The Future is Now: Clean Currents Focuses on Future Leaders, Future Workforce, and the Future of Clean Energy

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The Future is Now: Clean Currents Focuses on Future Leaders, Future Workforce, and the Future of Clean Energy


October 11, 2021


Diane Lear, Vice President of Operations and Member Services, NHA


The Future is Now: Clean Currents Focuses on Future Leaders, Future Workforce, and the Future of Clean Energy

NHA thanks our sponsors:


Throughout the waterpower industry, companies and organizations are taking steps to generate more clean megawatts for consumers, to develop technologies that make us more efficient, and to set in motion ways we will mitigate climate change and lead North America into a clean energy future.

The industry is also working to find ways to identify the next generation of leaders and to help them prepare for the challenges they will need to face as clean energy takes a larger role in meeting growing energy demands.

The National Hydropower Association’s new Clean Currents Conference + Tradeshow in Atlanta the week of October 18, 2021, is THE place to focus on the future.

Among the future focuses during Clean Currents will be:

Official launch of the National Hydropower Association’s FLOW — Future Leaders of Waterpower program.

— The grand finale of a unique competition — Hydro Think Tank Unplugged — in which undergraduate and graduate students from five universities have been designing a unique renewable energy city of 2030 using hydropower as one of the sources to power the city. The students will be on hand at Clean Currents to “present” their designs in front of judges and conference attendees.

A special tour of the exhibits by educators in the Atlanta area teaching 6th through 12th grade classes on technology, environmental science, physical science, and physics. The objective is to expose these teachers to the breadth and depth of the waterpower technology.

— A workshop to discuss the possibilities of a new national Hydropower Collegiate Competition.

A two-hour workshop on Friday morning on the topic of “Sustainable Leadership: Cultivating Grit and Resiliency in Your Team” The workshop will offer ways in which leaders within waterpower organizations can better attract and retain young professionals.

More details about each offering are provided below.

Get into the FLOW

During Clean Currents, NHA is officially launching its newest ad-hoc networking/career development group, FLOW. The ultimate goal of FLOW — which stands for Future Leaders of Waterpower —  is to attract and support talented, diverse professionals by creating a welcoming and safe environment and by providing a clear pathway for professional growth, says Malcolm Woolf, NHA’s President and CEO.

NHA aims to provide the next generation of waterpower leaders with the tools and resources they need for growth and career advancement. While anyone is able to join, NHA is specifically wanting to attract individuals who are:

  • Young professionals with 15 years or less experience in waterpower
  • Women
  • Veterans
  • People with Disabilities
  • LGBTQ+

“We know that diversity in professional experience, age, gender, racial background, and industry translates into a diversity of ideas, solutions, and growth for the industry as we meet the needs of a diverse country with various needs,” Woolf says.

Throughout the week of Clean Currents, we are providing young industry professionals a variety of ways to connect, network and learn, Woolf says. On Tuesday evening, October 19, NHA is hosting a networking happy hour for all its committees and councils — including anyone who is part of or interested in being part of FLOW. And, on Wednesday, October 21, NHA’s staff and board of directors will be available in the NHA booth to meet individuals involved in FLOW.

Inspire Our Next Workforce: Hydro Think Tank Unplugged

The Hydropower Foundation has been working with Southern Company, GE Renewable Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and others to hold a Think Tank competition among university students that will culminate at Clean Currents.

The Hydropower Foundation is a not-for-profit organization with a strong track record in working with the academic community and serving as a liaison between industry and academia. Through its Think Tank program, the Foundation creates learning activities that bring students together with industry to focus on real-world problems.

“The program  allows the students to work hand-in-hand with individuals from industry while they unleash their creativity and innovative thinking,” says Linda Church-Ciocci, executive director of the Foundation. “These projects provide total immersion outside the academic world and give students a ‘test drive,’ so to speak, on whether a career in hydropower is the right fit.”

This year’s competition, called Think Tank Unplugged, challenges students to design a city of 2030, incorporating hydro as one of the energy resources used, in conjunction with other carbon-free technologies. Microgrids and transportation systems must be part of their concept.

