We are pleased to announce the recent addition of Kate Bell to the NextEnergy team. Kate will join the organization as a Program Manager focused on Smart Cities. Prior to joining our team, she served as a Community Development Fellow with the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan and conducted energy policy research as a graduate intern for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Kate holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Politics from Mount Holyoke College and earned her Master of Public Policy from the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
Your background includes experience working in city & state government. What drew you to this work?
Both of my parents served in the US Air Force, so growing up I was moving to a new city roughly every two years as they changed duty locations. I remember as a child being struck by how so many of my “hometowns” faced similar challenges yet addressed them in different ways. As I got older I began to realize that this wasn’t due to pure chance; the policies steering the many different cities and states I lived in were shaped by the unique experiences and histories of the people living there and also by the opportunities or constraints placed on them by their respective governments. The ability to find and implement context-specific policy solutions fascinated me, and that led me to getting my professional start in city hall.
How did you find your way to working in energy?
One of my earliest positions was working for a city councilor in Boston, MA. I was more of a policy generalist than a particular subject matter expert in that role, but there was one topic that came up almost every day: city planning and zoning. I quickly learned how our energy infrastructure impacted the shape of the city’s built environment and the cost tradeoffs between building a net zero structure today versus planning to retrofit that same structure in the future. My time in Boston piqued my interest in the energy space, which is something I carried with me as my career progressed.
My first foray into energy-specific work was during my graduate student internship with the National Conference of State Legislatures. I was working with the Energy Policy team conducting legislative research on emerging trends in state legislatures across the country. It was such a cool experience – I saw first-hand all of the unique ways states were working to address their unique energy needs and how their elected officials viewed the interconnectedness between energy and transportation, workforce development, climate justice… you name it. I was hooked. When I got back to grad school, I immediately signed up for courses in smart cities and renewable electricity and the grid. The thrill I got from the coursework reinforced my desire for my post-graduate career to focus on state and local energy policy, and the roles I’ve taken on were informed by these formative experiences.
What are you most looking forward to in your role at NextEnergy?
I think what I’m most looking forward to is being able to use my policy experience to help craft solutions with these new technologies that are tailor-made for our clients – almost like working on an elaborate energy and mobility puzzle. I’m also thrilled to be a part of a team that is at the forefront of making clean, smart, and sustainable energy and mobility solutions accessible for all. A great part of this work is knowing that every day I’m contributing to an organization that’s making a profound impact in the energy and smart cities space.
What are the three most interesting developments that you see happening in the smart cities space these days?
Three topics that have been top of mind for me recently:
- Shared-use/flexible curb management. We think about demand management in so many other contexts – why not our curbside spaces? I think there’s so much potential to be explored here. Does it make sense to have a loading zone enforced 24/7 when deliveries only take place for a fraction of a day? I can see a world where smart sensors and interactive signage make the curb a more dynamic space rather than a place solely for temporary parking.
- Creative ways to increase access to public EV charging infrastructure that make use of existing city features, such as streetlights in Kansas City, MO. Increasing the visibility of public charging stations is critical for spurring greater EV acceptance and encouraging use in low-adoption areas, and solutions like these capitalize on existing parking spaces and power sources that community members benefit from daily.
- The recent surge of US cities passing building decarbonization and performance standard ordinances to help achieve their climate goals. As a former city government employee, it’s always exciting to see municipalities and community organizations use their powers to shape their cities’ built environment. I’ll be following this trend to see how many cities follow suit In 2022.
If you’re interested in learning more about Kate and her programs here are NextEnergy she can be reached at [email protected].