In this series, we talk with some of the passionate, high-performance team members who are co-creating the Energy Transition Platform: the leading global marketplace for Distributed Energy Systems (DES).
Today we talk with Brian Noel, Head of Project Development. Brian leads the modeling and project development customer success teams, and is the product owner for the project development side of the VECKTA marketplace platform.
Meet Brian Noel
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to join VECKTA.
I grew up in Virginia, went to undergrad in Richmond and grad school in Pittsburgh, worked in DC for 5 years, and did a year-long stint in Tennessee before moving out to California. Within California I’ve lived in Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and now Santa Barbara. So I’ve lived in a lot of different places – in fact, I did the math and it turns out I’ve moved on average slightly more than once per year since graduating from high school.
Living on the west coast has been a dream; working on the West Coast was a bit of a culture shock at first—but I like to think I’ve adapted reasonably well. I’m sure, though, if you ask anyone who works with me they’ll tell you there’s still some East Coast attitude that comes out from time to time….
Anyway, when I moved to California, I needed a way to get 18 miles to work without sitting in traffic for an hour, so I picked up motorcycling. Turns out I discovered something I’d been missing all my life—getting as close as possible to flying without leaving the ground. I discovered a community that combined two of my favorite things to do, riding motorcycles and camping, and I became one of those weirdo ADV enthusiasts. In fact, it’s how I got connected to VECKTA, when Gareth and I serendipitously ended up camping right next to each other at an ADV motorcycle rally.
That’s amazing! I love connections like that. Were you always interested in the energy industry?
No, I wasn’t. First of all, I wanted to study Jazz and Trumpet Performance in college. I grew up playing trumpet and piano, and much to my parent’s chagrin, music was my real passion. But they pushed me to what they considered to be a more practical choice—engineering. Through undergrad and grad school I was interested in bio-materials and semiconductor physics, so that’s what I studied, and I studied it hard.
Then I graduated and had to find a job. So where did I go? I went to work as a consultant for nuclear power plants! Turns out I found large power systems really interesting. Fast forward through my career and I found myself doing things like multi-physics modeling of prime movers and power systems, building crazy electric heating apparatuses to support methane pyrolysis, becoming an expert on high voltage non-transferred arc plasma torches, systems engineering and integration of flow battery and lithium-ion battery energy storage systems, and finally finding myself using everything I’ve learned to evaluate large scale projects with distributed energy resources.
What are you working on at VECKTA right now?
I have two primary responsibilities at VECKTA. I oversee our modeling team, and I’m the product owner as it relates to project development. Our modeling team assists customers with more advanced project technical evaluations—these might be complex systems that utilize renewables as well as combined heat and power, or projects that have multiple use cases in order to tap into multiple sources of revenue. As the product owner for the project development portion of the platform, I define features and workflows that facilitate distributed energy system project development activities, from the perspective of the energy end user, project developer, or owner/operator of systems.
Those are core elements that define the whole platform. What would you say are the most important skills to help you succeed?
Attention to detail. Adaptability to different situations. Broad experiences that can inform creative ways of thinking about problems. Smiling and laughing a lot. Asking thoughtful questions. Taking your work seriously, but not taking yourself too seriously.
What advice would you give to someone pursuing a career like yours?
Don’t listen to people that tell you to “focus on one thing and get really good at it.” Actually, do listen to that advice. But do it over and over again. Don’t just be the expert at one thing—you will end up with a very narrow perspective on the world. If that one thing that you know really well becomes obsolete, then what? Constantly challenge yourself to learn new things, and go deep in the things that you learn.
Speaking of challenges, what is the biggest challenge this industry is facing, and how is VECKTA overcoming it?
There are too many bespoke designs, methods, equipment, and systems. We can all agree that yes, of course every situation is different. But economies of scale in this industry will be achieved through modularization and productization. In addition to the myriad technologies and configurations out there, there is generally no agreed upon methodology for designing, optimizing, and analyzing a distributed energy system.
VECKTA is overcoming this by providing an easy to use interface and optimization engine (powered by XENDEE) that allows users to scope and design an optimal microgrid, as well as providing a transparent and secure marketplace where users can access the supply chain (consultants, engineers, equipment providers, constructors and financial investors offering debt financing or energy as a service) to make their microgrid a reality.
It’s a safe bet that the VECKTA value that resonates most strongly with you is “challenge limits.” How do you live that out?
I used to run track, and my main event was pole vault. So in addition to training to run faster and faster, I also trained to jump higher and higher. The beautiful thing about track and field as a sport is that you’re not always competing against other people, but you are always competing against yourself. You’re forced to adopt a mindset of continually challenging your limits, as that is the only way you’ll get faster, throw farther, or jump higher. But that’s what I used to do. What I do now is push myself to learn and do things that I’m uncomfortable with. I plan long motorcycle adventures where I cover 400-500 miles of mixed road and dirt in a day through the most remote parts of the country, like a maniac.
Or I teach myself all about soils engineering and how to design structural retaining walls so I can terrace my backyard. These things are scary, because there’s a clear element of danger, but they’re also things that when properly researched, planned, and executed, sometimes through sheer determination and force of will, can turn out to be really incredible. If I didn’t challenge limits I’d never get to see the most beautiful desert mountains I’ve ever seen, and I’d have to look at an ugly concrete wall in my backyard.
Those are some clear upsides! Thanks for sharing with us, Brian.
Brian and the rest of the VECKTA team are working hard to create a more sustainable, equitable, and profitable energy future. Subscribe to the VECKTA newsletter and stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the world’s leading Energy Transition Market Platform.