Bloom Energy’s Sharelynn Moore speaks about the latest developments in the industry and the role of women in influencing positive developments within the energy sector.
Sharelynn Moore is well known in the smart metering sector as the driver behind the Itron Sustainability Report and more recently, the SVP of Itron’s Networked Solutions business.
Moore, who has in the past six months moved to advanced distributed energy generation company Bloom Energy, a leader in fuel cell technology, shared her thoughts on mentoring, trends and the role of women in the sector. By Claire Volkwyn.
How did you end up working in the energy sector in the first place?
In my professional career, I started work with semiconductor firm Micron. My goal coming out of college was to be in product management, and I took on that role at Micron after the first year. I really loved being in that product management role.
When I made a move back to the state of Washington, I took a role at Washington Water Power, now Avista, as they needed somebody to run marketing programmes and product management for customer programmes. It was a case of taking the next step and being in the right place and leveraging those product management skills. While I was at Avista, I was chosen for a management investment programme, and eventually they put me in charge of customer service in Washington and Idaho.
I was an escalation point for high bill complaints and all major customer engagement, including working with the police when they needed access to energy bills as evidence in growth operations in North Idaho. Running a customer service operation in your 20s when you’ve got about 40 some people working for you and you’re the youngest of them all was a real grassroots learning experience. You learn all about the utility business when you’re in a role like that.
While I was doing my MBA, I met somebody from Itron. He was looking for a senior product manager, and my mix of working for a utility plus my love of technology, along with product management made me a good fit for Itron. I ended up spending 19 years of my working life with Itron.
Along the way, I fell in love with the ability of technology – how it can help the energy industry and how vital technology is in managing precious resources to power the world. Whether it’s water that provides critical resources or other electricity driving prosperity, I don’t think there is a better case for what technology can do.
So now, Bloom Energy and a very diverse role. What was the attraction to Bloom Energy?
This opportunity for Bloom came to me. And it started with: “You just really need to hear their story…” When I looked into Bloom and I investigated their board there was a realisation that the calibre of people they have on the board are people who don’t need to be on boards. They don’t need to put their time into this company… there must be a reason they are doing so. And then I got to know the CEO. Bloom didn’t just want someone to fulfil a traditional marketing role – getting the word out, making sure people recognize the role fuel cells can play – there were big elements of the job that also appealed to me, such as product management. It’s been very technology-led in Bloom, and we are introducing many new applications and solutions that leverage the core technology in new and different ways.
There is a shift into having multiple applications, multiple industries, multiple types of products into multiple geographies. There’s marketing, product management, strategy and business development elements wrapped into one job. I think that’s where the match in heaven came because those are the things that I love to do. If you look at the evolution. At Itron, we really drove efficiency, to better manage the process in which you deliver electricity and water. Now I’m working in a field where we are innovating the way you generate power. And we’re generating power in a way that we’re providing as much as you need, in the location you need it – and doing it in a very innovative, flexible way.
If you think about the value chain of energy, it’s also an evolution to getting to the heart of how we can be more innovative in producing power, and ensuring that we’re delivering it in the cleanest, most affordable and practical way. It’s a journey for us to look at what needs to happen to get to zero carbon. And it’s a journey to get to the point where there is both economic and environmental equality
It takes both creativity and solutions, and Bloom is vital to that.
If you were to look back over your career, who would you say was the greatest influence on you?
Professionally, I had a mentor at Itron early in my career. Leroy Nussbaum was the CEO at the time, and I worked under him for many years. He remains a very important mentor to me today. He taught me some very important lessons, some directly, some indirectly through observation. And what he taught me was that you care about everybody, and everyone matters; from the people that are sweeping our floors to the people that are making the biggest decisions. He taught me that the worst thing you can do at times is not make a decision – sometimes you need to decide and go. He taught me to have confidence in myself. And he taught me that there are times when you need to make a change, and there are times when it’s your time.
The CEO of Bloom, KR Sridhar, is one of the most wickedly smart and fascinating people I’ve ever worked with. I’m six months into a journey of being able to work alongside somebody that really is one of the most unique – and amazing human beings – I’v e ever had the opportunity to work with. We are enriched though our evolution and by bringing more and more people into our lives that influence us. Looking back over these
people, what would you say is the best piece of advice that you have received?
I think that the best piece of advice I’ve ever received was: “You’re better off making a decision.” Instead of trying to think and think about something, over analyse, and give way to analysis paralysis and not make any progress – sometimes you’re better off just moving.
