Hard Work Pays Off for Influential Executive

Ivonne Valdes, Vice President of the Cloud and Service Provider segment at Schneider Electric, has always believed that hard work and persistence pay off. And she’s validated that belief with each successful stop in her career. Now, she has been recognized as one of the top 100 most influential and notable Hispanic professionals in the United States by the Hispanic IT Executive Council (HITEC).Schneider Electric Executive Ivonne Valdes

The HITEC list is made up of professionals who inspire and motivate the people around them. Ivonne has used her creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to inspire and lead change. Change both in business and in the people she works with.

“Define what success looks like”, Ivonne advises younger professionals. “What is your five-year plan? Ten-year plan?”

Having a clear vision of her goals and how to pursue them has guided Ivonne’s career from the start. She dreamed of working in international business and worked hard in school to pursue that dream. She graduated from college, and later earned her MBA. That education led her to Silicon Valley where she met creative people like herself.

“I knew I had found out-of-the-box thinkers”, she says of experience in Silicon Valley. It was there that she found a position she knew she’d be perfect for.

Fujitsu Microelectronics was hiring for a Gate Array Product Manager. Ivonne knew it was the job for her, but there was a small problem. “I didn’t have an engineering degree, so I enlisted help from a neighbor to tutor me.”

Ivonne believes that finding a mentor or sponsor is key to career success. Without that informal training and dedication, she may not have landed the job she wanted. While the experience with a tutor gave her the knowledge base she needed to excel, she knows for certain that without her single-minded focus on what she wanted, she would not have gotten the job. Knowing that persistence is a key to success, Ivonne took persistence to a whole new level.

“I called the hiring manager every day for 40 days,” she says. “On day 40 he said, ‘Fine, I will set you up for the interview. But if you don’t get the job, I never want to hear from you again’”.

She got the job, and as she puts it, “the rest has been a wonderful ride”.

Through an early career experience like this, she already learned that to get what she wanted, she had to be smart, tough, and willing to deal with rejection and push back.

“My advice is to work hard, learn the business, and don’t take no for an answer. You need to own your career and your life.”

Since finding her first dream job, Ivonne has brought that same attitude and tenacity to several positions with some of the biggest companies in IT and technology. Along the way, she has continuously climbed the corporate ladder, and in the summer of 2016, she found her latest role at Schneider Electric.

So why did she choose to join Schneider Electric and leave her previous company after over seven years?

“The depth and breadth of [Schneider Electric’s] portfolio innovation”, she said. “We can offer customers the complete life-cycle from design, build, and commissioning through operation.” Ivonne was also attracted to Schneider Electric because of what she called a collaborative culture and the company’s Planet and Society Barometer. That is, the idea of integrating sustainability into strategic functions.

Despite her success, Ivonne has not lost sight of the values and people who have gotten her to where she is today. When she learned she was named to the HITEC 100 list, she was honored and humbled. But was also thrilled to be recognized.

“I was super excited. I called my parents and thanked them for instilling the value of hard work and community.”

Without supportive parents, a helpful neighbor, a clear vision of where she wanted to go, and the drive to do what it takes to get there, Ivonne Valdes may not be considered one of the most influential Hispanic executives in the country. She appreciates this and wants to inspire other Hispanic women to achieve their dreams.

“Write down your aspirational goals and timelines,” she says. “Volunteer for tough assignments. Take risks. And lastly, own it! Only you can make it happen.”


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Safety and Savings at Home with Technology

Sometimes homeowners might think their houses are singing that 60s hit about not being owned. Especially when it comes to saving money and increasing safety.

For the first of those two, consider that homeowners have installed alternative power sources, like solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal, and more. Those systems aren’t cheap. In the United States, where subsidies vary by region, the cost of a solar installation ranges from $ 10,000 to more than $ 25,000. Even in Germany, which underwrites solar extensively, the cost of a residential system tops €1000 (1130 US$ ).

So, naturally, homeowners would like to know if their expensive renewable systems are actually delivering what they’re supposed to.

Beyond that, people would like to get a handle on their electricity and energy costs. Residential electricity often is more expensive than that for commercial or industrial sectors. With prices rising steadily for the foreseeable future, homeowners would like to have ways to monitor and control their energy usage.

As for that second item – safety – people have been conditioned by phones to

  • Constant access, and
  • Doing things remotely.

