We’re proud to wrap up our month of environmental awareness by highlighting Ben Weir, the lead of policy, research, and development at the Independent Electricity System Operator.

With a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and History degree, as well as a Master of International Public Policy degree, Ben Weir is no stranger to hard work. He’s spent the last decade working in successively senior roles for the Ontario Power Authority, Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, and Canadian Solar Industries Association. Now at the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) in Toronto, a not-for-profit organization, he’s helping the company plan for Ontario’s future power system needs. The IESO is responsible for managing the province’s electricity grid, which involves monitoring electrical flow and developing energy efficiencies.

Check out Ben’s interview with Virtual High School to discover what you could expect from an occupation in the energy sector.

What are your current responsibilities within your role?

My current role is focused on developing and leading research initiatives and pilot projects that can help figure out new and better ways of running the electricity grid in Ontario. My day-to-day responsibilities can range anywhere from doing legal/regulatory research, data analysis, and report writing to meetings and public presentations.

Why did you choose this line of work?

Initially, I was most drawn to the ability to work on something that would have tangible impacts on addressing climate change. My very first role involved working on a government program that funded renewable energy projects (like solar panels and wind turbines), and I was excited that my day-to-day efforts contributed to reducing our need for fossil fuels.

What obstacles or challenges have you faced in your role?

The electricity sector is a highly technical field. Sometimes it feels like most people you meet are either engineers or lawyers, or they have financial backgrounds. I’m none of those things, so it was (and sometimes remains) tough to keep up to speed on all of these different aspects and effectively incorporate those fields of knowledge into my work.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Getting a project done that results in meaningful change. Because my team is focused on doing research to support innovation, not all of the work we do ends up going anywhere. Sometimes an idea or project turns out to have issues or not be workable, so it needs to be shut down. When we can test an idea or a project that has real benefits for the electricity system though, it can move forward into being implemented as the new way of doing things. I find that very rewarding.

Do you have any advice for people looking to get into this field?

Try to get some financial and quantitative analysis skills during your education (or be prepared to do learning on your own on the job). These skills are incredibly helpful when working in the electricity sector. A decent chunk of your work will likely involve math, so understanding how to read and interpret quantitative analysis is going to be a big plus.

How has your role changed to adapt to the pandemic?

Like most people that work in Toronto offices, about 90% of my organization has been working from home since about March of 2020. That has definitely been the biggest change to deal with on a personal level. Working from home is also going to be something that continues after the pandemic for us. There are definitely cons to working from home related to the lack of interaction with colleagues, but I also get to wear shorts all summer, so there are pros too.

What are you looking forward to in your career this year?

From a nerd perspective, I’m looking forward to a government consultation on the future of long-term energy planning in Ontario. It could have big impacts on the way my organization works and what we do. From a personal perspective, I’m most looking forward to getting back into the office to see friends and colleagues (and getting access to free coffee).