From rocket scientist to energy futurologist

Meet real-life rocket scientist Carolina Tortora, 42. Having originally studied Aerospace Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she’s been Head of Innovation Strategy at National Grid for the last three years.

 
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We’re rocking the science

I’ve got the best job in the business! I’ve worked in the energy industry for nearly ten years. I thought I’d be done in about half that time, but I can’t find anything as much fun.

As Head of Innovation Strategy, we have to live in the future we want now. What are the problems of Net Zero? What are the issues and technical challenges when you have no active coal power plants? We need to find solutions today that will maximise consumer benefits and we have less than five years to get ideas ready for up-scaling, and into our business as a mainstream response.

I’ve got the best job in the business!

Spotting start-ups with super-powers

At National Grid, we manage the innovation funding that comes from Ofgem, the energy regulator – and we have to spend 75% of this externally. To achieve this, we run open calls for new ideas. We need the best minds within and outside the business. Essentially, we’re like energy venture capitalists – we invest in projects and use the evolving knowledge to advance our low-carbon solutions. We’re open about who we collaborate with – some of the best ideas are coming from small start-ups, not just universities and academia.

National Grid takes Net Zero seriously and I have no doubt we’ll get there. Innovators need to know a bit of everything to satisfy a problem, which is why we endorse partnership working. If you have enough technical curiosity and some form of engineering knowledge – electricity, gas, thermal dynamics – you can find out what you need to know. Innovation involves change and carries a risk, and you need to be comfortable with this. And trust me, I should know – I’m a rocket scientist!