A 25-year-plus wind energy veteran, Karen Conover barely remembers a time when she wasn’t interested in or researching renewable energy. It all started at a community science and energy event she attended in forth grade. She remembers going with her dad who, at the time, worked for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and was an advocate for conservation and the environment.
“We went to a local event that included a booth focused on energy conservation and renewables. It was engaging and interactive,” she recalls. “I remember pedaling a bicycle to energize a light bulb, and I was fascinated. From that point on, I always chose something related to renewable energy for my science projects.”
In high school, Conover told her career counselor that she wanted a job in renewables and was told to pursue engineering. “I’m not even sure she knew what renewables were back then!” she laughs. But Conover was already well informed. She even wrote her college application essay on the benefits of recycling and renewable energy, not common topics for the early 80s.
After receiving her undergraduate degree at Duke University in Mechanical Engineering and Material Science, she sought a graduate program that specialized in renewables. Conover obtained a Masters in Science and Engineering from University of Arizona in Renewable Energy Systems where she focused on wind, solar, and clean-power generation.
After some time at an energy consulting firm, Conover decided to venture out on her own and started Global Energy Concepts (GEC) in 1992. A wind-focused consulting company, GEC provided a range of services such as wind-resource assessment and due diligence. Clients included developers, equipment manufacturers, investors, government agencies, and utilities.
“GEC thrived, despite a challenging market for wind in the U.S.,” she shares. “Although based in Seattle, we focused on international markets and I spent a lot of time on the road. In 2000, I brought on a business partner and we expanded further to meet the needs of a growing industry.”
Those in the industry took notice. In 2002, the America Wind Energy Association (AWEA) recognized GEC with an award for “building one of the world’s leading wind consultancies.” The company grew to over 100 employees, and eventually added an east coast office.
In 2008, GEC was acquired by DNV, a global-risk management company headquartered in Norway. Conover then served as their global Wind Segment Director and moved to London for a few years to better interact with European customers. DNV subsequently acquired and merged with other renewable organizations, including KEMA, BEW, and GL, and today Conover is a company Vice President. “My current employer, DNV GL, is the largest provider of renewables’ advisory and certification services in the world,” Conover says with pride. And she’s fully earned her title and success.
Back in 1995, she was nominated by a client for a position on the AWEA Board of Directors and continues to serve to this day. Although she’s often mistakenly labeled as the first female AWEA board member, Conover won’t take credit.
“When I joined AWEA’s Board in the mid 90s, there was another woman on the board, Audrey Zimmelman, who represented Northern States Power. She was only there for a brief time, but I wasn’t the first,” she claims. “However, after she left, I was the only woman on the board for the next decade or so.” Conover was also one of the youngest ever nominated and is currently the longest serving board member with just over 20 years under her belt.
As if that isn’t enough, Conover was a steering committee member and has acted as a board member for Women of Wind Energy, now the Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE), since it first incorporated. WRISE promotes the education and advancement of women in wind power. In 2012, Conover was honored as WRISE’s Women of the Year.
“WRISE helps cut across disciplines and sectors, supporting all women that are working to change our energy future,” Conover explains. “There’s so much research indicating the value of diverse work teams, yet the number of women in technical and management positions isn’t increasing significantly.”
So, where does she see the wind industry of the future? “In five years, I hope the provisions of the Clean Power Plan, along with other state and federal policies, help to establish a stable, long-term market for the wind industry,” she says. The Clean Power Plan is a policy aimed at reducing carbon pollution.
“I think that getting our energy picture right is so important — for the U.S. and for the world. Wind is a solution that can, and should, solve a number of our energy and environmental issues,” she pauses. “And I’d like my legacy to include helping women to take charge and raise their voices to change our energy landscape for the better.”