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Energy co-ops power student’s passion for the industry

11/11/15 - Nick Dowmon poses for a portrait on Nov. 17, 2015. Photo by: Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Northeastern senior Nicholas Dowmon, E’16, says his three co-op experiences in the energy sector—including an international co-op in Brazil—have fueled his desire to pursue a job in energy efficiency after graduation.

As the mechanical engineering major puts it, “my co-ops became increasingly more interesting, more challenging, and more impactful.” Here’s a look at those experiences.

First co-op: Cape Light Compact, an organization on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, that delivers energy efficiency programs
Dowmon’s role involved helping customers through the process of having energy efficiency measures implemented at their commercial businesses. He worked up personalized calculations for expected cost savings or reviewed calculations an outside organization had already compiled.

“It wasn’t an especially technical job, but it introduced me to the energy industry, specifically in buildings, and helped me better understand how energy works,” Dowmon says. “It also piqued my interest in energy storage and energy efficiency.”

Second co-op: SourceOne, an energy management and consulting firm in Boston
This co-op involved working in energy efficiency on a larger scale. Sub-metering refers to putting individual meters within a large building— say each unit within an apartment complex or each office within an office building—which allows for more detailed accounting for and tracking of energy usage. Dowmon’s role focused largely on analytics, working in the company’s customer records database and building individualized energy use reports for clients. He learned a database management programming language called SQL as well as more about the equipment used in energy metering.

“I had more responsibility in this role, and I really had to step up and prove myself as an asset on that team,” Dowmon says.

Third co-op: CPFL Energia, Brazil’s largest private electric utility company
Dowmon led a small team of engineers on a five-month research project analyzing solar panel efficiency at the company’s power plant in the town of Tanquinho. The project’s goal boiled down to a cost-benefit analysis that informed how often to clean off the solar panels, taking into account the additional solar power captured by removing debris from the panels as well as the materials and labor costs associated with regular cleaning.

For the study, Dowmon’s team cleaned different sections of a solar panel field in four different time intervals: once a week, once every two weeks, once a month, and once every two months. Dowmon and three other CPFL employees arrived early on Thursday mornings to spray down the panels with water, clean them with sponges, and dry them with squeegees.

Dowmon planned out and managed the project, analyzed the data, and wrote a final report that went to both CPFL and ANEEL, the Brazilian Electricity Regulatory Agency. “I really got to step in and go from start to finish on this project,” he says.

What’s next?
Dowmon, who will finish his coursework at Northeastern in December, says his co-op experiences have reinforced his interest in pursuing a job in the energy efficiency industry.

“I would say that the one lesson that has been continually reinforced throughout my co-ops is the interdependency of technical, political, social, and economic factors in successfully changing the way that the world uses energy,” he says. “There is an incredible amount of inertia in our current energy model; fortunately, the world has increasingly more people willing to work toward modernizing that model. The real challenge, I believe, is getting everyone—engineers, policymakers, and activists—to work effectively toward the same goal.”