Championing diversity in clean energy with lessons from home

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Chris Markwell is today the director for asset management at NEXTracker. He works every day to make utility-scale arrays more productive.

His journey as an engineer, leader and person of color in clean-energy began years ago with a decision to serve.

Markwell, like millions around the country, watched with horror as the events unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001. This event, which Markwell was the son of a military family gave him the push he needed in order to continue the legacy and enlist with the Navy.

Chris Markwell

Markwell, now 39, laughed, saying, “They called my grandfather’ when I joined.” “Like they said, I was the oldest person that they’d ever seen.”

His primary goal was to fulfill his patriotic duty. Markwell saw the military as a way to an engineering career that would eventually lead him to be a leader in clean-energy.

“I didn’t want an M16 in the Middle East. So I asked myself, “What can I use my brain to do?”

He was a nuclear engineer in Navy for six years before deciding that he wanted to be a father and a better career. Markwell worked for four years at Bloom Energy, a hydrogen fuel cell manufacturer before joining NEXTracker.

Markwell was responsible for NEXTracker’s transition to remote commissions during the pandemic. He also led teams in the ground in markets around world. Markwell is now helping the company adapt to the increasing challenges posed due to climate change and weather.

Markwell didn’t immediately answer a question about his future goals when asked about NEXTracker.

His three children, aged 12, 12 and 9, are what first comes to mind.

“And, you should know, I don’t say I don’t work hard. Yes. Absolutely. Markwell stated that they are my priority right now.

Markwell and his young family were hit hard by the sudden death of Markwell’s wife and mother, three years ago. She was only 33.

“It threw out our entire family in a whirlwind.”

Markell learned from her loss how precious life is and how important it was to spend time with his children.

Chris and his wife, Chris, remarried last spring and are now focusing on their blended family.

Markwell is adamant that Egypt’s 100 MW solar farm should be maximized in efficiency. But his PrioritiesDriving to school is the main focus. Catching every volleyball match. Just being around. You are the best.

Markwell stated that many of the goals that Markwell set were based on Markwell’s children and being a role model for them. “I want them be proud of what I do.”

Markwell’s advice on diversity, inclusion and inclusion comes largely from his experiences as a leader in clean-energy and person of color.

Markwell’s advice on diversity, inclusion and inclusion comes largely from his experiences as a person with color and leader in clean-energy.

Clean energy is not without its diversity problems. According to data from E2, 74% of the workforce in energy was white by 2020. Clean energy didn’t fare much better, with white people making up 73% of the workforce.

Markwell’s children work together on their Albuquerque house, riding dirt bikes and ATVs together. Their math homework is two grades higher. Their entire education seems to have a STEM component.

Markwell stated, “We should concentrate on getting young people with diverse backgrounds excited about STEM.” It’s then about realizing what’s happening on Earth if we don’t do something and how much impact you can make.

He stated that this impact is real and it also includes a financial gain which he doesn’t discount.

Chris Markwell visits a NEXTracker site in Honduras

Markwell has been promoted three times since joining NEXTracker: from controls and product support manager, to commissioning and O&M manager, to director of asset management. He oversees project delivery and helps to roll out new product offerings. This allows Markwell to adapt to changing market conditions and environmental challenges.

He says listening is the key to success.

“We met with all of these different O&M providers and said, ‘what are some of the issues that you run into? What can we do for smoother, faster, and cheaper operations?

Markwell teased the company’s “a few items we’re working on”, but did not want to “give away any secrets.” You’ll find out more soon. Renewable Energy World.

Although the secret may be out about core clean energy technologies to fuel the energy transition it may be Markwell’s innovations and efficiency in operations and productivity that allow society–and his children in particular–to adapt to changing climate demands.

This is a professional influence, and a personal responsibility that he doesn’t take lightly.

  • John Engel is the Renewable Energy World Content Director. John Engel has been a journalist covering news, politics, and sports for the past ten years. He has also worked in print, radio, television, and digital media. He lives in Asheville with his wife Malia.

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