A Conversation with Steven Freilich, New JISEA Executive-in-Residence
April 21, 2020—JISEA welcomes Steven Freilich, PhD, to the team this month as JISEA executive-in-residence. As an innovation strategist and global business and technology leader with over 30 years of experience in lab research, Freilich will bring invaluable expertise transforming JISEA scientific discoveries into technology implementation that meets real marketplace needs.
He shared his excitement about joining the team and how he plans to help guide the global energy transformation.
Q. Tell me a little about your background.
A. I retired from DuPont after 33 years of lab research, business and research management. The work took me around the globe and gave me the opportunity to participate in many of the world’s most important value chains. I also got the chance to bring science to business leadership and to learn how to create new businesses based on technology. Since retirement, I’ve focused on helping organizations develop their technology strategies through connecting business opportunities with organizational strengths and technology possibilities.
Q. What is one of your proudest accomplishments in your career?
A. My greatest moments of pride resulted from the successes of my team. As one example, the DuPont team was able to have substantial impact on the efficiency of commercial c-Si PV modules through application of fundamental chemical principles, and these developments resulted in billions of dollars of sales for DuPont. Along the way, my teams opened the door to multiple new businesses for DuPont and at the same time maintained the integrity and strength of their science and engineering.
Q. What is your greatest strength that you will bring to JISEA?
A. I was fortunate to gain insight into both business and technology development. This is a rarity in large companies that tend to put people in stovepipes. Having the varied experiences has enabled me to navigate easily across commercial, scientific, and academic lines, with a good understanding of the issues and needs of parties on multiple sides of the table.
Q. Why did you decide to join the JISEA team?
A. My tenure serving on the external advisory board for NREL and as the vice-chair of the Clean Energy Manufacturing Analysis Center (CEMAC) advisory committee fundamentally impressed me with the quality and importance of the work at the Lab. I also became aware of the value that exposure to industry issues can have in helping to focus and direct lab activities in a way that is most impactful for U.S. productivity. When Jill offered the opportunity to me to help work with JISEA I jumped at the chance. It will be my pleasure and honor to make contributions to the work done at NREL.
Q. What is the first thing you will do in your new role?
A. Despite my previous contacts with the Lab, I cannot claim to have anything close to a complete understanding of the full range of the efforts at JISEA. As a result, my first activity will be to listen and learn. But shortly after that, I hope to be able to help the JISEA teams develop strategies to optimize the impact of their work to support U.S. policymakers and corporations.
Q. Why is JISEA important in this fast-moving renewable energy industry?
"JISEA can and will play an important role in helping industry look at clean energy manufacturing as part of an ecosystem examining the connectivities among the various manufacturing supply chains and new technologies that may not be obvious at first blush."
A. We are entering very challenging times when many businesses are moving away from leading innovation for the benefit of the greater society and replacing such a long-term view with short-term thinking. Large, vertical corporations are "increasing their focus," which is financial short hand for smaller companies that are more transparent to investors. That means that companies are also being forced to reduce their research and development activities while they concentrate almost exclusively on their existing businesses. Companies will be less willing to take risks, and more dependent on the world outside their walls to access innovation. But without in-house R&D and prototyping capability, industry is going to have a hard time sensing the new technologies that will be important to their futures. JISEA can and will play an important role in helping industry look at clean energy manufacturing as part of an ecosystem examining the connectivities among the various manufacturing supply chains and new technologies that may not be obvious at first blush. This type of information can be extremely helpful to inwardly-focused companies in telling them where they might go to expand and how their existing infrastructure can support new growth with reduced risk.
Q. What are you most excited about joining JISEA?
A. My experience with the National Labs in the past had been limited to advising, mostly at the leadership level. I'm excited about being able to roll up my sleeves and help across a broader spectrum of issues.
Q. What area of energy analysis interests you the most?
A. I'm primarily interested in the areas of analysis that live at the interface between technology and markets. Corporations need to have access to these numbers in order to make the important and costly investment decisions that are typical of the energy markets.
Q. What goals do you have for your work at JISEA?
A. As a JISEA executive-in-residence, my goal is to add value wherever I can. I know that is an obvious answer, but I feel that the most important thing I can bring to the Lab is my experience in making decisions around technology implementation in industry.
Q. And, most importantly, what is your favorite place to travel and what is your favorite food?
A. My favorite travel locations are those places with the best hiking. If I had to select one spot, I would say it is Zion National Park, where the variety of trails keeps things interesting (not to mention the number of trails in Zion NP where death or dismemberment are likely outcomes). As far as foods go, it all depends on where I am. At home in Philadelphia, I’m partial to cheesesteaks, but only when they are made the right way (the bread is the key). In New York, I like a good corned beef special. In Maine, just hand over a standard lobster boil with fresh corn, new potatoes, and blueberry pie. And in Bangkok, it's stir-fried morning glories. Why make a choice of just one?
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