The recognition of successful women in STEM continues with eyes on University of New Mexico alumna Kate Anderson, chief of staff for energy systems integration at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a sector of the U.S. Department of Energy. This year, Anderson is the recipient of the C3E Social, Economic, and Policy Innovation Award, which recognizes women in clean energy.
“There are not a lot of women in clean energy … but there should be,” Anderson said. “An award like this helps because it helps people see themselves and see that, ‘Oh, that’s something that I could do too,’ and not just view it as a man’s field.”
Anderson landed in Albuquerque through her service with the U.S. Air Force, where she was stationed at the Kirtland Air Force Base. The Air Force allowed Anderson to utilize her undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering to launch satellites and perform missile defense tests.
During her service, Anderson received her Master of Business Administration with a concentration in management of technology from UNM. She integrates her past studies at UNM into her current efforts in clean energy as she “develops technologies in the lab, figures out how to get them out into the marketplace and get them adopted.”
“While I was there, I really got into green building because of all of the cool sustainable building technologies in New Mexico — all of the Earthships up near Taos, the straw-bale houses and the adobe houses,” Anderson said. “That made me transition into the clean energy field.”
With joining the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in 2008, Anderson led a team to develop REopt, a technology that “helps people figure out the best mix of energy technologies for their sites, to meet their energy needs at lowest cost.” The technology is employed by about 50,000 users and is free and publicly accessible, which increases its impact.
“We need to implement renewable energy at all levels — residential, commercial, utility — in order to transition our energy system at the speed required to fight climate change,” Anderson said. “We really need to be at 100% clean energy within the next 10 to 15 years. That’s not going to happen from just any one sector trying to do it, it needs to be everybody.”
Sheila Hayter, coworker and laboratory program manager at NREL, said she and fellow coworker Andrea Watson nominated Anderson for the C3E award because of the strong ideas and compassion she brings to the team, as well as her exceptional leadership abilities.
“Kate is extremely intelligent and has lots of good ideas and it's really fun to work with her because she’s a thinker and she listens and puts the pieces together,” Hayter said.
Hayter said her nomination focused on Anderson’s vision for and long-term contributions to REopt, which she pioneered and led for a number of years. She said Anderson’s initiative with REopt and the work accomplished by her team really illustrated her leadership capabilities as a manager at NREL.
“Part of the award is in recognition of the impact of renewable energy deployments and not just understanding the technical viabilities of these systems, but also the economic viability,” Anderson said.
Anderson said the social component of the award was particularly relevant to her research in understanding how decisions on which energy technologies to pursue are made. According to Anderson, commercial entities adopting clean energy technology is often a strategic one and aligns with how they want to be perceived by consumers, and homeowners in residential homes will also follow social trends, such as investing in solar panels.
“You’ll see that if one neighbor in the neighborhood puts solar on their roofs, a lot of the other homes around them adapt at a higher rate than just a random person. I find that super interesting,” Anderson said.
Anderson works to integrate new clean energy technologies with the existing grid at NREL, and uses modeling and analyses to help inform energy investment decisions for a broad scale of clients, including federal agencies, tribes and corporations which seek to advance sustainability, cost-reduction and resiliency goals.
Anderson said she’s pursued efforts to diversify science, technology, engineering and math spaces. Encouraging young girls and minorities to get interested and involved in science, done through K-12 spaces, will reflect later on in job applicant pools, according to Anderson.
“(Anderson) hires a lot of women,” Hayter said. “She really finds people that are super high-caliber and good at their jobs. The team that she developed in the time that she was a group manager is one of the most diverse as far as gender and ethnicity.”
Hayter said Anderson has continued to make NREL a more inclusive environment and seeks to diversify the demographic makeup of the individuals working in the energy sector.
“To fight this huge challenge of climate change, I think it takes everybody,” Anderson said. “We get better solutions that people will actually adopt when we have diverse groups of people (in STEM).”
Rebecca Hobart is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @rjhobart