Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: Maryssa Barron brings her (renewable) vitality to scrub tech and LevelTen

LevelTen’s Maryssa Barron is inspired by people who have dedicated themselves to making renewable energy investment more efficient and impactful. (LevelTen Photo)

Maryssa Barron grew up in a small, rural town in East Texas and spent most of her childhood playing music and running around the woods with friends. She went on to get a B.A. in Social Anthropology from Harvard University where her research concentrated on environmental governance, specifically wildlife conservation and hunting on private game farms in South Africa.

As a transplant to Seattle, today Barron finds value in taking an “anthropological lens” to her work at LevelTen Energy where she’s a developer relations manager.

“I work in the clean tech industry, advising large companies and institutions on how to meet their sustainability goals through investments into renewable energy,” said Barron, our latest Geek of the Week.

LevelTen has raised $27 million in total funding in its bid to help companies “go green” and every day Barron and her co-workers work with corporate sustainability officers and energy managers at multinational corporations who she she said recognize that the changes their companies make could have a huge impact on reducing the rate of climate change, and they’re taking steps to do something about it.

Barron believes the sense of doom many of us feel when it comes to climate change is largely driven by the powerlessness that individuals, including herself, sometimes feel about being able to influence the direction of climate change.

“Unfortunately, it’s true,” she said. “While your choices to bike to work instead of drive or turn off your lights when you leave the house are positive steps to reducing your own carbon footprint, the changes made by individuals alone won’t be impactful enough to reverse the rate of climate change in the next decade.

“But there’s something we CAN do,” Barron added. “Together, we can demand that the largest carbon emitters reduce their energy usage and invest in renewable energy while supporting the companies that are actually doing it. And trust me, it works.”

Over the last few years, companies like Starbucks, Gap Inc., and Cox Enterprises have made pivotal investments that will enable dozens of new, utility-scale wind and solar projects to get built across the country, Barron said. And it’s because their customers have demanded it, and the actions are inspiring more and more companies to do the same.

When not focused on work and renewable energy, Barron is interested in learning about local wildlife and ecology — “Washington is one of the best places to do that!” she said.

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Maryssa Barron:

What do you do, and why do you do it? At LevelTen we operate a global renewable energy procurement platform and marketplace. As a developer relations manager, my work is focused on the project development side of the business, which entails building relationships with renewable energy project developers, identifying wind and solar projects suitable for investment by our clients, and supporting contract negotiations.

When people find out I studied anthropology in school, they often look surprised and ask, “how does an anthropology student end up in the energy sector?” It’s funny because I think we take for granted how integral electricity is in contemporary society. Energy sits at the intersection of public policy, land management, physical infrastructure, global financial markets, and sustainability, and plays an integral role in everyday life. In short, it’s an incredibly interesting and dynamic field! Moreover, the work we do at LevelTen Energy requires an understanding of the sensitivities and values of the clients we work with in order to make long-lasting partnerships between their company and employees and the renewable energy projects they enable to be added to the grid, and I think taking an anthropological lens to these initiatives is valuable.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? Renewable energy is rapidly and radically changing the energy landscape of our world, and its growth is largely due to the combined efforts of corporations and governments. If we take a look at Texas, we see a state that has been tremendously successful in growing its renewable energy supply. In 2011, only 9 percent of the total electricity generated was from renewable energy resources. Last year, almost 20 percent of electricity generated came from wind. Today, Texas boasts some of the lowest retail electricity rates in the country. A large part of new wind energy on the grid was made possible by companies, like Starbucks, who have invested in these projects. The continued growth of renewable energy will be dependent, not only on favorable state and local renewable energy policies, but also in enabling more efficient and cost-effective ways for companies, institutions, and municipalities to buy renewable energy. That’s what LevelTen is striving to do.

Where do you find your inspiration? I find inspiration in the people I work with every day — not only at LevelTen, where folks have dedicated themselves to making renewable energy investment more efficient and impactful, but also the project developers who are the boots-on-the-ground building wind and solar projects across the globe. I love the days when a developer will send us photos of one of our client’s projects in-construction. Knowing that we played a part in getting the wind or solar project built is one of the best feelings.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? My phone, as hard as it is to admit. A huge part of my day is spent on calls with project developers and clients.

(Photo courtesy of Maryssa Barron)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? I work in an open office space. As a startup, we are often collaborating on new services and sharing information.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Taking a break (or even a nap) when you need it! Seriously, I’m so much more productive if I can turn off my brain for a while and play games or watch movies.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac with a Windows Bootcamp partition. Mac for work; and Windows for games!

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Capt. Picard! In fact, my mom almost named me after the actress who played Dr. Deanna Troi, Marina Sirtis. But she would have spelled it, “Maryna,” in line with all the eldest women in my family named “Mary”.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Transporter, most definitely. Breakfast with Mom in Arkansas, lunch in Tuscany, and back for dinner in Seattle.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … invest it into my favorite startup, LevelTen! I honestly love what I do and see the positive impact we are having in enabling more clean energy to connect to the grid.

I once waited in line for … …tickets to the midnight premiere of “The Hobbit” movie. I’m a Tolkien fan through-and-through.

Your role models: My mom has always been a role model to me. By setting an example, she taught me that anything is possible if you work hard enough, ask for help when it’s needed, and see challenges as opportunities for growth. In my professional life, my mentor is Emily Williams, a kick-butt woman in Energy. She gave me the opportunity to build a career in the renewable energy space, and the tools with which I’ve used to further deepen my understanding of these markets.

Greatest game in history: As a kid, I loved playing “Dungeons & Dragons”! I would even play now if I could find a group and a solid DM.

Best gadget ever: Do espresso machines count?

First computer: An ASUS something-or-another that I got before my freshman year of college.

Current phone: iPhone 11 Pro

Favorite app: Amazon video app for console. I spend half my time when watching a movie trying to figure out “WHERE have I seen this actress before?!” With the app, I can find out in a quick click of a button!

Favorite cause: The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund. Both organizations take a science-based approach to wildlife and environmental conservation, which is incredibly important for effective policy making.

Most important technology of 2019: Energy storage. Innovations in large-scale energy storage are making renewable energy development a financially viable option in new markets where renewables growth has been stymied by high costs of development and low electricity market prices.

Most important technology of 2021: Carbon sequestration technologies. There are a lot of new materials being developed that capture atmospheric or carbon emissions from coal factories and engineer them into carbon nanotubes, biodegradable plastics, and other sustainable building materials, which is really cool!

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Stay curious about the world and its peoples.

Website: LevelTen Energy

Twitter: @maryssabarron

LinkedIn: Maryssa Barron

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