So people expect they will be able to monitor their homes at a distance and take corrective action. That’s not an unreasonable desire. Imagine this scenario. You’re on vacation. While you’re on holiday, your refrigerator decides to it too will stop working. Best case is you come home to spoiled food and a mess to clean up. The worst case is a destructive fire.

So there are good reasons why people want more control of their homes, such as saving energy, making sure costly systems are performing, and ensuring that electrical appliances aren’t failing and causing big problems. Both saving energy and increasing safety are important.

Also, most homeowners are already living in their homes. So, it’s not really practical for them to build a brand new home to accomplish all of this. Ideally, there would be a retrofit that could economically monitor all energy usage as well as household appliances and safety-related systems.

While outlining what an ideal solution would look like, there’s another important fact to keep in mind. When it comes to household safety, the danger isn’t entirely within a home. There are also external threats, which is one reason why people have burglar alarms and smoke detectors. So, a solution should work with and enhance these.

A final factor is that people may have home automation systems that can turn lights on or off or carry out other functions. A model solution would take that into account by allowing integration of such systems.

For an example of such a solution, take a look at Wiser Link. The components fit within a residential electrical panel, a point that all electrical appliances tie into. There also is the ability to connect to other energy sources and utilities. What’s more, the system ties into the cloud, enabling the ability to check on everything remotely.

With such capabilities, homeowners can go on vacation without giving up control of their energy monitoring and without potentially compromising residential safety. They’ll also experience greater control and security while they are at home. And with that, they will really have something to sing about.

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Innovative Partnerships Help Alleviate Energy Poverty in Africa

Energy Poverty | noun, often attributive | ˈenərjē ˈpävərdē | is lack of access to modern energy services.

It refers to the situation of a large number of people in developing countries whose well-being is negatively affected by very low consumption of energy, use of dirty or polluting fuels, and excessive time spent collecting fuel to meet basic needs.  There are currently 1.2 billion people without access to electricity and more than 2.7 billion people are without clean cooking facilities.

These are real and extremely large numbers.  Yet most people in the developed world only take notice to the invisible and fundamental lifeline of our modern society when the power goes out and they can’t Netflix and chill.  Since you’re reading this blog post, I’m assuming you reside in an area on this planet with reliable and safe access to energy – now imagine you didn’t. What if you had to use polluting kerosene burners inside your home to cook your meals?  What if you were afraid to walk around at night because there were no street lights and you didn’t have access to electricity to charge a lamp or flashlight?

Despite these scenarios being a reality for those billions of individuals who suffer from energy poverty, there are innovative organizations, large and small, that are taking action and developing innovative solutions to address energy poverty. A key piece of this puzzle is financing; especially the financing of local startup companies that have experience on the ground and truly understand the current reality, and how to add value so that individuals and communities gain a better sense of wellbeing.

Forward thinking, locally-based Venture Capital (VC) firms are tackling this issue head on and they are constantly looking for local start-ups with enabling solutions to partner with; in turn providing experience and funding to help the startup grow so they can provide their solutions on a larger scale and empower more local communities.

A fantastic example that I witnessed first hand in Nairobi this past October is the unique partnership between Energy Access Ventures (EAV) and SunCulture.  This innovative, homegrown Kenyan start up provides solar powered irrigation solutions for smallholder farmers, in turn helping the them improve both crop yields and quality.  As business evolved, SunCulture needed more capital to keep up with demand so it approached EAV and they formed a partnership.

Solar irrigation in Africa

Moses looks on with his solar array and water storage tank in the background.

Despite Kenya having 5.4 million hectares of arable land, only 17% of this land is suitable for rain fed agriculture; leaving the remainder in need of irrigation and pumping technology.  High input costs and labor inefficiencies make solar powered pumps and irrigation systems a viable and cost effective solution to enable the remaining 83%.

While in Nairobi I visited Moses, a farmer in the town of Isinya who had a solar powered irrigation system installed earlier this year in April.  He has three 100 watt solar panels powering his system which needs to pump water from his 50 meter deep well.  When the sun is shining, the panels power the pump to lift the water out of the well and into an elevated tank for storage.  Depending on the crops Moses is currently tending to on his 1.5 acre farm – which is primarily spinach and cabbage – he can control the flow of water to ensure the crops get what they need, when they need it.

Solar power irrigiation

Moses and his crops.

