HUBweek Change Maker: Dean Seavers

U.S. President, National Grid

Dean Seavers joined National Grid in 2014 as U.S. President of National Grid. Dean’s career as a value creator has included leadership roles at GE, United Technologies, and Tyco. He led GE Security, a $2 billion product and technology group, and he also led a $4 billion global services portfolio for United Technologies. Dean was a founding partner of Red Hawk Fire & Security and led its emergence as the second largest independent fire and security platform in the U.S. At National Grid, his focus is on continuing the performance progress that underpins the company’s $7 billion business in the U.S. while driving its clean energy transition agenda of building the advanced natural gas and electricity networks that are necessary for our 21st century digital economy.

Zoe Dobuler: What do you envision the U.S. energy landscape looking like in 10 years? In 100? What excites you most about the future of the energy industry?

Dean Seavers: The energy industry of tomorrow looks very different from today. In 10 years, I envision millions of electric vehicles on the road, a major shift to renewable resources, and innovative smart grids that give customers choice/control of their energy consumption. This is all in the works now with the goal of decarbonization.

National Grid is at the forefront of this clean energy transition. We’re introducing more rooftop solar, energy storage, and connections to large-scale renewable energy such as offshore wind. We continue to grow our efficiency programs all to best serve our customers, communities and the environment around us. It’s hard not to be excited about the future of our industry, and the future of our company.

Other companies can choose to participate in the journey to a clean energy future, but for us, as a customer-focused energy company, we need to be leading the way. If we don’t, who will? It’s exciting to be a leader in that story and to stand on the right side of history.

But what excites me most about the future of the energy industry is twofold: The role of the utility has changed and will continue to change. Utilities were once just about pipes and wires, restoring power after outages and delivering electricity and gas to our customers. Now, we are looking at new clean energy technologies and innovations that will allow us to better serve both our customers and the environment around us.

I’m also excited about the idea that by 2050, there will be hopefully be 20 million light-duty vehicles on the road. Electric Vehicles will dramatically reduce our carbon footprint and National Grid is working to make strides toward that by investing in electric charging stations, addressing barriers that keep customers from purchasing EVs, providing incentives to our own employees to purchase or lease EVs, and switching our corporate fleet over to electric.

ZD: How is National Grid embedding sustainability into its business strategy? What are the company’s clean energy goals?

DS: National Grid and the states we serve (MA, NY, and RI) have a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050. This is an ambitious goal that will require the participation of our communities, but we are committed to getting there. We recently released a blueprint for how we can reach this goal focusing on power generation, heat, and especially transportation, the largest source of GHG emissions in the Northeast. For National Grid, climate change isn’t a political question, but scientific fact, and we believe that innovation and a diverse group of partners at the table will help us reach the clean energy future we all want.

We have a number of projects that are helping us reach clean energy goals. For example, we make $660 million in energy efficiency grants annually, and we have planned investments of $100 million to develop clean energy solutions.

On Nantucket, we are developing New England’s first large-scale battery energy storage system that will provide 48 MWh of backup power to the island in the event of a submarine cable failure.

We are creating a fully digitized substation of the future that will allow us to monitor and respond in real time to changes in power flows created to be new, clean, variable energy sources.

ZD: National Grid is a large, multinational company. How do you foster a culture of innovation and creativity?

DS: In order to foster a culture of innovation and creativity, we ensure all of our employees know and live our purpose, vision, and values, while remaining customer-focused. All of our employees are on the same page in terms of our goal to reach a clean energy future and serving our customers long into the future, so their creative energy is directed toward the same goal.

We make sure our employees can bring their whole selves to work every day. National Grid wants customers to have an exceptional experience, which means first creating that experience for employees who serve them. We are creative and competitive about the types of benefits we offer — from the student loan repayment program to our employee EV incentive to our caregiver program, which gives employees access to high-quality child and elder care. When employees don’t need to worry about external stresses, they have more time and freedom to be creative in the workplace.

At National Grid, the skills of our employees are at the heart of our success. It’s important that we invest in learning and development for growth now and in the future. Our Accelerated Development Program, for example, provides high-performing employees with a 15-month developmental journey to accelerate the readiness of National Grid’s future leaders.

ZD: How does National Grid leverage collaborations with individuals and organizations to find solutions to today’s pressing energy problems? Can you provide a few examples?

DS: One collaboration I want to highlight is our sponsorship of the MIT Electric Power Systems Center and the MIT Center for Energy & Environmental Policy Research. These research centers focus on issues like advanced rate design, innovative utility regulatory frameworks, wholesale market design with zero-carbon resources, climate policy, the value of Distributed Energy Resources, energy efficiency, deep decarbonization pathways, transportation electrification, and electric system planning.

The great thing about these centers is that they are working toward extending the frontier of knowledge and we benefit from having an opportunity to engage with MIT researchers on areas that impact the future of our business and the future of energy for our customers.

One of the many ways we collaborate with businesses in the communities we serve is through our economic development program. In upstate NY, we have 17 different programs and an $11 million budget. To give you one example, we invested close to $700K in an engine plant in that region to support an advanced LED lighting project that includes a Wi-Fi enabled lighting control system. The business replaced 3,000 fluorescent lights that were approaching end of life, which will save about nine percent of the plant’s total energy use and save them close to $500K a year.

We also work with a company called OSC, Inc. OSC offers the first battery-operated construction equipment and National Grid was the first company to test their equipment and provide feedback on its usage. For example, we found that the battery drained in cold weather, so OSC was able to make proper upgrades and we have now purchased four pieces of equipment for use on Long Island. Working with OSC has a reciprocal effect because it allows us to do our work more sustainably while also helping a company in our service territory grow.

ZD: You have written about “the democratization of energy.” Can you elaborate on what that means for National Grid, but also for consumers?

DS: The democratization of energy is all about providing safe, reliable, affordable, clean energy to everyone. In this case, I’m referring to the 20 million customers we serve in MA, RI, and NY. We have our work cut out for us. We must transition to a decarbonized energy network by 2050 while growing local economies and ensuring our families’ long-term economic and environmental health. Meanwhile, we must build a solution that engages everyone with a stake in our energy future because we cannot act alone. Energy companies and policymakers must work hand in hand in order to ensure this happens. Therefore, I see the democratization of energy as an inclusive plan of action necessary for serving our customers long into the future.

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