Resilience and batteries. While the combination of these two terms may sound foreign to the average ear, for those in the solar and renewable energy sector, the two are almost inseparable. In Here Comes Solar’s (HCS) first installment of our “Solar Powerhouse Spotlight” series which highlights leaders in the field and community, we had the opportunity to catch up with Derek Nelson, former Senior Associate of HCS’s Resilient Solar Team and current Renewable Energy Project Manager at the New York Power Authority (NYPA). We chatted about resiliency within an urban setting, the evolution of the renewable energy field, his tenure at Solar One, and how New Yorkers can pave the way for solar energy initiatives in their communities.
HCS: The solar, renewable, and clean energy solar field is one of innovation and growth.What was the driving force behind your interest and passion for solar? Was there anything that attracted you to exploring this sector?
DN: Honestly, my interest in the environment and climate change is driven mostly by my love of animals. I studied primate evolution in college, but made the switch to clean energy policy and advocacy when I realized the gorillas I was studying were on track for extinction by the time I hit middle age. Helping prevent that extinction started to feel much more important than understanding their evolutionary history. That could wait.
HCS: From your time at Solar One, was there a resilience, battery project, or aspect of your role that you felt a strong connection with throughout its development and implementation?
DN: I loved every opportunity I had to show people just how excited they should be about batteries. It’s hard to overstate how transformative they can (and hopefully will!) be for the way we generate and consume electricity, but it’s also hard to describe that transformation in clear terms. I really enjoyed trying to tell a simple, compelling, and fun story about the energy storage revolution to anyone who would listen.
HCS: What will you miss the most about Solar One (aside from creating informative battery videos)?
DN: The camaraderie with my brilliant, kind, and feisty colleagues. It’s an incredible and never-boring group of people, and I’ll dearly miss playfully arguing with them about every last thing (especially about how important nuclear power is!).
HCS: With respect to your new role at NYPA, is there something you are excited to learn and dive deeper into?
DN: I’m really excited to transition from a focus on smaller batteries that power individual buildings to larger batteries that power the grid itself. Both forms of energy storage are vital to the clean energy transition, but I’m particularly drawn to the potential of large-scale batteries to replace gas-fired plants in New York.
HCS: What do you envision will be the future of solar and renewable energy in NYC? How can fellow New Yorkers contribute to the resiliency of solar in their communities?
DN: Every New Yorker should either have solar on their roof or, if that’s not feasible, subscribe to a community solar project. To improve resilience, though, they will have to get more creative, since batteries remain expensive and difficult to site in NYC. I think the solar plus storage projects deployed at community facilities with Solar One’s help will be the first of many in the City. After these are built, I hope they will inspire other communities to push for resilient solar at their own libraries, schools, and emergency response organizations.