Reef Industries

Women in Power: Niru Prakash Kumar

Jan-Latest-WiPProject Manager, Storage Business Development, NextEra Energy Resources,
Ambassador, IEEE Smart Village

I was born in India and when I was young, I saw how much pressure there was on people to either become an Engineer or a Doctor. So I wanted to be anything but those. Ironically, slowly I realized that I actually liked engineering. I finished my Bachelor of Engineering in Electrical and Electronics (or Power Systems Engineering) from The National Institute of Engineering, University of Mysore. Following this, I worked for a few years with IT companies in India. However, I soon realized my calling was in Power Systems Engineering, and so I decided on graduate school in the field.

I chose University of Washington in Seattle for my graduate school because it was one of the best schools for Power System Analysis or Energy Management Systems studies. As luck would have it, as I was finishing my MS, quite unexpectedly, I landed a job with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a Department of Energy run national lab as a Power Systems Research Engineer. I had never before done research, not even during my graduate degree, so I was much honored that the lab folks saw this potential in me.

While working for Pacific Northwest National Labs (PNNL), I started becoming heavily involved with IEEE. Soon I found myself nominated as the Region 6 Women in Engineering Coordinator. After that, I made it my mission to start more Women in Engineering groups within Region 6. Around this time, I also became interested in the Humanitarian Activities within IEEE. I met Amarnath Raja (then IEEE HAHC Chair) and the next thing I knew, I was part of the HAHC. I served on the HAHC for 2 years, literally witnessing the birth of IEEE SIGHT and subsequently have been serving on the SIGHT Steering committee for 2 years.

At PNNL, I worked on various cutting edge projects on the Smart Grid. However, what was missing was the business aspect of things. That’s when I decided to get an MBA to get sufficient skills for tackling the business world.

I started my MBA at Cornell University in 2012. During my MBA, I got two fellowships, one in Environmental Finance & Impact Investing and the second in Emerging Markets. While studying about emerging market issues, we were made to realize that, while most businesses were attracted to the rising middle class in emerging markets, the bigger segment of doing business came from creatively addressing the issues of the base of pyramid in these countries. That started a whole new interest in social enterprise for me. I didn’t know how to marry my love for social enterprise with my love for renewable energy, but I knew it had to deal with some form of bringing renewable, sustainable energy businesses to developing communities globally. That is when I found out about IEEE Smart Village (then Community Solutions Initiative) and it struck a strong chord. Immediately after graduating from my MBA, I decided to volunteer for IEEE Smart Village.

Around that time, I also got an offer from Windlogics, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy. NextEra Energy is the world’s largest producer of wind and solar energy and thus it was a dream come true to get the offer. I moved to St Paul, Mn to work for Windlogics, but within a year got an offer to move to our headquarters in Juno Beach,FL to work in our Storage Business Development group. NextEra Energy not only allows me to contribute my time to IEEE Smart Village, but also thru the company’s Dollars for Doers program, the hours I spend on IEEE Smart Village get converted into a check my company sends to IEEE Smart Village!

Within IEEE Smart Village, I was made their Ambassador. This meant I was presenting, talking and promoting IEEE Smart Village in different venues and conferences. And nothing has been more magical. Talking to folks about what makes me passionate and seeing their interest and enthusiasm in wanting to be part of this ‘movement’ has been one of the most satisfying things I have ever done, and hopefully can continue to do. Recently I started a Sustainable Microgrids task force within the IEEE PES SESDC working group. This task force will further research on sustainable rural microgrids in developing communities.

These days, my time is spent doing my full time job which I absolutely love, my gym time, hanging out with friends and of course IEEE Smart Village. People sometimes ask me how I balance work, life and smart village and as I often tell them – in life there is no magic, there is no balance. But in the end, you alone can make sure that it all averages out!