An Interview With Jennifer Kearney, Gotham 360 Founder

Gotham 360 was founded in 2007 when CEO Jennifer Kearney catapulted her expertise of the energy industry into running a full-service energy consulting and management firm. With over 30 years of combined experience, Gotham 360 has since become an influencer in the field of energy management & sustainability, working with companies to source the most innovative and cost-effective solutions available.

Below is an interview with Kearney where she discusses her entrance into the field of energy, the projects she has worked on throughout her career, and how new goals such as REV are helping to advance initiatives. Kearney also talks about Gotham 360’s current projects and how she’s hoping to transform the future of energy and sustainability one project at a time.

Before founding Gotham 360, you were the Director of Energy Programs for the New York Presbyterian Healthcare System. What was the energy industry like then?

Today, every major organization from commercial real estate to high education to healthcare has an energy focused management role on their table of organization, occasionally coupled with sustainability professional as well. Back in 2003, this was not the case. New York Presbyterian was among the very first organizations in the city and the first hospital to put an Energy Management role in the table of organization, recognizing that the +$70M annual spend on energy warranted a full time role.

What were some of your major accomplishments as Director of Energy Programs?

In addition to overseeing the full portfolio of deregulated energy with a progressive and active management approach, I worked on demand side initiative like lighting upgrades, motors, drives, and controls. We utilized statewide and utility based incentive programs to leverage the overall economics of our projects and became active in the demand response markets. Later I became involved in supporting major infrastructure improvements in the central boiler and chiller plants and in 2005 I began what would ultimately be a five-year project to develop and construct an onsite cogeneration system at the Weill Cornell Medical Center campus. This system was heralded as being revolutionary at the time as it was the first such system to operate in synchronous parallel with the ConEdison utility grid in Manhattan. It was the first system to utilize the G&W Current Limiting Protector (CLiP) – which was addressed a significant hurdle that prevented the development of onsite generation in New York City and was later adopted by the utility for their own use.

Why did you decide to form your own consulting practice?

In 2007, several changes occurred in my life including the birth of my son. Seeking a more flexible work/home balance and with the full support of Hospital leadership, I formed a consulting practice where I could package my unique job description into a service offering and spread the success of the New York Presbyterian program to other institutions. Because this position had essentially been created for me and there was no precedent, I was able to create the job description and in doing so, I was able to creatively explore energy from a variety of directions (hence, later the "360-degree" approach).

When you founded Gotham 360 in 2007, many institutions were just beginning to follow the example set by New York Presbyterian Hospital, creating in-house energy management roles. Where else were sustainability and "green" practices as well as clean onsite distributed generation emerging?

The Durst Organization announced an onsite CHP system for the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park. New York University made a similar announcement of a new onsite CHP project for their Washington Square campus. The need for expertise in these areas was growing. Another major shift in the industry began when then Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a groundbreaking effort to address New York City's long-term challenges including the forecast of 9.1 million residents by 2030. A significant portion of the plan addressed energy, climate change, and infrastructure. The initiative was called PlaNYC.

How have Gotham 360's goals shifted since then?

In the early years of our consulting practice, our goals were fully aligned with the PlaNYC. In addition to providing our 360-degrees of progressive energy management advisory, we began to also shift focus into the evaluation of greenhouse gas emissions and institutional planning for the consequences of climate change.

How has the industry changed over time, especially in New York where Gotham 360 is based? What would you say is the biggest indicator of where the industry is headed for the future?

In April 2014, under the leadership of Richard Kauffman, the first New York State “energy czar” and New York Public Service Commission Chair Audrey Zibelman, the State of New York began a regulatory reform process for the state electric utility business. "Reforming the Energy Vision" aka the “REV” has a stated goal of creating "a cleaner, more affordable, more modern and more efficient energy system in New York, through the increased development of distributed energy resources, like rooftop solar, energy efficiency, and battery storage. The REV is likely the single biggest influence on where the industry is going and this influence is more far reaching than just New York. The REV is driving innovation in new utility regulation, the development of clean energy technologies, and the emergence of new markets for demand response participation.

How did this shift to REV affect Gotham 360?

Given our prior experience in distributed energy, master planning, and infrastructure renewal, Gotham 360 was well poised to support the new demand for advisory on energy regulatory structure, deployment of clean energy technologies (onsite CHP, fuel cells, solar, battery storage), and new financial vehicles to employ in the development of such projects.

Did REV have a large impact on your clients? How was Gotham 360 able to respond?

Our not-for-profit clients began to develop with significant expansions of facilities. These expansions came through both acquisitions - such as the acquisition of Lutheran Medical Center by NYU Langone and through the construction of new facilities - such as the expansion of Columbia University with the new "Manhattanville" campus. These expansions took place throughout the New York metro area and would often result in a facilities' size increasing by 30-40%. This type of rapid expansion required the ability of Gotham 360 to immediately pivot and adjust strategy. It also offered the unique opportunity to become involved in the early design stages of a new building to help to incorporate both energy efficiency and clean technology innovation into many of these projects rather than retrofit a building later.

How has Gotham 360's work with distributed energy and clean onsite cogeneration been effected by disasters such as Hurricane Sandy? What significant projects is Gotham 360 currently working on in this field?

The need for reliability and resiliency to disasters coupled with the environmental benefit and the energy cost savings has driven the further exploration of these projects and Gotham has been at the forefront. Today we are in the final stages of commissioning a 12-MW system at the NYU Langone Medical Center, which transitioned into commercial operation in the summer of 2016. We are also involved with the design of a 15-MW system at Columbia University. Gotham 360 was a recipient of a $100,000 grant in the first, highly competitive NY Prize micro-grid contest and we submitted a feasibility study for our concept, the "East Bronx Healthcare Micro-Grid" in May 2016. This concept evaluated the technical as well as the financial implications of building a 24-MW system that would coincidentally support four separate medical institutions located in the Bronx. This project is presently under consideration for the next phase in the competition with a prize of $1,000,000.

Since its founding, how has Gotham 360 grown in the energy sector?

Since our founding, Gotham 360 has grown in both depth and scope, successfully meeting ambitious milestones in core areas like energy cost savings and greenhouse gas reduction, while evolving to better meet new challenges. Following the devastating damage of Hurricane Sandy in New York City in 2012, it became clear that we would become involved in more long-term planning for resiliency on behalf of our clients through the deployment of clean and efficient technologies to protect our client’s buildings, infrastructure, and communities from future climate risks.

Where do you anticipate Gotham 360 serving in the future?

We anticipate becoming actively involved in the deployment of energy storage projects, which promise to deliver a series of important benefits including resiliency, cost savings, and the diversity of energy sources. In 2016, Gotham 360 became a member of Advanced Energy Group, a consortium of dedicated stakeholders committed to developing and delivering advanced energy solutions for key cities. The three cities of initial focus are New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Through our participation, we hope to influence the future of markets, technology, and the new age of the “Super Incentive” to shift the market for energy toward a cleaner, greener future.

Since its founding, Gotham 360 has assisted companies in a number of industries from colleges and universities to healthcare, government, real estate, and the financial sector establish a sustainable future over a long-term period. A certified woman-owned business in a male-dominated sector, Kearney and her team continue to establish themselves as trusted energy and power advisors, becoming a part of their client's team through every step of the process.

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