From Steel to Solar: Q&A with JERA's Todd Kerschbaum

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Todd Kerschbaum has worked all over the generation spectrum, helping engineer power projects using coal, natural gas, recycled waste, wind and solar resources. Now head of operations as chief technology officer for JERA Americas, Kerschbaum also is track chair for the first-ever All Things Solar sessions at POWER-GEN International.

Here, Kerschbaum talks about his experiences going from the steel to electric power industries, moving from fossil fuel to renewables and what the All Things Solar track will offer in its inaugural year at POWER-GEN, which runs from December 4-6 in Orlando.

1.    How did you get started in the power generation and industry and what inspired you to choose that career path?

“I worked in the steel industry early in my career and was exposed to electric arc furnaces, which fascinated me to learn more about power and electric utilities. I was fortunate to start working for an electric utility right out of college and became a project engineer on a new power station. I enjoyed the challenge of managing construction and large generation projects and the opportunities kept coming for many years.”

2.    You’ve helped engineer a lot of power projects using a wide array of resources. What was your process in moving into renewables?

“While I was an executive at NRG Energy, the company, a major owner of fossil fuel plants, decided it wanted to be part of the solution to climate change. Having studied solar power in college, it was a natural switch to migrating my talents into solar and renewable projects.  NRG gave me the opportunity to start a solar firm, and I moved to the desert and learned all about solar.”

3.    Tell us a little about what JERA does?

“JERA Co., Inc. is the new entity formed from the pending merger of two major Japanese companies, Tokyo Electric Power Company and Chubu Electric Power Company. The company is a global energy company headquartered in Japan, with JERA Americas based in Houston, and in 2019 will become one of the largest power generators with over 66 GW of generation assets. The company is pursuing energy opportunities in the U.S. power and LNG markets by investing strategically and integrating the value chain from upstream fuel investment and procurement through power generation. JERA recently made an investment in a leading solar company in India and signed cooperative agreements with a battery and storage technology provider, signaling a strong and growing commitment to renewables and emerging technologies.”

4.    As track chair for All Things Solar at POWER-GEN, give us an overview on what our attendees can expect from the content there.

“The fast-paced growth of solar projects over the last few years has diverged into a number technologies, industries and applications. This year we have a comprehensive array of papers and presentations covering topics from thermal and PV solar generation, thermal and battery storage, the challenges of solar integration with the Grid, and where the industry may be headed regarding the total installed cost of solar.”

5.    You’ve worked extensively in both worlds-fossil and renewable energies. What’s better when it comes to generation: All or nothing or all of the above?

“I’ve learned over the years not to bet on one horse. I firmly believe renewables are an important part of the generation mix, and as deployment increases, the cost-competitiveness of renewables remains attractive. There is a social responsibility that goes along with a profitable business, so environmental impacts must be considered in a balanced approach to generation technologies. I also recognize as technology advances there will always be “disrupters” to long-term planning, and our abundance of natural resources in North America continues to shape our generation technologies and investments.”

5.    How does POWER-GEN reflect that?

“Power-Gen provides a global platform to learn what other countries, industries and governments are doing. Where are investments being made? What technology and applications are working and who has them? The vendors and experts are there. In just three days you can network until you drop while seeing the latest in technologies and equipment.”

6.    Obviously you’re a busy man, but what do you do for fun outside of work?

“I enjoy spending time with my family, hiking and biking in Arizona. I also enjoy watching the sunset after my rooftop solar system captures enough energy to power my home for the night."

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The first-ever All Things Solar track at POWER-GEN International will feature utilities such as Orlando Utilities Commission and Eversource and companies such as HDR and First Solar. Click here for more information and how to register at POWER-GEN happening December 4-6.