Moses employs several individuals to help maintain and operate his farm and he uses his proceeds to support his wife and three young children.  The crops also support his community by providing produce to sell at local markets.  Plus, all the extra water that is pumped into the storage tank is shared with his neighbors to use for domestic purposes like cleaning dishes and laundry.  All in, this one farmer directly impacts a dozen or so people’s lives for the better. The situation is the result of a pioneering local startup that saw a regional problem and took an innovative approach to solving it with the support of forward thinking investors.

Moses heard about SunCulture via Facebook and within a year has become a true ambassador for the solar powered solution, even recommending it to others in the area.  He plans to expand his farm once he gets 2-3 seasons of profit available.

At one point during my visit I asked Moses, “So, what if you didn’t have this solar pump?  How would you access the well? It’s 50 meters deep. Manual pumps? Diesel pumps?” He looked at me and shook his head, “No.” “What would be here then?” I responded.  Moses then looked at the ground, kicked at some dirt and simply answered, “Nothing.”

 

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Dream Big: Decentralization and digitization causing utility market evolution

The traditional utility market is evolving as utilities contend with increasing volatility and uncertainty brought about by a shift to renewables, new technology, legislation, and other developments. Utilities need to become smarter, more agile, and more flexible so they can strategically respond to the changing landscape.

Here’s a basic and generalized look at areas utilities are considering as they plan for the future.

utility-market-infographic-ebook

Environment and environmental policies: Utilities must play a role in fighting climate change. Legislation at a country and global level is forcing utilities to reevaluate their business, particularly the environmental impact. This demand for clean energy will lead not only to a reduction in greenhouse gases, but also to improvements in energy efficiency, demand-side management, and an increased adoption of renewables. The pressure to reduce CO2 emissions also will likely speed change in other areas such as the move from coal-fueled power plants to renewables.

Renewable energy: Renewable energy adoption, especially solar and wind energy, will continue to rise as utilities look toward more sustainable resources. Meanwhile, the efficiency of renewable energy is improving and costs are decreasing. However, utilities still struggle to balance the variable nature of renewables and the challenge of integrating them with grid networks. Distributed generation—and associated technologies like power electronics—must continue to improve to support renewable growth.

Energy storage: Electrical energy storage systems (EESS), particularly large-scale batteries and conversion technology, are relatively new but gaining ground because they allow utilities to achieve more control of local energy production, squeeze more from generation assets and take advantage of the smart grid. They prevent waste by letting utilities generate and store energy and then use it as needed, integrate more variable renewable energy into the power grid, and increase reliability.

Technology: Technology will continue to develop. Analytics are expanding and improving, permitting utilities to wring the most out of the data that is coming from smart technologies. Utilities are better able to manage the grid with tools like advanced distribution management systems and data management systems.

Consumer behavior: Consumers are king in the new energy world. Technology and analytics provide visibility that lets them make smart decisions about how much energy they use and when. Utilities need to prepare for consumers increasingly wanting—and expecting—control over their energy usage.

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Utilities no longer hold a monopoly. Consumers are increasingly empowered as they gain more options for receiving consumer-friendly, competitively priced power, in some cases allowing them to comparison shop for power or even choose to become prosumers or go off grid. This forces utilities to remain competitive both in pricing and services.

Pricing mechanisms: Pricing mechanisms, such as dynamic pricing or carbon markets, can influence the behavior of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. A carbon tax is an effective tool to deter carbon-based fuel usage and support green energy projects if a market-determined carbon price is not high enough to entice utilities to use energy sources that are cleaner than current fossil fuel sources.

Role: By taking a holistic approach and combining all of the above, utilities can redefine their role. They can invent new business models, provide new services, and find new ways of fulfilling missions such as the balance of supply and demand. In a world where supply is less centralized, where it becomes variable (that’s the nature of renewables), and where demand can be more flexible, utilities can look for opportunities to harness this flexibility, aggregating distributed energy resources, buffering variation and providing not just electricity but services.

Utilities can prepare for the future by proactively addressing these challenges.

To learn more about the future of the utility industry, read our free ebook, Powering an Always-on World. And check out the other blog posts in this series:

  1. Dream Big: The future of reliability for utilities
  2. Dream Big: Utilities efficiency in the future
  3. Dream Big: A Safer Future with Digitized Utilities
  4. Dream Big: Decarbonization Key to Utilities’ Future

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