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AABE 2024

The AABE conference is well suited to give attendees a view of energy projects that are in the initial stages by providing numerous events to network with new connections.

Before getting into the amazing AABE meeting, it is good to understand where this all began, in the spring of 1977. AABE was the vision of Clarke A. Watson of Denver, Colorado. Mr. Watson owned an energy consulting firm called Watson Associates, a division of Westland Companies. He was a bright, ambitious young man with big ideas, a charismatic personality, and contacts with high-ranking people in the NAACP, National Urban League, and wide range of local and national Black elected officials.  Watson wanted to create a structure for Blacks who had some knowledge and insight into the U.S. energy landscape to influence the energy policy-making process. At their first meeting, Watson had a clear goal for the group: he wanted to get the U.S. administration's attention in a way that they would not be able to ignore the need for Black involvement in every aspect of the policymaking process.   This early group quickly agreed to form a new organization, The American Association of Blacks in Energy, or AABE for short. Clarke Watson was chosen to lead the organization. To this day, AABE is driving excellence in the energy industry. When organizations ask themselves the question, “What can we do to help and facilitate change?” AABE suggests that they start with the end in mind,  which means greater representation of African Americans in policymaking, employment, leadership, business contracting, and workforce development in the energy industry. Progress must be measurable with accountability.

In a like manner, DNV has set its own vision for equity and made significant progress in this area over the years. Actually, I was fortunate enough to become part of DNV’s Energy and Climate Equity team and the Black Employee Board (BEN) two years ago. A cohort of my DNV colleagues, both new and experienced, joined me at this year’s AABE meeting. As soon as I arrived at the AABE meeting in Anaheim, I noticed that it was going to be a very different experience. The lobby was full of energy professionals with various levels of expertise, as one would expect at an energy conference with one exception... most of them were Black. The first evening, as we were getting to know each other in the lounge, a white male attendee broke the silence and shared his perception to the group: “I now know how blacks in business feel in most conference environments, this is surreal to me.” That was an example of the shift the AABE experience likely has on the few non-blacks at the meeting.

It was surreal to me as well, since I usually see very few black professionals at any energy conference. DNV team members who also were at AABE for the first time shared they felt they were in rarefied air. Most black professionals have very little interaction with colleagues that look like them. I felt a spot in my heart was filled by conversing with these amazing experts at AABE who were eager to embrace me. There was literally energy in the air.

DNV had four speakers on the agenda at AABE. Mark Darden, Vice President Western Region; Mark Handy, Head of Section, Clean Energy Program Manager, Elizabeth Kaiga, Chief Commercial Officer, and Timehin Sonubi, Project Manager Mergers and Acquisitions. Timehin shared that he heard a clear message in his session, “Renewables and Nuclear Energy “We need more education and discussion about nuclear.” He observed that those in the session who work in the nuclear field recognized that there is still very little diversity in that sector. Mark Darden contributed to the panel discussion “Energy Efficiency and Climate Change,” which focused on the importance of energy efficiency in reducing carbon emissions and its impact on ensuring grid reliability and energy affordability. Mark pointed out that “energy efficiency is the unsung hero of climate change. Everyone at any socioeconomic level can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through smartly managing their energy consumption at home or at the office.”

DNV at AABE 2024

Other sessions dealt with critical issues in the industry with depth, honesty, and sometimes without mincing words. Topics ranged from Climate Wildfires, How Will the Fuel Industry Survive the Global Energy Transition, Artificial Intelligence and Legislative Challenges, all explored from the viewpoint of black professionals in energy. Many participants were at the senior or executive level, showing some progress toward the end goal of having greater representation of Black people contributing to and shaping the industry.

Unlike many energy conferences, session speakers stayed for the week, and were open to discussing various energy topics, their professional journeys, or just making time for a meet and greet. Many shared the challenges of getting recognized as credible in the industry. From an equity standpoint, everyone does not start from the same place. You can earn a degree and yet find little opportunity to acquire meaningful mentorship that supports the unique job requirements in this space.  Many found their mentors within the AABE membership. In the session for first time attendees, participants were told if they left AABE without a path to their next business opportunity, career move, or with at least five new contacts they did not take full advantage of the value AABE offers for connecting. The environment was designed to support sharing or asking anything related to the energy industry, including challenges and successes. Any question was welcomed and valued.

The AABE conference is well suited to give attendees a view of energy projects that are in the initial stages by providing numerous events to network with new connections.  It is vital to make sure that leadership within AABE member organizations have connections with the DNV team to access knowledge about our unique ability to manage a project from cradle to grave. In turn, these discussions will support broadening DNVs' understanding about the unique organizational goals of each group. I heard stories of difficulties with renewable projects where stakeholder engagement failed, projects where output fell short of the mark, as well as projects that exceeded expectations. In short, I saw vast opportunities to learn from each other while supporting each other in reaching goals.

AABE pursues two main objectives: to be a source of discussion on how environmental and energy policies affect blacks and other minorities economically, socially, and politically. Next, to make sure that blacks participate in governmental energy policymaking by suggesting qualified, aware, and informed personnel to appropriate officials. With the political changes potentially on the horizon in the U.S., coupled with the industry’s steady move toward clean energy, AABE members will be vested in ensuring projects their organizations pursue are well planned and positioned to support good outcomes, especially for disadvantaged communities across the country.

While at AABE, DNV took advantage of the time to learn from the personal opinions of conference attendees on human rights and the clean energy transition. Human rights due diligence assessment is often needed for clean energy projects that DNV conducts. We wanted to use one key question to help us learn more about the views of the people who participated in the conference. AABE attendees represented utilities, high tech, nuclear, solar, government, suppliers, and universities to name a few. So, we asked “What potential risk to human rights most concerns you about the energy transition?” We will share what we heard through our “Voices at AABE 2024” video.

AABE 2024 has concluded. However, I am still adjusting to my new wider perspective on my path in the energy industry now that I have this new chance to keep sharing and collaborating with such a remarkable group of black energy professionals. I am eager to contribute to AABE’s work by engaging with my new chapter and promoting the opportunity for all DNV Black energy professionals to enhance their capabilities by participating in this meeting at some stage of their career.

DNV’s vision is to enable a clean energy transition that benefits everyone. There are winds of change in the energy industry and our political environment in the US.  Organizations like AABE are vital to maintain focus on policy changes while they continue working to ensure disadvantaged community interests are not ignored as we move forward towards the clean energy transition. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “If you can’t fly then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

5/6/2024 1:00:00 PM

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Crystal Green

Crystal Green

Associate Director Energy and Climate Equity

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