No day is typical for Pam Porter BS’82 MS’85. As an energy consultant, she might be advising on public energy policies one moment and finding a good source of wood chips for heating a manufacturing plant the next. The common thread, she says, is “helping clients find answers to the questions they have. That means listening carefully—helping them develop creative solutions.”
In the old days, meeting a client’s energy needs required little more creativity than flipping a switch. But rising energy costs and growing concern about energy consumption have caused many homeowners and businesses to take a harder look at their energy bottom line.
That’s created work for people like Porter, who as owner of P Squared Group helps companies and other organizations find practical ways to become more energy efficient. She might advise clients on everything from more sustainable business practices to how to harness renewable energy sources for electricity and heating fuel. One of her current projects is to work with Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program to implement the state’s Fuels for Schools and Communities initiative, which aims to reduce energy costs by switching from natural gas to wood and biomass to heat school buildings.
“Global warming is a crisis/opportunity for our country to make significant and important changes,” says Porter, who also serves as the Midwest director of the Biomass Energy Resource Center, a nonprofit that works with local and regional organizations to develop sustainable biomass energy systems. “There are exciting prospects for Wisconsin and the upper Midwest. We have significant biomass resources with wood and croplands that, if done right, can be part of a carbon-light future,” she says.
Energy consultants can expect even more business in the years ahead, as Wisconsin and other Midwestern states launch into aggressive campaigns to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Wisconsin has targeted the ambitious goal of generating 25 percent of its electricity and transportation fuel from renewable sources by 2025, and Governor Jim Doyle says he wants the state to corner 10 percent of the renewable energy market by then.
So what does it take to get a job in the energy consulting business? A good consultant “must have the skills to judge the energy savings or generation potential for a site, knowledge of the technologies available to tap that potential and the training to put those solutions into action,” says Patrick Walsh, a professor of in CALS’ biological systems engineering department, which has graduated dozens of students into energy-related careers. The jobs can be broad and challenging, but the rewards are powerful.