With more than 25 years in the energy industry and diverse expertise that spans renewable energy, electric transmission, retail choice, demand response, and smart grid, Laura J. Manz ’82 is now senior vice president for Viridity Energy’s western region, based in San Diego, Calif.
At Viridity, Manz is overseeing the company’s growth in the west through strategic partnerships among the education, commercial, and public sectors. Two initiatives include the distributed energy optimization project at University of California-San Diego (UCSD), which received a $1.6 million California Solar Initiative grant from the state’s public utilities commission and the Tres Amigas SuperStation project based in New Mexico.
Manz says the early foundation for her highly successful skills in building strategic partnerships and using a team approach to problem solving began at Lafayette.
“My first job involved working in power plants with the local utility,” says Manz, an electrical engineering graduate. “My education in power engineering gave me a solid technical background and prepared me for working in the power industry. As a student at Lafayette, I gained experience in collaborative problem solving that has been useful to my profession.”
In addition, Manz can easily discern how the value of studying engineering and liberal arts together impacts specific aspects of her work.
“An undergraduate background in engineering provides the ability to communicate and problem-solve in harmony with others trained in engineering, but combining that with a broader liberal arts background enables me to examine a challenge from many different angles,” she explains. “For example, creating the first successful nodal electricity market in the mid-Atlantic region required not only a solid understanding of the underlying physics of the grid, but also how to apply and overlay economics so business participants could make purchasing and selling decisions synergistic with the needs of grid operators.”
“Working with energy regulators to ensure that customer impacts are considered in proposals allows for a very successful deployment of electricity markets,” Manz continues. “These markets provide the underpinning that enables innovative technologies to answer the evolving challenges of the power grid. Smart grid technologies, such as VPower™, help create ‘prosumers’ who can use technology and information in their power usage choices.”
Smart grid uses digital information and controls technology to improve reliability and efficiency of the electric grid as well as predicting and responding to user behavior.
Manz explains: “Smart grid is a natural evolution of technology applied to the existing power grid. The nature of the power grid is such that power taken off the grid must be matched by power being added, like keeping a constant level in a leaky bucket. As renewable electricity supply becomes a larger part of the supply portfolio, smart grid introduces a level of supply variability not previously experienced, similar to occasionally getting a clog in the hose filling the bucket. Smart grid allows customers to more efficiently control the power being taken off the grid to more closely match the variable supply.”
The UCSD project uses VPower™ to combine on-campus supply and storage resources for a deployable customer resource, “one that is responsive to economic and carbon optimization,” says Manz. “By incorporating information on the day prior to the operating day, and applying neural network adaptive learning, the campus can prepare resources day-ahead. This enables the university to deploy the resources effectively in real time, as continuously updated information becomes available.”
For students interested in the energy industry and particularly alternative solutions, Manz advises that a well-rounded background would include electrical engineering, environmental studies, and policy studies. She notes that this combination enables students to be prepared “to understand the interactions of policies, engineering, and environmental impacts.”
Manz’s previous positions include running her own energy consulting firm; vice president for market and infrastructure development at California Independent System Operator (CAISO); and director of regulatory affairs, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E).
A senior member of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Manz holds an MBA from Drexel University, Philadelphia, and has received several industry awards including a Tribute to Women in Industry.
Viridity Energy, founded in 2008 and based in Conshohocken, Pa., provides large energy consumers with tools to increase efficiency and decrease costs.