The young woman powering the global energy transition

Looking up at the canopy of a group of trees
Photo by Arnaud Mesureur on Unsplash
Clare Kelly
by Clare Kelly
23 December 2019

Ana Sophia is a Senior Associate for Rocky Mountain Institute's Islands Program and was recently named in the 2020 Forbes 30 under 30.

We recently spoke to Ana about this incredible achievement, what she’s been working on and her hopes for 2020. 

Congratulations on being named in the 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 list. What an incredible achievement! Where were you when you found out? 

This has been an exciting few weeks and a great way to close out the year. I got the good news while waiting for a bagel at my neighborhood shop  –  everything bagel with scallion cream cheese, of course.  A couple weeks later, I feel deeply humbled and grateful to be at an organisation that is willing to support its staff, regardless of their age, in tackling some of the most challenging issues relating to the global energy transition. I am also feeling inspired reading about the work of other energy awardees. What is clear to me is that my generation understands the energy transition is here  –  both because we are in the midst of a climate crisis and because leaders are waking up to the billion-dollar economic opportunity!

You work on RMI’s Islands Energy Program. Tell us about that. 

As a part of the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Islands Energy Program supports the creation of clean and resilient energy futures for island economies. I’m the most excited about working with islands that are leveraging clean energy technologies like electric vehicles, renewable energy, and energy storage proving that simultaneous decarbonisation and economic development is possible and creating solutions that can be scaled globally.  The regional solar industry, for example, has already set new industry standards for how to design an energy system that is able to withstand category 5 hurricane-strength winds. 

Microgrids built for critical facilities in islands are similar to those needed in other areas with different natural disasters, like the fires in California. After nearly three years working in the Caribbean, I am now working on deep decarbonization a little closer to home – and focused on a very different sector. Many don’t realize that despite the state’s climate leadership, New York state is the highest consumer of natural gas in the US, largely for providing heat to buildings. If we are going to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change, we need to find ways to eliminate natural gas consumption from buildings and I’m excited to be working on ways to tackle this challenge. 

RMI has been working to accelerate the development of resilient clean energy solutions through microgrids. What is a microgrid? How is this progressing in Puerto Rico and more broadly the region? 

A microgrid is an energy solution that can function in conjunction to the electricity grid (when the grid is operating as expected) and independently of the grid (when there is a fault in the grid).  In Puerto Rico, we have been supporting local stakeholders with developing solar and battery microgrids to improve the reliability of electricity in critical facilities such as hospitals, schools, and emergency response facilities.

 This technology has been especially popular in Puerto Rico after the 2017 hurricane season which caused the largest black out in United States history and caused over 3,000 deaths. Since the hurricane, the people of Puerto Rico have taken this tragedy as an opportunity to rethink how they produce energy and how they can ensure a more reliable and resilient energy system – establishing a goal for 100 per cent  renewable energy generation by 2040 and encouraging consumers to participate in the energy market through renewable energy and storage.

There’s an exciting movement of young people expressing their passion for the environment. What advice can you give them on channeling their passion into action?

Well, the first thing I will say to passionate youth, like Greta Thunberg, working on climate change is: thank you. The youth climate movement has reinvigorated the climate movement and galvanized a sense of urgency to tackling the climate crisis. On a more practical note, I’d like to debunk the idea that there is a specific type of person or skill set that is needed to tackle climate change. 

Climate change is such a complex, multisectoral, and global issue that we will need all sorts of people to work on it- activists, policy makers, philosophers, reporters, engineers and more. The good news for youth looking to professionally work on the issue of climate change – is that you are already exactly the type of person the world needs to tackle the issue, your job will be to challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone and seek opportunities that will help you grow in the skills you will need to personally contribute to the global energy transition.

To learn more about RMI’s work throughout 2019, and their plans for 2020, read the Annual Report and follow for updates across Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.