Growing up in Bombay, India (renamed Mumbai in 1995) in the 1970s, Soam Goel learned early in life that bureaucratic red tape went hand in hand with running a business. His father, an engineering entrepreneur, ran a small manufacturing company that specialized in producing special purpose machines, among them one that produced the tape used in audio cassettes.
Goel senior was good at designing and manufacturing new types of machines, but he relied heavily on his teenage son to deal with the commercial Indian government bureaucracy that controlled and regulated phone, power and water services to the community.
“Whenever the factory needed a new phone line, or perhaps an upgraded power supply, it was up to me to figure out how to get it done with few instructions or well-defined process in place,” said Goel.
As he got older, he became increasingly involved with managing the factory’s finance and accounting activities, a role that introduced him to the arcane and unstructured world of Indian banks and customer payment systems.
Rethinking Energy Infrastructure
Today, as the lead partner for #distributedenergy for Wakefield, Mass.-based Anbaric Development Partners, Goel is perfectly at home dealing with large institutions, accounting complexities, and organizations of decentralized decision makers.
It’s all part of his role helping colleges, hospitals and industrial companies recapitalize and revitalize aging campus #energyinfrastructure. “We start with aging infrastructure, add capital and energy expertise to create modernized infrastructure that meets our customers’ economic and green energy goals for the next 30 years,” Goel said.
His work in distributed energy represents about half of Anbaric’s business; the company also develops transmission grids for the growing offshore wind industry.
The Smart Energy Campus
Goel, who holds a Bachelor of Technology from the Indian Institute of Technology, and an MBA from University of Texas, Austin, encourages his customers to create a “smart” energy campus. A smart campus is characterized by three key attributes:
All heating, cooling, and electrical systems exist not as stand-alone systems but as integrated, complementary systems that may be called on to “help” each other manage challenging environmental conditions.
The heating, cooling and electrical systems are typically equipped with intelligent control systems, which gives campus utility operators a new layer of control over their equipment.
Smart campuses can interact with customers and entities within and outside of the campus. In some cases, they can also buy and/or sell power to the #electricgrid.
“Typically, when we first approach a university campus, we find discrete energy generation or management systems that may not interact as well or as intelligently as they could,” explains Goel.
To be fair, he adds, many of those campus energy systems were never designed to work together. And the organizations that manage and maintain them are generally not incentivized to think long term.
That’s where Anbaric – and Goel’s training in managing organizational complexity – come in.
Putting Capital to Work
Goel and his team work with a university or industrial organization to identify the ideal energy approach for its campus for the next 30 years.
Through its funding partner, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP), Anbaric provides the capital needed to fund those infrastructure upgrades, whether it’s a new centralized heating and cooling system for the campus, renewable power generation facilities, or a new power distribution system. Goel sets up a partnership agreement with the school or organization for Anbaric to become its chief energy supplier and manager for the next 30 years.
Getting to that agreement, however, requires Goel and his team to be effective not only as energy consultants, but also as mediators, translators and consensus builders among disparate campus departments.
“It’s unlikely that the various departments on a typical college campus have ever spent much time discussing or even thinking about an integrated, connected approach for energy infrastructure,” said Goel. “Typically, top management attention is focused on academic priorities, and the campus energy infrastructure reflects the historical, piece-by-piece growth of the university.”
Bringing Laboratories Alive
In an earlier time, “hidden” investments in heating/cooling systems, renewable energy etc. might not have generated much interest among college students or alumni. In the wake of climate change, explains Goel, that attitude is shifting.
Today, we view our investments in campus energy infrastructure as a living laboratory, as a way to show students that their university is working actively to reduce its carbon footprint and move to greener, more #renewableenergy,” he said. “Students are focused increasingly on #sustainability and want to know that their school is progressive in how it thinks about and addresses #climatechange.”
Working with Change
A typical day for Goel begins with a cup of coffee, a review of major business dailies and trade publications and a 30-second “commute” down the hall of his Montclair, N.J. home to his office. He travels fairly often by plane to Anbaric’s headquarters just outside Boston. When not working in his home office, Goel is on the road meeting with new prospective smart energy campus clients or attending energy-related conferences.
He realizes that he and his Anbaric colleagues are still in the early days of defining and giving momentum to a new way of addressing the nation’s infrastructure woes and meeting green goals. And that not everyone is ready to hear Anbaric’s vision for change.
In the end, Goel is confident that he, Anbaric and OTPP are helping the nation address and define solutions for two major problems: crumbling infrastructure and sustainability in the wake of climate change.
“We like to think of our work in distributed energy as the Uber of the energy industry, an innovative and disruptive force that is changing the way we think about the world,” said Goel. “And it results in major, long-term benefits for our customers. They get better solutions, they get customized solutions, and they get lower-cost solutions.”
Article originally appears in PersonsofInfrastructure.com