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  • Monday, December 10, 2018
  • Mariko Shirazi Reflects on Coming Home

In January 2018, I left my job at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, where I worked for over 16 years, left my home in Boulder, where I lived for 22 years, and moved to Fairbanks to start a new job at ACEP focusing on integrating renewable energy and energy storage technologies onto Alaska microgrids. This is not an errant trajectory — it is instead a circle started 23 years ago when I graduated from UAF with a degree in mechanical engineering and moved to Boulder for an internship at NREL working on a high-penetration wind-diesel hybrid power system for Wales, Alaska. The internship turned into a career, during which I took a hiatus to get a graduate degree in electrical engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder, returning to NREL to focus on development of power electronics for high-penetration microgrids and later to assist with the design and commissioning of NREL’s flagship test facility, the Energy Systems Integration Facility. I am incredibly fortunate for the opportunities NREL offered to gain such deep technical experience. However, a road trip to Alaska in the summer of 2016 re-sparked my love for the bigness and smallness of Alaska, so when Gwen Holdmann reached out to let me know about the President’s Professor in Energy position, I was more than ready and excited for the opportunity. Getting the job and moving here has been simultaneously like starting a new life and coming home.

What has it been like professionally? It has been challenging and rewarding. I am inspired every day by the caliber of people I work with at ACEP and within the state — the passion, the dedication, the drive, the creativity and the always willingness to try. People don’t sit around waiting for things to happen; they make things happen. People don’t wait to be asked to help; they offer to help or they just help. Things don’t get done because they are scripted; they get done because somebody knows somebody else, people are willing to share and everybody wants to help. It is invigorating (OK, yes sometimes exhausting). I am also struck by the collaborative nature of projects in Alaska. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with engineers and leaders from Alaska utilities, communities and developers, people pushing the envelope for renewable integration. I have also had the opportunity to meet with international pioneers in the field.

In my first year I have interacted with more researchers from other national labs than my entire time at NREL. In short, the year has been a whirlwind of learning the landscape, developing collaborations and writing proposals. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and leveraging these efforts in the upcoming year.


Mariko Shirazi has returned to Fairbanks, coming full circle. Photo by JR Ancheta/UAF.