Students have participated in virtual workshops with industry and U.S. Department of Energy national labs to expose them to information in helping them design their city.  An industry panel of judges critiqued the students’ “first draft” proposals and provided feedback.

To complete the experience, students will attend Clean Currents to present their final proposals before the judges and event attendees. Following the presentations, the competition winner will be announced.

While at Clean Currents, students will have plenty of opportunity to interact with industry, learn more about the role waterpower plays as a renewable energy resource, and explore career options in the waterpower sector.

The four participating students are from Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Maryland, and University of Tennessee.

The students’ comments about why they are participating in the competition are inspiring:

  • “I want to learn more about hydropower.”
  • “I look forward to developing innovative solutions and receiving feedback from industry professionals.”
  • “I really enjoy case competitions and have participated in other energy-related competitions. One of my favorite parts of these kinds of events is meeting the other students and learning about their work.”
  • “I love tackling challenges, and I am ready to create the renewable city of my dreams”.

We NEED Teachers Involved in the Future of Hydro

NHA is working with the National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project to offer a special tour of the exhibits at Clean Currents for educators in the Atlanta area.

Educators from 13 schools who are teaching 6th through 12th grade classes on technology, environmental science, physical science, and physics will participate. Part of the tour involves an innovative “careers scavenger hunt.”

The objective is to expose these teachers to the breadth and depth of the waterpower technology.

In addition to the Clean Currents tour, NEED is holding a day-long virtual workshop for the teachers the Saturday before Clean Currents. The October 16 workshop includes a Hydropower 101 overview as well as exposure to a number of hands-on projects for use in the classroom.

Started in 1980, the NEED Project trains and assists teachers in harnessing the energy of the classroom – the energy of students to explore, experiment, and engage in understanding energy — how it’s produced and about a clean energy future. NEED has a portfolio of more than 100 student and teacher guides for the classroom.

NEED’s program director Rebecca Lamb will share materials and approaches to how to successfully engage teachers during the Communicating about Waterpower workshop during Clean Currents.

How about a National Hydropower Collegiate Competition?

With the week of October 18 being “Careers in Energy Week,” (as designated by the Center for Energy Workforce Development), it seems fitting for that topic to be included in discussions taking place at Clean Currents.

Once such discussion is about the possibility of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) creating a national Hydropower Collegiate Competition for university students. DOE’s objective of such a competition would be to make students aware of career opportunities in hydropower. It’s estimated there will be more than 120,000 new hydropower jobs available in the coming years, and there is concern about having enough applicants to fill these jobs.

The competition would be designed based on a model that DOE and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have successfully implemented for other technology sectors, including wind and marine energy. The hydropower competition would bring together bright, soon-to-be workforce entrants to solve real-world problems with partner hydropower operators and utilities. The competition organizers will target and market to 4-year university undergrads, grad students, students from trades and community colleges, and students from tribal colleges.

DOE, NREL, and the Hydropower Foundation are hosting a short workshop at Clean Currents to elicit input from industry, academia, and students about the value of such a competition in the hydro industry.

DOE and NREL expect to make a decision by the end of 2021 about whether to go forward with the competition.

Being Intentional about Creating a Diverse Future Workforce

A critical objective for every organization in waterpower is sustainability of the industry and its workforce for future generations. Addressing diversity, equality, and inclusion when building this workforce is critical.

To accomplish this, our culture must change. We must be intentional about embracing listening, understanding biases, creating opportunities for allyship, providing flexibility, and developing open-minded leaders.

In other words, we need to move from an “initiative” to “this is our day-to-day way we do business.”

At Clean Currents, four NHA member organizations are leading a 2-hour workshop on Friday morning, October 22, for attendees to raise awareness and offer tools to developing open-minded leaders.

Faculty for the “Sustainable Leadership: Cultivating Grit and Resiliency in Your Team” workshop are:

  • Emily Schwartz, P.E., SPRAT, Dams Deputy Business Line Director, Black & Veatch
  • Louise Duncan, Project Manager, Human Resources Diversity and Inclusion, Alabama Power Company
  • Jim Thrasher, Business Development Coordinator, Thompson | HCMS
  • Renee Fernandez-Lipp, M.B.A., CEM, LEED AP, GGP, Principal Public Safety Specialist, Power Generation, Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E)