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Petroleum Engineer Turned Climatetech Founder’s Take On the Energy Transition: ‘All I See is Opportunity’

In college, Patricia Vega’s professors told her the same thing again and again: as a woman and a mother, there was no place for her in petroleum engineering.

That repeated discouragement, Vega says, only made her more determined to “be part of the change.” She persevered through college while running a chocolate business to support her family, and went on to spend 25 years in the energy industry, working her way from a drilling engineer at bp to various positions at Schlumberger, Baker Hughes, and Halliburton before becoming president and CEO of Evaluation & Optimization at GE. 

Vega also became a champion for diversity and inclusion, founding Baker Hughes’ Women’s Network—for which she received the company’s chairman award in 2006—and serving as a mentor and advisor for professionals and organizations. And in 2018, she took all that she’d learned in traditional energy and became the founder and CEO of a climatetech startup. 

Quantum New Energy, an Inaugural Member of Greentown Houston, aims to empower everyone to take climate action by providing data-driven insights into individuals’ and organizations’ energy use, alongside personalized carbon reduction recommendations.

Vega became inspired to start Quantum New Energy while she was on a work trip to India, where she saw inequitable access to electricity that reminded her of dynamics she’d observed in her home country of Colombia. She grew determined to empower energy consumers, while prioritizing customer inclusion and intentionally eliminating barriers to access.

“We live in a world where we can track steps and calories, and yet, despite energy being so important in our lives, the consumption side is really unbalanced—in terms of understanding and optimization capability—compared to the supply side,” she says. “That is where I felt my calling: ‘I have to do something about this.’”

Quantum New Energy’s carbon reduction platform, EnerWisely, utilizes existing infrastructure—including the roughly 1.2 billion smart meters that are already deployed, which generate peoples’ bills but don’t typically provide consumers actionable insights. EnerWisely can also integrate and analyze other data sources, including driving, flying, and operational data. Users receive energy usage and carbon footprint profiles alongside customized plans to reduce costs and cut emissions, with the goal of empowering people to harness their own data, transforming carbon into value and benefitting from the low-carbon economy.

EnerWisely aims to be widely accessible, enjoyable, and easy to use. It’s designed for both individuals and organizations, from community organizations serving underrepresented communities to Fortune 500 companies that have made carbon reduction pledges. Organizations can also use EnerWisely to offer carbon-reduction-as-a-perk both for employees and communities. The platform aggregates and anonymizes the results at various organizational levels for visualization in dashboards and integration with ESG reports. As a solution that allows individuals and businesses to prevent greenhouse gas emissions, rather than offsetting them after the fact, EnerWisely not only helps users achieve their emissions-reduction goals, but also mitigate their associated costs. 

Having worked across the entire energy value chain, Vega doesn’t see traditional energy and climatetech as being in conflict: helping the oil and gas industries decarbonize is a key component of the energy transition, she says, and with so many transferable skills, oil and gas workers have a clear, bright future in advancing climatetech.

“Every time there’s change, there’s fear, but all the experiences that we have gained in the industry are super applicable and super needed as we look at this transition,” she says. “We’re going to need people with skills in project management, safety, operations, analytics, evaluation, and optimization. All I see is opportunity.”

Quantum New Energy joined Greentown Houston in fall 2020, and Vega says being part of the incubator and its startup community has helped ease the solitude of entrepreneurship.

“Kudos and thanks to Greentown and every member of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, because we really need you,” Vega says. “The advice I give to friends who tell me they’re considering the entrepreneurial route is it might feel very lonely, but you don’t have to do it alone. You can develop relationships with other entrepreneurs and incubators like Greentown Labs to create an effective support network.”

In the second half of 2021, Quantum New Energy plans to raise seed funding and roll out its B2B2C solution, EnerWisely 2.0.