Otherwise, you’re not moving forward, you’re just stuck.
Earlier you mentioned the importance of mentoring. I wanted to find out how you see your role, particularly as a woman in the sector.
I take seriously the notion that not only am I playing a vital role in the company but as a woman and in this industry, you have to recognise that you’re being watched and that you are a role model. One of the things I ask every day is “What do you need to do to make your big goals move forward?” One of my goals for the last three years has been to be the best leader, so I ask myself: “How can I be the best leader I can be?
What are the things I need to do?“ The busier you are, the more pressure you have, the bigger your job, the more you really have to work at that. Because you end up sacrificing softer things when all of the deadlines and the pressures and the urgency and the ‘fire drills’ are going on.
I’m still a work in progress when it comes to making sure that I have enough time to invest in people. At the end of the day, as businesses, we’re all in a people business. And while I love Bloom’s technology, it’s people that we sell to, it’s people that make that technology work, it’s people that create prosperity, and make it all happen. And I don’t discount that.
I’ve been more of a fan of informal mentoring programmes, versus formal,
as formal sometimes ends up feeling contrived or not as authentic. And I think when you have a natural connection and you’re doing things because it’s what both parties are putting willing effort into – that’s really valuable.
One of the things you mentioned is that you have to make time. You are a mother, you’re a wife, you’re an employee, you’re a leader, where do you make time for yourself? Because I’m sure that this is something that a lot of women in this industry battle with.
I love when I hear women speak to this. And if you think I’ve got the whole work-life balance down, don’t look here. It’s really about work-life integration. But when you decide you’re with your family, you focus on your family; when you’re working, you’re working. And I think it’s a team approach. My husband, my son and my daughter are my biggest fans. And they know what work I am doing. And there are times they’re brought into it in different little ways. But on the other side, when it’s my time to be the mom, I’m a mom. When there’s something important going on, it’s blocked on my calendar. And when my family needs me, they come first. But they’re also very supportive with the number of hours I put in.
Have you found that being a woman in the sector is a benefit? And what do you bring to your role that is uniquely Sharelynn?
Two things. I think there’s absolutely been advantages as a woman in my role. There have been times I’ve been able to connect with other women in a way that is really special and unique. And there have been men that I’ve worked with, that I think I have been able to better connect with. Because there isn’t the alpha-alpha macho thing. I also have found that in seeing various waves of leadership over the course of the years, I can adapt to any of those environments. I think, as women, we can evolve and adapt and grow into the environments in which we are.I find that there are a lot of advantages.
I’ll tell you something that I learned early in my career. Women are different from men, statistically speaking. We are unique. We’re wired differently. And that is okay. That’s what brings diversity.
What do you believe the major trends in the sector are going to be over the next 12 months?
The trend that we’re going to see is a refocus on climate and climate initiatives. The things that the industry needs to do are going to be accelerated. We’re going to see acceleration for decentralised solutions; we’re going to see an acceleration towards decarbonisation technologies.
We’re going to see a resurgence in carbon capture. Elon Musk recently made a public challenge to the world. When’s the last time you heard about carbon capture?
We’re going to see a trend towards hydrogen. You do not get to zero carbon without hydrogen. When you look at the role that intermittent renewables can play, you can’t get to zero carbon. And yet, we’re all making these initiatives to zero carbon by 2040, by 2050… so hydrogen, and innovation around hydrogen as storage and hydrogen as a fuel is going to be really important.
Bloom will be providing electrolysers, which are a really cool way to inverse a fuel cell and take a form of energy, like excess intermittent renewables, and transform it into hydrogen. And that hydrogen can be used for fuelling and can be used when you need it where you need it.
What would you like to see in terms of the role of women in the sector?
While there is a lot of good work and progress that has been made, there’s still more to do. Diversity is critically important to all sectors, and energy is no exception. It brings the best perspectives to light and fosters sound decision-making. Technology needs to map to customer and community needs, and executive leaders should consider bringing in strong, smart women to the highest levels of an organization. I’m proud to work at Bloom, where our leadership believes that a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and points of view leads to better decision making and better serving our customers and communities.
We also need to facilitate and encourage networking, education and mentoring so women across the value chain, both public and private, can support one another and grow. Research consistently shows women don’t network nearly as much as men. We need to encourage and support women to take advantage of these rich opportunities.
Any specific message you would like our readers to take away with them?
Charting a path for oneself and change takes a lot of courage. Living the status quo is always easier and more comfortable. But it’s important to move out of your comfort zone because that’s how we face new
challenges, learn and grow.