Jennifer Runyon, Chief Editor, RenewableEnergyWorld.com
October 24, 2013 | 1 Comments
Patty West – “I was probably the original science nerd and it played out very well for me.”
Patty West believes that she was destined to be in the power industry. “When I was little, my favorite song was Glenn Campbell’s Lineman for the County,” she said laughing. “That might have been predestination that I was going to end up in the utility business!” West considers herself a “science nerd” whose love for science fairs led her to pursue a career in civil engineering. She explained that she had a desire for an environmental career and at the time, “we didn’t have all these fancy different environmental engineering choices, we had mechanical, civil, or electrical,” she said. She chose civil.
Plus, there was the TVA. “TVA has its roots almost in everyone that lives in the Tennessee Valley so getting a job with TVA was like getting the best job ever,” she said. West turned out to be one of those lucky ones, landing a TVA job right out of grad school, performing water quality testing. Her interest in the environment and her job with TVA allowed her to develop a many-faceted career, pursing different aspects of the power industry over the past 37 years. “When I first started our coal units weren’t controlled for any emission controls and renewable energy was just kind of a novelty,” she says. At the start of her career she worked on environmental compliance, working to install scrubbers on coal units.
Witnessing the growth of renewable energy has been a career highpoint for West, who saw renewable technology go from “bench scale to mainstream.” When she began with TVA 37 years ago, there was almost no renewable energy generation. Today, including hydro, the utility has more than 6 GW of renewable capacity in its portfolio. “I guess that’s my highlight. Just seeing things go from bench scale to R&D to commercial and now to kind of mainstream generation sources is a highlight,” she said.
West is pleased by the growth of women in management roles at TVA. She said that at a recent meeting with the leadership team there was a line for the women’s restroom during a break and she appreciated what that symbolized for women in a traditionally male-dominated industry. “I’m like, ‘this is great!’” she said, “because I can remember when there weren’t enough women.”
West would like to see women who are interested in science really go for it. “Continue to pursue science and engineering [because] it’s so rewarding for those that want to do that,” she said. “I was probably the original science nerd and it played out very well for me!”
West thinks that over the next 30 years, utilities are going to change dramatically. “I think we’re going to see a lot of emphasis on…we call it ‘customer-centric generation,’” she explained. Customers are demanding more choice about how their power is generated and they want more control over their own use of it, a transition that is already heavily underway. She pointed to customers using cell phones to turn down their thermostats to control their own energy consumption and putting solar panels on their roofs to generate their own electricity as examples of customer-centric generation.
“The utility industry is going to be really exciting for the next 30 years,” said West. “My advice is to get involved because that’s where the fun is going to be.”