Ben Dombrowksi understands that any power outage can have a big impact and has firsthand experience with the opportunities and challenges that emerging technologies can pose in our mission for more resilient and sustainable energy and power infrastructure.
We sat down with Ben to find out what he’s learned in his time on energy projects and what energizes him at work.
Tell us about your journey with Jacobs.
I started at Jacobs immediately after graduating North Carolina State University and have been working here ever since. I sincerely enjoy my job because of all the different opportunities I’ve had in my time at Jacobs. I’ve had great opportunities to work on a wide variety of projects across the globe for various clients touching different aspects of the project such as planning, design and construction. Through these various projects I have had the opportunity to take on a variety of roles within a project while also meeting some amazing people. All these things have led me to have a completely different look at projects and have a strong background going into new projects. The thing about this job is, it really has been a journey with every project representing a new and exciting challenge and I look forward to future chapters!
What sparked your interest in working with the Department of Defense (DoD)?
My first opportunity to work on a DoD project came by happenstance and timing. That first project opened my eyes to the sophisticated network of facilities and infrastructure that the DoD operates across the globe and how I could do very interesting energy infrastructure to enhance their mission. Being able to have a meaningful impact has been a major factor in delivering high quality projects. Growing up I loved playing with Legos and trucks, so it's awesome to see what you've designed in real life and how it's really making and enhancing operational abilities.
What trends are you seeing from our clients in the energy resiliency and transition sectors?
If you think back, 10-20 years ago, a power outage was a normal event whether at home or at a military base. With increased integration and reliance on electronics, power outages are no longer acceptable especially when it comes to always needing to be “mission ready.” Since the reliability of a utility is mostly outside of a client’s control, the only way for a client to be able to alleviate that risk is to be able to have on-site power generation. More recently we have seen a focus on how we can leverage these assets to not only be a reliable source of energy during an outage but also provide benefit to the base over the entire year. There’s been a big focus on making sure that no outage is acceptable and that our clients have all the assets, whether it's on-site generation, resiliency, or distribution improvements, to make sure that they are operating 100% or 99.99% of the time.
How are we supporting our federal clients in meeting their energy resiliency and transition needs?
The exciting part of working with federal clients is that while they all have a similar goal, the way it can be achieved is different for every site. Depending on the current needs, we come in to provide planning, feasibility studies, design or construction services. Something Jacobs really comes to the table with is the ability to provide a holistic solution. We're able to look at not just one part of the picture, but take the different elements, all the different items available to us in a toolbox, that a global practice like Jacobs provides, and fit them into a site’s requirements so that we're not sticking within one siloed solution; we're able to leverage different elements to ultimately provide a solution that is the right fit and optimized for the site.
What challenges do you see in implementing these solutions?
One of the biggest challenges is that the energy industry and technology are rapidly evolving, especially when you're trying to pair resiliency and sustainability together, to be mutually beneficial to achieving both objectives. With the evolving industry, there are new technologies that could be deployed but sometimes, when you’re trying to be the most reliable, new technology isn’t always the right fit. Making sure that we're crafting a solution that is resilient, but also reliable and can be operated long-term by a base’s infrastructure, can be a challenge. Additionally, these solutions typically take up a lot of space and bases don't necessarily have a lot of free space so there’s also a physical challenge. Often, we find that success varies by each site but starts with carefully listening to stakeholders and providing a diversified solution that directly answers their needs.
“Something Jacobs really comes to the table with is the ability to provide a holistic solution. We're able to look at not just one part of the picture, but take the different elements, all the different items available to us in a toolbox, that a global practice like Jacobs provides, and fit them into a site’s requirements so that we're not sticking within one siloed solution; we're able to leverage different elements to ultimately provide a solution that is the right fit and optimized for the site.”
Can you share an interesting project story?
We were working on a project that was completing an investigation of site level district energy system which was initially considered to be “dead in the water” but, through our creative development, we were able to create a district energy system concept that significantly increased system resiliency and sustainability while also creating a 30% reduction in life cycle cost. By the end of the study, the client stated this represents “the gold standard” for this type of study. It was great to turn a project from a simple “check the box” exercise to a very successful study. I find all the projects I work on very interesting and it's fun to take on a whole new challenge and see what you can come up with. I love knowing that you're doing something beneficial and improving the overall environment while supporting mission.
What excites you about the future of the energy industry?
It’s rapidly evolving. There are all sorts of new technologies being developed and evaluated daily. Whether it is a new type of battery or a small modular nuclear reactor moving closer to reality, meaningful progress in the energy industry is happening very quickly. All these different technologies are becoming more and more available to deploy in an effective way to meet the client’s goals. Increasing the tools available to us is exciting. I think there's also an increased focus on the inner energy industry. There's an increased demand for resiliency, and with the executive order, there are new requirements for achieving net zero long-term. All these focuses combined with all the new technologies available really make it an exciting time.
If you aren’t working, what are we most likely to find you doing?
I have two young kids, 20 months and three months. Between chasing them around and changing diapers, it keeps me plenty busy!
What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing a career in the energy industry?
As I have been mentored in my career, there have been two themes — some things will never change, and some will constantly change. In the energy industry, you have to follow the laws of physics. For example, Newton’s Laws of Thermodynamics will never change but the way that they are leveraged and applied will constantly change. So, to people entering the industry I always recommend building a strong core understanding of fundamentals, and from those fundamentals, looking at new and creative solutions. This is a rapidly evolving and exciting field where you can have a meaningful impact, but we are still held to the laws of physics. The second is opening your mind to different solutions and creative applications of technology that will work to optimize the solution for the client while not getting stuck in a silo or single mindset. Really opening your eyes to different solutions is how you can evolve and develop in the energy industry.
What do you enjoy most about being part of #OurJacobs?
I think it's awesome being able to be part of a company that has such a wide variety of offerings. Whether it is connecting with employees with extremely specialized talents or being able to work on unique and exciting projects across the globe. Jacobs has so many specialized talents and skills that we're able to come to a client and confidently say that “yes, we have someone that can do that for you” or provide the best solution. As I network and connect with these different people, it's awesome to see that no matter who I connect with, they are great people who are excellent at their work while striving to do what’s best for the project and the client; not just do whatever gets the job done, but rather, hoping to optimize and provide the best solution at the time for the client.
About the interviewee
Ben Dombrowski, PE is an engineer focused on campus energy infrastructure, resiliency, and sustainability in our Cary, North Carolina office. He has been with Jacobs working to provide innovative and resilient solutions for nearly 13 years supporting our energy and power solutions across Jacobs.
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