Avra Durack, Director on the Incubation team at National Grid Partners, tells us how Hurricane Katrina fuelled her determination to switch career and help tackle climate change.
I’m part of the Incubation team at National Grid Partners (NGP), focused on making venture investments in early stage companies and helping them to grow. NGP invests at the intersection of energy and emerging technologies, to help the transition to an increasingly decarbonised, decentralised and digitised energy grid.
Our team works with the earliest stage companies – sometimes when they still just have a few people – providing them with venture capital, other support and even office space to launch successful businesses. I’m there both to help grow these early stage companies that are enabling cleaner energy and also to bring market insights back to the rest of National Grid.
I was raised in an environmentally conscious family. From an early age, I was encouraged by my parents to think about conserving resources, reusing things and reducing consumption. Caring about the environment was part of who I was, but professionally I wasn’t focused on green issues. I started out working for the City of New York, developing affordable housing.
Early in my career, I thought I cared more about helping people than helping the environment, but in the wake of Hurricane Katrina I realised that the two were inextricably linked.
After Hurricane Katrina, I moved to New Orleans to work on redeveloping affordable housing in some of the devastated communities there. Through this, I saw the tremendous impact of stronger, more frequent hurricanes. Early in my career, I thought I cared more about helping people than helping the environment, but in the wake of Hurricane Katrina I realised that the two were inextricably linked. At that point, I decided to transition my career to focus on solutions to climate change.
The first step was to figure out how I could apply my skills from affordable housing development into an entirely new industry. I began working for a large-scale solar developer, doing land acquisition and obtaining permissions for a major 550MW solar energy project.
With a tiny bit of solar experience under my belt and a lot of enthusiasm, in 2008 I was then hired at an early stage start-up focused on helping residential customers go solar. There I had the chance to help build a company from scratch and be part of shaping the early days of an emerging industry. That experience solidified both my passion for the renewable energy sector and my love of start-ups.
As an undergraduate at Stanford University, I majored in Urban Studies, focusing on Architecture and Design, and minored in Civil and Environmental Engineering. But, after working in the renewable energy sector for a few years, I went back to the Stanford Graduate School of Business for an MBA. After that I worked at start-ups, including Stem; an early energy storage company focused on using distributed storage to provide value to customers and aggregate batteries into virtual power plants to provide value to the grid. I’ve been at National Grid since 2018.
I love working with early stage companies and entrepreneurs, helping them figure out how to grow and thrive. I also feel incredibly lucky to have a job that gives me the opportunity to constantly learn, seeing new ideas and markets as they emerge.
I’m also committed to being at the forefront of the energy transition, helping cutting-edge companies scale and show demonstrable impact in reducing carbon emissions, while at the same time creating financially successful businesses. I want to ensure my kids grow up in a world where climate change is not something that’s questioned or minimized, but instead is viewed as a core tenet of how individuals, businesses and governments make decisions and run our world.
My hope is that National Grid can achieve our net zero goals even faster than the stated timeline and fully transition to cleaner energy. I’d like us to be one of many, many utilities across the world taking big steps to fundamentally change the power and gas industry and its impact on the planet.
I’m excited about building a greener future by bringing together the scale and experience of the utility sector with the fast-paced, disruptive nature of start-ups. My hope is that through this sort of collaboration, we can achieve a better, greener infrastructure at the pace demanded of us, given the urgency of the climate crisis we face.
Outside of work, I try to reduce my carbon footprint in daily life. We recently installed solar and battery storage at our house, allowing us to use almost 100% clean solar energy to both power our home and charge our electric vehicle. I also try to reduce meat consumption, food waste and plastic packaging. Most importantly, I try to teach my young kids to appreciate the world, understand human impact and be future agents of change.
…Lynn Jurich, CEO of Sunrun. Her vision and tenacity have played a huge role in growing the solar industry. When she set out to start Sunrun, she was told by almost everyone that it was a bad idea, but she remained determined to make solar more accessible. Through her leadership, she’s created incredible value to customers, investors and the planet.