I have just come back from my very first taste of what the real world is like, the main reason my blog has been pretty devoid of content for a while now, completing a period of work experience within one of the world’s largest companies, and undoubtedly its largest and most successful energy company, GE, specifically their Energy department; it was eye-opening to say the least.
Obtained and organised through a friend of my partners family, I was taken under the wing of a commercial leader forming part of the UK and Northern Europe wind energy team at their HQ in Bracknell, where I was introduced to all aspects of the corporate energy world, from selling to policy, and I was blown away by the some of the things I came away with.
As a commercial leader, my ‘boss’ so to speak, was responsible for the entire bidding process involved with procuring a wind-farm development by beating away the competition and getting the customer the best deal possible, whilst generating some revenue for the company on the side. Therefore, I effectively dived in at the deep end and through myself upon the various projects lined up for me, including getting to grips with how GE Energy functioned on a global and GW scale, researching information for the sales teams on new turbine designs and experiencing precisely how the company deals with customers and developers amidst a rapidly changing energy market; it was fascinating to say the least.
Before going into this, I admittedly had rather little knowledge of GE and its workings worldwide, despite it being responsible for the power plants providing 25% of global needs and being around since the invention of the lightbulb, and in actual fact, being founded by the very inventor himself, Thomas Edison. Therefore I was relatively relieved when my boss told me that GE’s brand presence in Europe is small to say it politely, and in all likelihood, mentioning that you work at ‘General Electric’ in the UK could easily inspire a puzzled and disinterested reaction unless followed up by further information. This is certainly something I found to be true talking to my friends, but did not realise how common this issue was.
Even though GE has been instrumental in powering a large majority of the world’s planes with their jet engines, transporting freight goods via their massive train industry, lighting up millions of American homes with bulbs and generating the technology necessary to power our hungry society (and this isn’t everything either), nobody over here really takes much notice of them. Anyway, I digress.
I took this opportunity mostly to simply get a flavour of the world outside of university education and retail jobs, where real decisions and real projects were making a difference to the world, in their own small or large ways, as I just haven’t had this at any time in my life prior. I’ve always wanted to be part of the energy industry, in particular the renewable and policy side of things, but to actually see it in the flesh was a chance not to pass up. Aside from this, the possibility of contacts being made and networking with the energy big-wigs was second on my list, as the unfortunate reality of todays clogged young professional world, is that it’s much more about who you know than what you know, although obviously having both sticks you right at the top. With my masters coming up, I figured getting my name known amongst GE could do me no harm when I (hopefully) come out the other end with an MSc diploma.
What struck me straightaway was the sheer size and power this company had, dealing with millions of pounds worth of money just within the wind department, who undoubtedly hold the key to future of renewable energy production and emissions reductions , something I was not totally aware of coming into the process. Gigawatts of energy are dealt with on a daily basis, and yet everyone in the office is calm, collected, a great laugh to be around and utterly knowledgable of every single aspect of their business. Not only this, but their understanding of the entire energy market, from gas turbines to electrical grids was astounding, and as my boss told me, the biggest bonus working at GE for him was that they get the whole picture, not just the tunnel-visioned one other energy companies may suffer.
My time spent in the wind section greatly opened my eyes to the sheer potential and power those stunning turbines have to fulfil so many of our renewable needs. Offshore may be far too expensive currently for big investment, and the UK may be just terrible at making simple and quick regulation for new developments, but of all the technologies we have available to us, wind is the one, with onshore leading the march. GE’s vision, one no doubt shared with many governments and think-tanks around the world, is that of an energy grid where wind and a bit of nuclear work in harmony with state-of-the-art combined-cycle gas turbines (CCGT) which can process anything from natural gas to landfill methane, with the ability to heat home simultaneously and turn on or off at the flip of a switch. With this, baseload issues on the grid are tackled and carbon emissions drop off a cliff.
Now, don’t get me wrong, in past posts I’ve given my opinion on the likely rise of natural gas as the replacement for oil and coal, stating that either way you look at it, it still burns like a fossil fuel and releases CO2, but it is massively cheaper and more accessible. This view hasn’t changed per se, but I know understand better, having been in a company on the very verge of this change, that our civilisation needs gas if we are to transition into the green energy world some of us dream of; without it, baseload becomes a huge issue and wind or solar simply won’t cut the mustard alone. It’s a shame in my eyes, knowing that technology exists to lessen this impact, but at least it seems these CCGTs can do so much more work and bring so much more benefit at a fraction of the damage oil does currently.
Moving on, it was my meeting with the head of UK policy for GE Energy that truly set my heart going and brain sparking. Leading up to this, I couldn’t help but think that the heavily economic and accountancy side of the company wasn’t quite for me, although this is a very simplified description, and fears were starting to creep in about whether I really would find a place in a company like this, when my personal interests and expertise are in research, the energy market and a leaning towards a more civil service-like career. Well it appears that policy communication is the place for me, as I found out.
Within GE, Simon Ashwell acts as the middle man to everybody involved with the energy debate and business. He turns technical papers and company forecasts into manageable summaries for the government and advisors, as well as collaborates closely with academia to bring credible data and reputation to the table. These guys are on the very cutting-edge of what is happening in the energy world, as are all of GE, and this is exactly where I want to be; experiencing the change firsthand and being an integral part of it at the same time. After chatting with some LSE policy advisors at length on the topics of ‘smart-grids’, natural gas prices and the future of storage and detection, I was practically sold and would’ve started there and then. These guys have all the fun, and that;s where I want to be.
Throughout this whole experience it is key to point out that GE as a company and a brand is one well worth mentioning. They’re hugely innovative, dedicated to a world where climate change and carbon emissions are a thing of the past, influential on a massive scale and, in my opinion, are one of the few corporations where they can be truly proud of what they’re doing, especially the Energy team.
I guess my main point in this post is if you find yourself yearning for a place in the global energy debate but think the corporate world is simply too greedy and corrupt to deserve your time, think again. Find yourself any experience you can get, whether it be a scheme or just a day, because if you find yourself without direction, such as I found myself , a little flavour is all it takes to kickstart your passions. I know this sounds easy coming from someone whose just blagged his way through it, but don’t write off the dedication of global energy companies to our future just yet, you’d be surprised.