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Samantha Reese: Connecting Science to Industry with Supply Chain Analysis

March 16, 2021—Since Samantha Reese was young, she has loved to take things apart—toys, appliances, anything her parents would allow—and put them back together. Captivated by mechanics, she wanted to know where parts came from and how they worked together.

This translated into a career as a clean energy manufacturing analyst at the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis (JISEA), where she puts early-stage research problems in context of techno-economic tradeoffs and technology potential.

Headshot of woman, Samantha Reese

Samantha Reese. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

"I love being able to connect advancements in basic science to industry through cost and supply chain analysis," Reese said. "At the end of the day, no matter how awesome a technology is, it won't be adopted if it's not cost competitive."

Her Start in Supply Chain Analysis

Reese was born on the western slopes of Colorado and grew up in Montana. She loved her rural hometown, but it wasn't what she pictured for her future with "lots of cold weather and primarily service jobs."

As she got older, it was no surprise that she wanted to study engineering. Reese set out for the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where she became a first-generation college graduate with a bachelor's in engineering and applied science.

Reese started her career at an optical communication components and subsystems company, where she transitioned products from research and development to domestic and international production, specifically in Asian countries. Later, switching coasts, she worked at a metrology company while pursuing her master's in engineering and applied science at Yale University.

Next, in keeping with living in "C" states, Reese returned to Colorado and joined a data storage company, where she helped identify and fix failure mechanisms in deployed equipment and then integrate the information back into the manufacturing process to prevent future issues.

"I had a great time in private industry, traveling the world. I can use chopsticks like crazy—and met some of the biggest influences in my life," she said.

The other major influential person in her life is her husband, who had been working in solar research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) for nearly a decade at that point. He raved about working at NREL, and in 2015, the perfect position for Reese became available.

Pivoting to the Research World

Reese was hired as a clean energy manufacturing analyst to support NREL's manufacturing research and JISEA's Clean Energy Manufacturing Center (CEMAC) with techno-economic and supply chain analysis.

Techno-economic analysis examines research and development in terms of costs, benefits, risks, uncertainties, and timeframes of commercial viability for clean energy technologies. Supply chain analysis includes trade-flow mapping, market research, and building bottom-up cost models. Together, the two approaches provide state-of-the-art insight on clean energy industry trends; cost, price, and performance trends; market and policy drivers; and future potential opportunities and manufacturing challenges.

Some of Reese's early work with JISEA included cost and supply chain analysis of silicon carbide all the way through to industrial motor drives. The study found that variations in manufacturing expertise, yields, and access to existing facilities had greater impact on costs and manufacturing decisions than country factors like labor or electricity costs.

"JISEA has such a practical research model with industrial eyes," Reese said. "By collaborating with industry—the signature element of JISEA research—we can better identify the technologies that feasibly stand a chance of making a breakthrough."

Reese's work showed the value of techno-economic and supply chain analysis, which have since been integrated into studies across JISEA and NREL, giving Reese the opportunity to branch out to diverse research areas like geothermal power generation as an economically competitive option for zero-energy communities in cold climates when combined with PV and grid power.

While there is a big learning curve with every new technology, Reese is finding that "manufacturing is manufacturing," and many of the same principles apply across supply chains, regardless of technology.

A group of three people standing and listening to a woman present in front of a poster. The CEMAC sign is in the foreground.

Samantha Reese presents on her supply chain work for LED lighting at the NREL Staff Awards in March 2017. Photo by Jill Engel-Cox, JISEA

Wide Bandgap Semiconductors, LEDs, and COVID-19

One of Reese's favorite projects to date focused on the wide bandgap semiconductor market, specifically silicon carbide devices, which are increasingly being considered for use in power electronics applications because of their improved efficiency, performance, footprint, and system cost. The wideband gap market is projected to total nearly $7 billion in 2028.

By modeling regional cost drivers under different scenarios, Reese and team members identified key factors that influence investment decisions about manufacturing location and provided the first-ever overview of the wide bandgap global supply chain.

"It was awesome being able to demonstrate to the community through our cost analysis that there was a path forward for wide bandgap," she said. "We helped enable industry adoption of the technology, and it's resulted in energy savings."

More recently, Reese completed a study on light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, that showed integrated LED luminaires are a win-win for energy consumption and economics: they reduce the required amount of energy needed for lighting and have a value chain that allows for domestic manufacturing, ultimately benefiting domestic economies.

Leveraging the initial LED analysis, Reese also contributed to CEMAC's latest Benchmarks of Global Clean Energy Manufacturing report that compares four leading clean energy technologies from 2014 to 2016 in terms of market characteristics, global trade flows, and manufacturing value added. Reese authored the chapter on LED packages, which are used in manufacturing lighting and electronics. The key drivers of LED package supply chain trends over the period included growth in demand related to regulated phaseouts of incandescent lighting and declining prices from oversupply and industry consolidation.

Reese's techno-economic and supply chain analysis have even supported the most urgent issue today: the COVID-19 pandemic. Reese and a team of researchers studied the personal protection equipment supply chain to identify pinch points. Ultimately, they found that U.S. manufacturing is agile to respond to the personal protection equipment shortage and the U.S. Department of Energy's national lab complex can support manufacturing challenges through science.

Carrying on the Love of Engineering

Today, Reese loves where she's ended up. She is currently taking on new research topics across NREL and JISEA, and she and her husband have made engineering a big part of their home—building and taking apart projects with their kids.

"My path has taken many turns," Reese said. "For anyone early in their career, having started on a certain trajectory doesn't stop you from pivoting. I never expected to be in a quasi-academic position, and yet here I am. JISEA allows me to leverage my analysis and bring unique value to the academic side of research."

Learn more about JISEA's work in clean energy manufacturing analysis.

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