By Rob Montana
Just a year and a half into its existence and Quinn Energy is being recognized for its work in the field of energy optimization.
The Ithaca-based company received a Sustainable Tompkins 2017 People’s Choice Signs of Sustainability award for sustainability leadership last month, tied for second with Renovus Solar in the category of business. That’s only the most recent accolade for the company, which earlier this year was a semi-finalist for Energy CIO Insights Magazine’s Top 10 Big Data Providers, finishing in the top 35.
“Our work and the way we do it is a reflection of our values,” said Adriane Wolfe, principal and founder of Quinn Energy, about the Signs of Sustainability honor. “Being recognized by the community after just one year of being founded is affirming of who we are as an organization.”
Wolfe, who grew up in Tompkins County and graduated from Ithaca High School, earned her masters degree in energy systems engineering from the University of Michigan and has eight years of experience in the world of data.
“A lot of what has been done, it has been more rules of thumb,” she said, of the way development and the grid have been set up to handle energy use. “This is a time of change, and we can’t use rules of thumb.
“The traditional energy systems workforce didn’t have the analytics that we have now,” Wolfe added.
The company’s business centers on energy usage – specifically providing energy data and optimization services – offering information that can shape strategies for municipalities, large property owners, energy companies and utilities to make strategic future energy investments. Quinn Energy is well-practiced in gathering information for micro-grid – multiple buildings – and nano-grid – single, large building – scales.
“If an entity hasn’t done any energy work yet, they don’t need the most sophisticated analysis,” Wolfe said. “If they’ve already done some work, more energy optimization is a little more sophisticated – that’s kind of where we come in.”
Typically, she said, Quinn Energy primarily works with two main groups – entities that see an increase in demand charges on their utility bill and those that are about to make a capacity upgrade.
“In those two scenarios, there would be financial payback to use the information we can provide,” Wolfe said. “There has to be a cost driver, a reliability driver or an environmental driver – we can tailor optimization to their interests.”
Wolfe, who worked for a Navy research lab before heading to grad school at Michigan, made the decision to start her business in Ithaca in part because she grew up here.
“I think, most fundamentally, this is where I grew up,” she said about why she chose the area to set up shop. “I didn’t do a strategic analysis, I picked where I wanted it to be.”
That fact that Wolfe felt there were limited opportunities for her to apply her skill set in the region drove the creation of her own business.
“There are some companies that do some of what I do, in New York City and Silicon Valley,” she said.
Wolfe also proudly notes her business is woman-owned, and thinks Quinn Energy will serve as an important role for women in the county.
“There are no women-owned energy companies in Tompkins County, none that are New York State-certified (as a NYS Women Minority Business Enterprise),” she said. “I think sometimes opportunities can be missed because there isn’t a range of options, and there is also a very strong lack of minority representation as well.”
A more diverse group of stakeholders – including an increased presence of minority representatives – would be beneficial for the economy as a whole, Wolfe said.
“The important thing to remember is our whole economy, the whole structure, is based on energy systems,” she said. “Not having a range of populations at the representative level, that’s how you wind up with certain communities getting the short end of the stick.”
Wolfe thinks people may not realize just how large a diversity gap there is in the energy industry.
“It can be difficult for newer businesses to get into an industry typically dominated by white men,” she said. “There is a little risk for them to give us a chance, but if they do they’ll see that we offer things they haven’t had offered before.
“We don’t look or feel like a company they’ve worked with in the past,” Wolfe added, saying that becoming certified as a women-owned business can help Quinn Energy get a foot in the door through incentives for projects to utilize minority-owned companies. “That can be a significant way to get started, as well as working on smaller projects for companies to get more comfortable working with us.”
Quinn Energy’s recent recognition has been welcome, but the company is definitely forward-looking with regard to growth. The Energy CIO Insights Magazine ranking was “exciting and more than I would have hoped for,” Wolfe said, and set a benchmark for the company’s future goals.
“Our 10-year goal is to be ranked in the top 10,” she said, “and the next stage is building market penetration. We’re now reaching out and building partnerships, and getting our woman-owned certification will be advantageous for our company.
“We are building relationships in Tompkins County, and throughout New York state,” Wolfe added. “We have been more focused in New York, but it also makes sense to explore California and Hawaii.”
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