Sara Prochasson: May Member of the Month
WCS Member of the Month highlights the amazing stories of female leaders in the industry. This month, we spotlight Sara Prochasson, Smart Grid Analyst for Enedis.
WCS: Please introduce us to Enedis and the work it does. As an electricity distribution service for France, what are some of your programs, in particular those unique to Enedis?
Sara: Enedis is the French regulated distribution system operator (DSO), which is part of EDF (Electricité de France) Group; in France the electric system is unbundled. It is the largest DSO in Europe, with 35 million meters, nearly 1.3 million km of distribution grid, 21.3 GW of Renewable Energy Systems connected to distribution grid, and 39,000 employees.
Enedis is a trailblazer in smart grid technology with 27 pilot projects in France and in Europe. We are constantly seeking to improve our services at a national and local level by developing and optimizing the distribution grid to tackle energy transition challenges and facilitating the development of electric mobility and renewable energy production, while keeping the grid as resilient and safe as possible with a high quality of service.
One of our current major challenges is the massive deployment of smart meters, a key Smart Grid component, with a roll-out of 35 million meters (30,000 per day), which will extend until the end of 2021 and contribute to helping consumers saving energy and reducing consumption peaks.
WCS: Enedis is based in France. What is the extent of its programs and workforce in the United States? Please talk about the role Smart Grid solutions have in the overall work of Enedis.
Sara: I am part of the Enedis Smart Grid Team and the only representative of Enedis currently in the US, and I am based in Palo Alto within EDF Innovation Lab. From California, I lead a smart grid community of 300 Enedis employees in France. As a Smart Grid Analyst, I track and analyze new regulations, market trends and innovative technologies to understand how these evolutions are going to disrupt the energy system and especially the distribution grid, from a technology, society, regulatory and economic perspective. To conduct my studies, I constantly meet with external stakeholders, including US-based utilities and regulators. With the support of EDF Innovation Lab, we also launch proof of concepts and collaborations with US-based startups.
In California I discovered a new energy paradigm. The utilities and traditional actors are increasingly challenged by emerging actors (such as the Community Choice Aggregation – CCA – and multiple disruptive startups) and ambitious state policies focused on energy efficiency, renewable energy development, and greenhouse gases reduction. The electric grid is under pressure and utilities have to be innovative to always integrate more Distributed Energy Resources (DER), while ensuring grid resiliency, providing energy services, and keeping rates low.
While working remotely in California, I have learned the value of collaborating with local stakeholders and sharing best practices between Enedis and US utilities. Depending on local regulations and market, some utilities are more advanced on specific topics (e.g. DER penetration in California, Virtual Power Plants and transactive energy in New York, Grid resiliency in France), and we all have to learn from each other in order to promote the energy transition globally.
WCS: What has your career path been so far? Based on your experience, what advice do you have for other members of WCS? What is something you hope to get out of your WCS membership?
Sara: I grew up in the French Alps, where climate change has been visible over the past 20 years. I have always been aware of the importance of clean and sustainable energy. Before becoming an energy engineer, I was part of the National Rowing Team of France. I was 13 times a medalist at the National French Championships and twice a medalist at the World Rowing Championships, which gave me the taste to continuously seek new challenges. When I left the National Team to focus on my job, I made it my career mission to address the climate challenge, while supporting the energy transition toward a more sustainable society.
My enthusiasm for energy and cleantech has taken me from an Energy Engineer and Smart Grid Consultant in Paris, to a Smart Grid Analyst in San Francisco. This experience has given me the opportunity to work for key stakeholders across the energy industry, from local authorities to major utilities, as well as the largest European VC company in renewable energy and cleantech.
WCS is a wonderful community with really smart women (and men!) that shape the energy and cleantech industry in California. I learned about WCS at WCS TALKS 2017 and was impressed by the speakers, the impact, and the quality of the event; I became a member right after. I enrolled in the mentorship program as a mentee a few months later, that gave me the opportunity to meet with Kati Kallins, who is a wonderful mentor and helped me to prioritize my career objectives. WCS also organizes events to tackle the hottest topics of the energy and cleantech industry, and I’m excited for organizing and moderating the June Event: Leveraging Blockchain for Sustainable Energy, sponsored by the City of Palo Alto Utilities and EDF (Electricity of France).
WCS provides a great opportunity to meet with new people and to be part of a strong community. I invite anyone to attend WCS TALKS 2018 and the other events organized during the year. Last but not least, I highly recommend the mentorship program, as a mentor or a mentee.
WCS: Assuming there is a gender disparity in your workplace, what actions would you like to see your company and other companies take to increase the number of women in positions like yours?
Sara: As a former international athlete and a young engineer, I have been engaged in different communities where female leadership is not always the norm. Due to these former experiences I’m acutely aware of gender dynamics and the benefits of working with both men and women. I believe that it is important to acknowledge the differences between men and women and stay constantly aware that these differences could result in inequalities. I don’t think that we should promote women because they are women, but it’s our everyday mission to make sure that we have the same chance and opportunities, and that we are judged for what we do and not for what we are.
WCS: For women who are job hunting: what roles are most often hired for in your organization?
Sara: First, I’m really glad that EDF recently offered to be a corporate member and a sponsor of WCS! EDF is constantly looking for new talents in California, such as business developers, data scientists, market analysts, as well as management and strategy positions. Full time positions and internships opportunities can be found online. Enedis is not currently hiring in the US (but in France yes!).