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Jamie Vernon

Molecular biologist shifts focus to energy entrepreneurship

As a molecular biologist with a doctoral degree from the Univ. of Texas at Austin, Jamie Vernon often gets asked what he is doing in the energy sector. The answer for him is easy: he wants to create a more stable future for his daughters by positively affecting climate change.

To reach his goals, Vernon turned his efforts to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Research Participation Program. The DOE EERE Research Participation Program serves as the next step in the educational and professional develop of leaders in energy efficiency and renewable energy policy, providing an opportunity for scientists and engineers with relevant energy technology experience to participate in policy-related projects. The program is administered by ORAU through its contract to manage the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education in collaboration with EERE.

Jamie Vernon

Although his doctoral degree from the Univ. of Texas at Austin is in cell and molecular biology, Jamie Vernon found a way to develop practical experience conducting energy analysis and learning about energy program management through the DOE EERE Research Participation Program. [photo credit: EERE]

Vernon was selected for a fellowship within EERE’s Office of Strategic Programs where he performed analyses to support EERE decision-making. He also had the opportunity to contribute to technology commercialization by helping to launch the inaugural DOE National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition and lead the development of the Utility Data Access Map, a DOE initiative to help improve consumer energy data access services nationwide.

“To be honest, I previously knew very little of what I’ve learned since joining DOE,” he confessed. “It has been one of the steepest and most exciting learning curves in my life. It helps to be surrounded by some of the most knowledgeable people on the planet, regarding renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

Vernon focused his efforts with EERE’s Office of Strategic Programs on evaluation and decision-making processes. He supported the implementation of an EERE-wide evaluation system that identifies evidence-based success metrics (economic, environmental and technical) and builds the capacity to capture and communicate them.

“I’m very passionate about science communication,” he said. “I spend a great deal of time using social media for science and organizing events to help other scientists better communicate their science. I have learned so much about the energy sector that I should be able to provide consulting services and expertise to businesses or individuals seeking knowledge about the clean energy sector.”

In fact, Vernon is using his newly gained expertise to venture into another realm of the energy sector: entrepreneurship.

“The work I did to help DOE commercialize technologies from the national labs and to make energy data more accessible to entrepreneurs has inspired me to launch an energy startup accelerator called Potential Energy DC,” he said.

Vernon and his Potential Energy DC partner plan to help entrepreneurs build viable business plans around energy solutions. While it is still in the initial launch stages, they plan to gather funding to support up to 12 companies in the first class. In June 2014, Potential Energy DC held an energy and data summit to help build the network needed to identify the entrepreneurs hoping to break into the energy sector.

As he looks to the future of his career, Vernon rests easy knowing his work provides the chance to impact climate change in a positive way. In fact, he noted that the U.S. already has achieved its goal of doubling renewable energy generation earlier than predicted, so the goals have been set even higher for 2020. Vernon will continuously look to his experience and the wealth of knowledge he gained in the DOE EERE Research Participation Program as he continues to – as Steve Jobs said – put a “ding” in the universe.

“I truly appreciate the support ORAU provides to its Fellows,” he said. “It is a learning opportunity unlike any I’ve known. This experience has benefited me by opening up an entirely new world of knowledge. I recommend it to anyone who is trying to get practical experience in energy.”