You joined Optimal Energy fairly recently, from a position as Energy Manager for the City of Boston. What attracted you to our company, and to your specific role?
Adam: An early career mentor of mine helped me understand the importance of getting on-the-ground experience before moving into consulting. In the decade since, I’ve gained strong field experience in both the private and public sectors, plus energy management for large enterprises. Optimal Energy provides the perfect opportunity to apply what I’ve learned in ways that bring high value to our clients.
From the start, it was clear that Optimal Energy is a group of intelligent, highly motivated professionals. They share a mission to help the world pivot toward a more efficient, climate-friendly economy. Plus, as Optimal’s website states, “Location, Location, Location!” I’ve now lived here for four seasons, and I can attest to the year-round recreational opportunities described on our Careers page (see my photos).
In my opinion, C&I is where all the fun is when it comes to energy. A house, an apartment, or a condo can only consume energy in so many different ways – but every time you walk out your front door, you are looking at C&I energy consumption. Adam Jacobs
What (and where) are your primary projects at Optimal?
Adam: My primary work is on energy use in all non-residential sectors, commonly referred to as Commercial and Industrial (or C&I). Personally, I pay attention to my own energy consumption. But professionally, my focus has always been on the largest consumers of energy: cities, corporations, institutions, etc. These entities make up the lion’s share of energy consumption on our planet, and therefore have the highest impact on our climate.
I serve as the C&I team leader for our work with the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council and the Rhode Island Energy Efficiency and Resource Management Council. I also spend time working on C&I programs in other states like Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. In addition to my C&I responsibilities, I am also keenly interested in developing Optimal’s work with cities and local governments. These folks are the boots on the ground in the fight against climate change.
What were some of the highlights of your education? Why did you choose to pursue a Masters in Energy Systems from Northeastern University?
Adam: I started college as an undeclared major at Boston University. I briefly considered becoming a high school physics teacher, but found my way to a major in Environmental Analysis and Policy. I’ve always had a strong connection to nature. I spent my summers from ages 8-20 attending and then working at a YMCA summer camp on Lake Winnepesaukee in New Hampshire.
After several semesters studying Environmental Policy, I realized that many of the problems human activity has created for our planet were a result of market failures. I had already taken a few introductory economics courses, but with most of my major credit requirements covered by the end of my junior year, I decided to spend my entire senior year overloading on economics courses to get myself a minor in that field. If we want to save the planet, we need to find out how to pay for it!
After I graduated from BU, I spent several years working for Johnson Controls. I was surrounded by engineers and conducting engineering analysis. Realizing I needed to add more technical competency to my education, I sought out a graduate program that focused on energy engineering. Northeastern University’s Masters in Energy Systems out of its College of Engineering was a perfect fit for me. This program covered the fundamentals of energy from an engineering, financial and regulatory perspective.
I also earned a certificate in Engineering Leadership from the Gordon Engineering Leadership Institute at Northeastern. The founder, Bernie Gordon, believed strongly in the need to provide leadership skills to those in technical roles. Through that program, I developed critical skills like crisis management, negotiation, and compromise. These and other project management competencies rounded out my expanding technical knowledge base.
You led Boston’s successful efforts to maintain the top position as #1 in the ACEEE City Energy Efficiency Scorecard. What were some key lessons you took away from that effort?
Adam: Maintaining the #1 spot was great. (In fact, the hiring manager joked that I needed to do that if I wanted to keep my job when I first started!) But, what that effort really showed me was the extent to which Boston had aggressively assembled a broad climate action plan. Boston was very active in literally every category of energy/climate policy covered in ACEEE’s ranking. They helped set the mold for what cities can do to drive energy efficiency. It amazed me how thoroughly Boston has integrated climate change mitigation into core services of City government.
That’s not to say the City always had the best policies or even the best results. But the level of dedication to continuously improving (something I learned to respect from my Johnson Controls days) was inspiring. Boston’s Environment Department and other City staff genuinely cared about the work they did. I’m glad that they’re continuing to push an aggressive climate agenda. I was especially adamant that workforce development became a bigger part of City government’s climate action plan. I’m heartened to see an entire section dedicted to workforce development in the latest CAP update!
You’ve worked in government, and for a major private-sector energy service provider. How you draw on the experience from each sector working at Optimal Energy?
Adam: In my opinion, C&I is where all the fun is when it comes to energy. A house, an apartment, or a condo can only consume energy in so many different ways – but every time you walk out your front door, you are looking at C&I energy consumption. Whether it’s a commercial office, a school building, a wastewater treatment plant, a massive Tier 3 data center, a subway system, a streetlight, or Boston City Hall, from the utility company perspective, it’s all a C&I account!
There certainly are similarities in how large enterprises think about energy consumption, but their values and goals can be dramatically different. A private entity might have a long-term plan, but they’re generally bound to quarterly and annual earnings reports. In the best-run organizations, they might have a 5 or 10 year master plan for their facilities and operations. They make investments with returns commensurate with that time horizon.
A government, on the other hand, is in it for the long haul. Boston has existed, in one form or another, for almost 400 years. If they want to be around for another 400, they need to take a hard look at their impact on the planet. Then, make sure they’re mitigating impacts on the environment, while simultaneously preparing for the worst.
This interview is taking place during the COVID-19 crisis. With Optimal staff and clients working remotely, can you say a bit about what is going well, and maybe one challenging aspect of your work life these days?
Adam: COVID-19 has certainly up-ended daily life around the world, and mine is no different. My wife, Emily, is a middle-school art teacher and she’s now working from home, too. At one point in the first few weeks of quarantine, I was on a call. We had utilities and a government agency discussing some pretty important topics on our respective long-term visions for energy efficiency. Emily’s homeroom briefly entered into that discussion. It was a nice interlude to bring some humor onto an otherwise tense call.
So, it’s a mix of what’s what’s been challenging and what’s going well. On the one hand, it’s tough to have technical calls while being interrupted by several middle schoolers on a Zoom meeting. But at the same time, it’s a reminder that we’re all in this together, and it’s important to laugh once in a while.
What are your favorite pastimes outside of work?
Adam: It’s no secret to anyone who talks to me for more than a few minutes that I’m a little obsessed with being outdoors. If you give me a hint of interest, you will be asked to join a random expedition into the wilderness. I’ve always loved hiking and have taken to rock climbing, ice climbing and mountaineering over the past 5-10 years. Moving to Vermont was one of the best life-decisions I’ve ever made. As I tell my dad when he asks me how I like it up here, “I’m never leaving!”
Do you have a story about an unusual or memorable event in your personal life?
Adam: When I was a freshmen in college, for my first Spring Break ever, I had planned to escape Boston winter and go visit my older sister in sunny Palm Springs, California. I had plans to lounge in the sun and swim in her pool. Plus, there’s a cool arial tram that brings you from the desert floor to the top of a 10,000 foot mountain. It was going to be great!
But the night before my flight west, my stomach didn’t feel so good. I couldn’t sleep, so I woke up my mom (a nurse) to tell her something was wrong. After an hour or two of me moaning and rolling around on my bed, she agreed we should go to the ER. My relaxing poolside vacation tuned into a surprise appendectomy while waiting out a blizzard at Melrose-Wakfield Hospital in Massachusetts.