We spoke to the business development manager on our energy storage team, Fiona Stewart, to hear about her career growth at ForeFront Power and learn more about how she’s leveraging her analytical skills to tackle the battery storage market.

Fiona Stewart

Where are you from originally?

FS: I grew up in the Bay Area, but I did spend a few of my early years in Tokyo since my mom is from Japan. I’m grateful for that unique experience because I can speak in Japanese with my mom. Now I’m based in Truckee, which is close enough to San Francisco that I get to visit the main office every now and then.

What do you like to do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?

FS: In my free time I usually spend time outdoors. I like skiing, hiking, climbing, backpacking – all the outdoor things. I also have an active Vizsla dog that needs to be taken out every day, which means he comes with me on all my outdoor adventures.

What did you want to be when you grew up? 

FS: Growing up, I wanted to be a veterinarian because I really love animals. As I got older, I realized that the classes involved to pursue that career, like biology and chemistry, weren’t for me. Instead, I settled on having a dog myself.

How did you end up working in the renewable energy field?

FS: Once I figured out that I didn’t want to become a veterinarian, I knew I wanted a career in something that I was passionate about. I wasn’t exactly sure what that could look like until I went to college. I originally went in undecided, and then after taking a bunch of classes, I found that my classes in renewable energy were the most intriguing to me. I really enjoyed using my analytical skills to try to solve environmental problems. I decided to pursue an environmental economics degree with the goal of working in renewable energy. I thought that by working in this field, I could make the greatest impact on fighting climate change by helping reduce our carbon footprint through clean energy.

How did you find ForeFront Power? When did you join the team?

FS: After I graduated in the winter of 2019, my plan was to use spring 2020 to find a job and then the pandemic happened. That was very unfortunate timing, but I was lucky enough to find ForeFront Power which was hiring at the time for remote positions. It was a smooth interview process and I enjoyed meeting the team. I ended up getting hired as an analyst in June 2020 and have been here ever since.

How has your role evolved at ForeFront Power?

FS: My role at ForeFront has changed from Analyst to Senior Analyst to Associate to now Business Development Manager. It was great to start as an Analyst, because I got to gain foundational knowledge about how the industry works and be exposed to many different products and markets. Once I was promoted to Senior Analyst, I had more responsibility over projects and took on harder markets that required more specialized analytical work.

When you’re an Analyst, there are two general paths to take from there; you can either do Sales or Business Development. I chose the Business Development route and took up an opportunity to become a Business Development Associate for the energy storage team. I was excited to get into energy storage because it was one of my favorite products to work on. It’s a quickly changing market that requires precise analytical work, and I enjoy that challenge.

What are your responsibilities as a Business Development Manager at ForeFront Power?

FS: I oversee our day-to-day storage business at ForeFront Power which involves managing our storage partners and evaluating new potential markets, technologies, partners, and vendors. I also keep up with evolving energy storage policy, track market changes, support our Sales team through proposals and contracts, and guide our Development team through the procurement process. My role covers energy storage projects from start to finish. 

I also manage our Analyst team, so I get to act as a mentor to them. That’s one of my favorite parts of my job. Since I was in their position not too long ago, I feel like I can give them insightful career advice on how they can progress. In mentoring them, I usually ask them questions like what kind of things do you like? Which projects do you like working on the most? Why do you think you’re having difficulty with this project? Then, we dig into that to come up with a solution or plan for their career. 

What do you enjoy most about the job? What do you find most challenging?

FS: I think that we have some of the smartest and friendliest people in the industry here at ForeFront Power. I really enjoy working on projects and collaborating with the people here. Everyone is so hard working and detail oriented that, despite any complications on projects, we all come together nicely to figure out a solution.

The most challenging part would probably be navigating the complex regulatory environment. The policies vary across the country and they’re constantly changing. There’s also vastly different market structures such as wholesale electricity markets, ancillary services markets, and capacity markets. You have to make sure you’re understanding all the intricacies of those across the US, and it can be a lot to keep up with.

How have you seen the energy storage market change since you’ve been in the renewable energy field?

FS: Policies and incentives really shape the commercial energy storage market. Over the past few years, I’ve seen the federal government and different states become more or less friendly to energy storage, making it more or less economically viable. For example, when the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was introduced, it created an energy storage tax credit that made standalone energy storage viable in markets where it hadn’t been before. On the flip side, some states’ energy storage incentives have run out, making it harder for those projects to be developed.

What does the trajectory of the energy storage market look like?

FS: More and more people are recognizing the value that storage brings to the grid. If energy storage is being charged from solar, then it’s a clean energy source that can address an issue called the duck curve. The duck curve shows how electricity demand changes throughout the day, which dips midday because of all the solar generation happening and has a sharp increase in the evening.

I’ve seen an increase in customers interested in microgrids and batteries to provide backup power. That’s primarily because they’ve been experiencing outages from their electric utility company. People are now wanting to have some degree of independence and protection from power outages in the future.

As organizations begin electrifying their fleets and increasing their electricity usage, they can use storage to ensure that they always have enough power available to them. There are instances where electric utility companies will tell their customers that they’re not able to support the extra load they need to electrify their fleet, especially in the evening hours when the grid is already being strained. As fleet electrification gets bigger and bigger, more customers will look to solar and storage to fill the gaps.

How can ForeFront Power contribute to that trajectory?

FS: ForeFront is active in solar and storage advocacy groups across the nation. We’re constantly tracking and modeling proposed policies so that we can actually see what it’ll translate to in the real world, and then we provide feedback to help make sure the policy is shaped in a way that is beneficial for everyone. We also monitor emerging technologies so that we can provide the best solutions for our customers.

What important lessons have you learned in your solar energy career so far?

FS: The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is the importance of creativity and persistence. It’s interesting because when you think of someone that’s analytical, you often don’t think of them as creative, but I’ve found that solving the hardest problems requires creatively adjusting different input to make something work.

What advice would you give to young people pursuing energy careers today?

FS: There are so many different careers that you can pursue in the renewable energy industry. There’s analytical, sales, marketing, legal, financial, development, the list goes on and on. You should figure out which career you’d be most interested in and then hone your skills to that. Also, don’t lose sight of why you’re pursuing a career in the energy industry. If you can remind yourself why you’re pursuing it and why you’re passionate about it, then you can take yourself farther than you ever expected.