My career in clean energy started in earnest when I was featured in a TV commercial for a real estate company in Yangon, Myanmar. (The commercial is still playing on a 50-foot billboard in downtown Yangon.) On the set for the commercial, I met a fellow expat entrepreneur who was interested in building rice husk-fired generators for rural electrification projects, and he gave me an engineering job a few months later. Over the following year, the focus of Indigo Energy shifted somewhat, and I ended up designing solar-hybrid microgrids for villages in rural Southwest Myanmar. To get to some of these villages, we had to take a 4-hour bus ride, a bicycle rickshaw (carrying about 400 pounds of solar panels and batteries), and a longtail boat. My time at Indigo Energy provided both a crash course for me in solar microgrid design and a profound cultural learning experience, and one I will never forget.
Prior to working at Indigo Energy, I had the good fortune of making a connection with someone who worked at Proximity Designs, which was formerly the local Myanmar affiliate of International Development Enterprises (iDE). They since spun off to form an independent company, developing low-cost technology for agricultural populations in Myanmar, which is still a largely agrarian economy. I was a mechanical designer there and I got to develop and test components for a new version of treadle pump, which is a type of pump that uses a human treading motion to pump water from up to 70 feet underground. I worked with Myanmar and American engineers to develop manufacturing and assembly plans, and ran accelerated life testing on the treadle pumps using a cRIO. The design team was heavily influenced by the user-centered design process, and I conducted user interviews in rural areas in central Myanmar to understand user needs and use cases.
After I returned home from Myanmar, through a random connection I was able to quickly find a job at ZeroBase Energy, a startup in the Detroit area specializing in microgrids far past the grid edge. At ZeroBase Energy, I have delved deep into the mechanical and controls aspects of off-grid microgrid design, developing packaging for batteries and power electronics that can withstand a wide variety of temperatures and transportation environments. In my time at ZeroBase, I’ve worked on controls and tested microgrids in Haiti, on the Naval Base in Coronado, and at an artist co-op in Detroit. I have created proposals and designs for a variety of customers, and I’ve gotten exposure to the plethora of different applications for portable power worldwide.
Speaking with my colleagues about their experiences getting to where they are now in clean energy, I’ve come to appreciate that my seemingly circuitous career beginnings are not so unique. My colleagues have come from a variety of industries, geographies, and backgrounds to work to solve the massive problem of decarbonizing our energy system. As the clean energy industry continues to grow, having stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds will serve to strengthen and enrich the solutions that we develop. In short, never turn down the opportunity to be in a commercial. You get free lunch, you get to be on TV, and it might set up your whole career path.
Here’s the commercial where Marc is featured: https://youtu.be/VCAhulrUfzo?t=55