Jason Rondou was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles in the 1980s. Some of his fondest early memories focus on the family garage, where he spent many weekend hours helping his father, an auto mechanic, restore a 1965 cherry-red Ford Mustang Fastback, a model made famous by Steve McQueen in the 1968 film “Bullitt.
Core to the process, he remembers, were countless decisions about which of the car’s key components to retain and restore, and which to replace with newer, more modern versions. They also had to return the car to a normal, fully-functional state at the end of every weekend.
“We wanted the car to look and sound just as cool as the original,” explains Rondou, a 30-something electrical engineer with a passion for cars and electronics. “But during the week, it also had to provide reliable transportation for my family.”
Renewing the Future
Today, as the manager of strategic development and programs for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the nation’s largest municipal utility, Rondou is again dealing routinely with critical “restore or replace?” decisions, this time in the context of aging #powerinfrastructure.
“Some people compare our job to trying to rebuild the engine of a 747 while the jet is still flying,” said Rondou. “We’re trying to integrate immense amounts of #renewableenergy into our grid while simultaneously renewing or replacing massive amounts of aging power infrastructure. And we’ve got to do all of that while maintaining great electric reliability for our customers.”
From his office in downtown Los Angeles, he oversees a staff of 21 and a portfolio of programs designed to help LADWP meet its goal of generating 60 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.
His programs include incentives to residential and industrial customers to install rooftop solar energy systems and sell excess energy back to LADWP; opportunities for low-income customers to receive solar energy systems at little or no cost; and Demand Response programs, which pay LADWP customers to reduce their energy consumption on high demand days.
Rondou attended Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles where he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. A conversation with a friend who was working for the City of Los Angeles at the time sparked his interest in infrastructure.
“The idea of working on something tangible in your own neighborhood really appealed to me,” said Rondou.
After college, he pursued this new interest with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) where he worked for several years on regional transit projects such as the Orange (bus) Line in the San Fernando Valley. While at LADOT, he became “fascinated” by the rapid growth of two new sectors in the energy industry: renewable energy and electric vehicles. In 2009, he moved over to LADWP, where he has been applying his skills in electrical engineering and project management ever since. Along the way, he’s also earned a Master in Public Administration from the University of Southern California, and an MBA from UCLA.
When Rondou thinks about LADWP’s renewable portfolio, his top priority is diversity, both in the types of renewables generated and their geographic location. Each type of power has its advantages and disadvantages.
“We can do large-scale solar generation in Mojave [Calif.] at a lower cost per kilowatt hour, for example, but then we have to pay transmission costs to deliver it to our customers in Los Angeles,” he said. “Power that we harvest through local power purchase agreements is more expensive to purchase, but it avoids those transmission costs. And it allows the money we spend on power to stay local.”
LADWP currently has more than 1000 Megawatts (MW) of large-scale solar generation, and about 300 MW of local power generation, he adds.
While LADWP controls the development and construction of its power distribution system, explains Rondou, it is relying increasingly on partnerships with customers to meet its power generation requirements.
“By the end of 2018, we expect to have 40,000 rooftops included in our solar generation programs,” he said. “Many of those sites will also include #energystorage capabilities in the future as well.”
A Satisfying Mix
For Rondou, the most satisfying part of his job is the mix of activities. As an electrical engineer, he enjoys working on technical issues, but he’s also learned to appreciate the importance of customer engagement. A typical day includes meetings with staff members and project leaders, but he counts on larger customer workshops to truly inform and validate his work.
“It’s important to bring different stakeholders to the table, hear their different points of view and make sure each customer feels that they have been included and heard,” said Rondou. “We have to make sure that the programs we develop are truly meeting the needs and expectations of our customers.”
Messengers of Change
Against this backdrop, says Rondou, his major challenge is helping LADWP employees understand the importance of what they do and the role they play in helping Los Angeles modernize its infrastructure.
“LADWP has set really ambitious goals when it comes to electric vehicles and upgrading the electricity distribution infrastructure of Los Angeles,” he said. And every LADWP employee, whether they play a technical or administrative role, is key to helping the nation – reduce greenhouse gases and convert quickly to renewable energy sources.
“We have an amazing opportunity to lead in infrastructure modernization,” he said. “I’m excited about watching the process unfold.”
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