An Exciting New Voice in Sustainability: Q&A with MScSM Alumna Anastasia Boutziouvis
A 2018 graduate of the Master of Science in Sustainability Management at the Institute for Management & Innovation (IMI) at UTM, Anastasia Boutziouvis immediately secured an exciting role in the energy sector after graduation. Anastasia has combined her lifelong passion for the environment with the learning from MScSM and has focused her efforts on combatting climate change. She has quickly emerged in her field as a trailblazer, having been recognized as one of the top 30 under 30 sustainability leaders in Canada. Anastasia is a firm believer that the electricity field is poised to help Canada have a bold green recovery, and she’s ready to be part of that change.
Congratulations on being recognized by Corporate Knights as one of their Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leaders in Canada! That is an incredible accomplishment. How did it feel to be honoured in this way?
It felt great to be recognized by Corporate Knights as it’s one of the top voices for corporate sustainability in Canada! I felt the award both validated that the work I’m doing at Alectra is really important in the sustainability field, and that transitioning to a clean energy sector is absolutely key if we want to meet any sort of meaningful GHG emissions reduction targets in Canada. I’m glad projects like GridExchange are being recognized, and I hope it inspires other individuals to get into the energy field to help us combat climate change in Canada.
Your Bachelor’s degree was in International Business. What led you from there to select the Master of Science in Sustainability Management program at IMI?
I was always interested in environmental issues throughout my undergrad degree in international business, but sustainability was never a focus. In my final year, I enrolled in a course in Business Sustainability. It was this course that inspired me to further my education in sustainability because I realized how destructive business can be to the environment. We cannot continue to live on our planet over the long-term if we don’t incorporate sustainable business practices.
I found the MScSM program to be the perfect fit for me because it had a multi-disciplinary approach to sustainability. The program covered sustainability issues from a variety of angles, such as law, policy/government, science, economics, finance, etc. I knew I had gaps in my understanding of sustainability problems, so this degree really helped me to get a well-rounded view of how to implement sustainable solutions.
What were you like as a kid? Did your passion for environmental action start at a young age?
I remember the specific moment I started to become interested in environmental issues. I was in high school and a group of local university students came to my class to talk about how much waste is produced by plastic water bottles. It had such a huge impact on me, because I had been completely unaware that my daily decisions had negative environmental impacts. As soon as I got home from school that day, I told my parents they weren’t allowed to buy any more bottled water for our house! From there, I started to become more aware of environmental issues and tried to incorporate sustainable habits into my daily lifestyle.
Even then, I never really thought I could combine my passion for the environment into my career; I always thought of environmental issues as separate from my future professional life. My view changed in university when I found out that business practices can be sustainable with the right strategies in place.
Why is it an exciting time to work in the energy sector?
A fundamental shift is underway in the global energy sector due to the four ‘Ds’: decarbonization, democratization, digitalization and decentralization. This shift is causing governments to develop new policies around climate change, energy regulators to re-evaluate current regulation, and utilities to re-assess everything from service delivery to capital investments in energy infrastructure.
Consumers are a key driving force behind this shift. Their access to constantly-evolving digital/mobile technology, coupled with a heightened sense of responsibility to tackle climate change and concerns about energy affordability, has paved the way for change in the way energy is delivered, generated, bought and distributed. The research tells us that forward-thinking consumers want clean energy solutions that allow them to generate their own energy, store it in case of an outage, feed it back into the grid when required, earn an on-bill credit as a power producer where possible, and take whatever measures they choose to manage their energy consumption.
That sounds fascinating. Can you tell us more about that?
These factors have driven a proliferation of devices, collectively called distributed energy resources (DERs) that are being adopted by customers, such as solar photovoltaics (PV), battery energy storage, electric vehicles (EV), as well as internet-connected devices that manage energy consumption within homes and buildings, such as smart thermostats and smart water heaters. Customers are going to continue to adopt more DERs in the future as the price of EVs and solar continue to decline over the next decade, and our power grid needs to be ready to integrate and operate these new energy resources to enable the transition to a clean economy.
Through Alectra’s Green Energy and Technology (GRE&T) Centre, there are several active pilot projects underway that demonstrate Alectra’s leadership in response to these changes. Together, these projects represent an opportunity for utilities to evaluate the challenges, benefits and long-range implications of adopting DERs on a broad scale. It’s so exciting to work in the energy field right now because of this collective understanding and drive for change in the industry, and many utilities are testing or deploying new technologies and business models to make our energy grid smarter and cleaner!
Could you tell us a bit about the GridExchange pilot project you are working on, and how it is an innovative solution to what is ahead for renewable energy?
GridExchange is a very exciting project I’m working on at Alectra because it’s demonstrating a new way for utilities to manage the power grid. It’s fantastic that more customers are adopting clean grid-edge technologies, such as solar panels and electric vehicles, however it does create new challenges for utilities to operate their grids.
The GridExchange platform solves this challenge by creating an energy marketplace whereby utilities can post energy services that customers can participate in with their energy devices. The platform offers cash and rewards to customers that successfully participate in energy service. The platform is a win-win-win: win for the planet by reducing GHG emissions through encouraging the use of clean energy sources; win for customers as they get to save energy costs and earn rewards; and win for utilities as they get to safety and reliably integrate new clean energy devices onto the power grid.
I’m currently the Project Manager that manages the development and testing of the novel GridExchange platform. My day-to-day involves managing all aspects related to the project, from reviewing the web and mobile app user interfaces to testing the platform with real energy devices at Alectra’s microgrid lab. The goal of my project is to launch the GridExchange platform with a small group of Alectra residential customers in 2021 to test the technological and commercial viability of such a platform.
You have mentioned the value of networking in the MScSM program. Can you share how you feel it helped you find your path?
Networking was extremely valuable in the MSCSM program because it gave me the opportunity to talk to professionals in various sustainability industries and understand what they work on day-to-day. This helped me to quickly learn which industries or professions interested me the most, but also helped me build a network I can reach out to if I ever want to pursue potential job opportunities.
I met a professional in the energy industry at an MScSM networking event and they shared a job posting at the Alectra GRE&T Centre, which I ended up applying to and getting an offer. It was serendipitous, and you never know where a connection will take you!
What advice would you give students who are entering or want to enter the sustainability field?
My advice for students who are entering or want to enter the sustainability field is that you can champion and promote sustainability in a variety of ways, and sometimes the options are overwhelming: be that through government policy, finance, non-profits, agriculture, corporate CSR departments, consulting, real estate, energy management, fashion, retail, etc.
Given all the options available, I think it is so important for students navigating the sustainability field to do a lot of introspection to figure out what gets them up in the morning! It can help to consider research projects and papers on different sustainability topics, and talk to as many people as possible in various sustainability careers to figure out the best path. This certainly helped me narrow down the seemingly unlimited options in this field and get into a career I feel passionate about.