst; Pacific Gas and Electric Company

The National Wildlife Federation EcoLeaders Career Center is celebrating the motivating stories and career accomplishments of young professionals making their names (and a difference) in the sustainability movement. We’re calling this group of change-makers and rising stars “The EcoLeaders Top 50 Inspirations.”

Interviewee: Samantha Weaver
Renewable Energy Strategy Analyst
Pacific Gas and Electric Company

Interviewer: David Corsar, NWF

Samantha is a Renewable Energy Strategy Analyst at Pacific Gas and Electric Company, where she is helping the state of California achieve its goal of 50% of electricity from renewables by 2030. As a 2007-2008 NWF Fellow, Samantha focused on educating both the campus administration and student body on the importance of reducing carbon emissions.

David Corsar: Looking back at your experience with NWF, how has participation as an NWF Fellow help shape your career path?
Samantha Weaver:
My experience as an NWF Campus Ecology Fellow had a critical impact on my career path. It was the ultimate experiential education endeavor, allowing me to directly apply what I learned from NWF about the urgency of climate change, lobbying, carbon emissions inventory techniques and data analysis to a project right on campus. The work I did taught me about leadership, activism, the importance of empirical data, and how to work with others on cross-cutting issues. These are skills I came to rely on for years to come, and they helped launch my career in the renewable energy sector.

DC: What was the top thing that you learned in your professional development with NWF?
The Campus Ecology Fellowship program provided me with crucial background information and training on global climate change science, policy, and politics. The knowledge I gained through the program trainings and trips to Washington, D.C. served as a foundation throughout my time in college, graduate school, and in my career.

DC: What are you up to these days? What is your role at Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and why did you choose to work there?
I’m currently a Renewable Energy Strategy Analyst at PG&E, which means I provide technical and policy analysis to help California and PG&E meet a goal to generate 50% of electricity from renewables by 2030. I wanted to work on renewable energy at a utility because it’s where I thought I could have the biggest impact -- the electric sector is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
PG&E was of particular interest to me as a potential employer because they are on the leading edge of decarbonizing the electricity sector, and were ranked as the greenest energy provider in the United States by Newsweek in 2016.
My path here was something like the following: Following graduation from Kalamazoo College in 2008, I moved to Boston where I began working as a Data Analyst at one of the nation’s most prominent wind energy consulting firms. I quickly learned that while science and engineering have made significant contributions to the field of renewable energy technology, poorly designed public policies often get in the way of technological growth. Looking for a way to help close the gap between science and policy, I enrolled in graduate school. I earned a graduate degree in Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning from Tufts University, where my interest in energy planning and economics helped me begin a career in renewable energy research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), located in the Bay Area. At LBNL, I conducted Department of Energy-funded research on renewable energy markets and policy in the United States. I authored over ten publications, which included empirical analyses of solar and wind energy costs, and assessments of the costs and benefits of Renewable Portfolio Standards (i.e., state regulatory mandates to increase production of renewable energy). Research was a great way to begin my career, but I was ultimately interested in working on policy implementation. That interest brought me to Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) in San Francisco, where I have worked for the past two years. At PG&E, I’ve worked on strategy development and policy formulation for initiatives related to market design, smart grid technology, and small-scale solar energy. In my current role as a Renewable Energy Strategy Analyst, I provide technical and policy analysis to help California and PG&E meet a goal to generate 50% of electricity from renewables by 2030.

DC: What would you say is your personal mission for sustainability?
SW: My personal mission is to help make the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy as fast and cost-effective as possible.

DC: What motivated you to begin this path?
I became interested in climate change as a junior in college, when I spent six months at the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute (ISDSI) in Thailand. Climate change policy became my passion following an experience where I witnessed the kind of extreme environmental degradation climate change can cause. As part of a course on ocean ecosystems, I was assigned to do a reef transect. In the process, I came across a former reef that was entirely barren: bleached because pH levels in the water were too low. By the end of my senior year of college, I decided that I wanted to focus professionally on solutions to climate change, and started a career in the renewable energy sector. I’ve spent the past eight years working to understand the renewable energy industry because I thought doing so would best-position me to do something about climate change.

DC: Who are your primary “influencers” or inspirations in the sustainability movement?
I’ve always been an admirer of James Hansen, certainly for his groundbreaking work on the science of climate change, but even more so for his willingness to commit to climate activism. I’m also always on the lookout for leaders in the private sector who are willing to take risks or make unpopular choices because of their concerns about climate change. David Crane, NRG Energy’s former CEO, comes to mind. 

DC: Did you have any mentors or career coaches assist you in developing your career path?
Absolutely. While I was a student at Kalamazoo College, I was lucky to meet an alumna who shared my career interests. She was working for the Environmental Protection Agency at the time, and came to campus to give a presentation on her work assessing the impact of climate change mitigation on Gross Domestic Product. Talking with her helped confirm something I was only beginning to recognize, which is the value of empirical data in policy discussions. She was my original inspiration for wanting to pursue a career in renewable energy policy analysis. I kept in touch with her over the years, and sought her advice on potential employers and graduate schools.

DC: What made those mentorship relationships work?
Largely common interest, and the ability of the mentee to ask pointed questions to take advantage of the mentor’s knowledge.

DC: How important do you feel obtaining project-based leadership experience is when entering the workforce?
Project-based leadership experiences are absolutely critical, and this is one of the reasons the NWF Campus Ecology Fellowship is so important. As an undergraduate, being able to describe to prospective employers how I went about leading the development of a carbon emissions inventory and mitigation plan for my campus helped launch my career.

DC: What would you recommend to students who want to make a difference for sustainability in your sector?
SW: Get involved in extracurricular activities! Volunteer in your community, lead a student organization, and take advantage of experiential learning opportunities like study abroad or internships (or NWF Fellowships!). Extracurriculars help you figure out what you like to do, instill confidence, and expose you to the latest sustainability-related issues. They provide you with a sense of purpose and skills that will set you up for success in any sustainability-focused career.

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David Corsar
David Corsar
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Date Added: May 12, 2017
Date Last Modified: May 15, 2017