Liz Weber, Rising Star in Clean Energy Project Management, Leads High-Impact Projects

World Travels and a Passion for the Environment Led Weber to a Career in Clean Energy

July 29, 2021

This story originally published on JISEA.org.

Headshot of a woman in professional ware.

Liz Weber

One evening in 2010 while relaxing at home in Colorado, Liz Weber reflected on her educational career. She was finishing her master's in environmental science and was eager to take the next step.

She Googled "best environmental law school." The search returned Vermont Law School, offering a "multidisciplinary array of environmental courses in law, policy, science, economics, and ethics." It sounded perfect.

She knew it was a critical time to make a difference in the world—weather disasters, energy burden, food and water scarcity, and sea level rise were becoming too common. She knew then she was ready to become an environmental leader. What she did not know is she would become a leading project manager within the U.S. Department of Energy complex.

A Path With Many Twists and Turns

Photo of a woman wearing a glove and setting a sea turtle down on the sand to walk to the ocean.
Weber rescuing sea turtles in Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Liz Weber

As a kid, Weber spent most of her time riding her purple BMX and exploring the forest outside of her Michigan home. With a microscope in her backpack, she would collect anything that would fit on a slide and told everyone she was going to be a scientist.

Enamored with Colorado from family vacations, at 18 years old, she moved to Boulder, Colorado, and worked at a variety of jobs to pay for school: McGuckin Hardware, Eldora Ski Resort, the Boulder Daily Camera, Mercedes, and too many restaurants to list.

While in school, Weber started traveling internationally and felt connected to something bigger for the first time. She had many adventures, including rescuing sea turtles in Costa Rica, working with indigenous communities in Peru, and advocating for displaced workers in Nicaragua.

"Through travel, I discovered I wanted to help make a difference for the planet and in the communities I was working with," Weber said. "I saw social, economic, and policy barriers that prevented lasting environmental change. It was at this time I knew I wanted to work in the environmental sector and was willing to do whatever it would take to get there. I knew I needed the education and the career to be able to make an impact." This set her on the path to completing her bachelor's in biology, master's in environmental science, and master's in environmental law and policy.

Landing the Right Spot in Research

After working as a project manager in environmental nonprofits and local government, Weber joined the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis (JISEA) in 2018 as a project manager to help plan and implement cross-cutting clean energy studies. She quickly started taking on larger studies in natural gas, energy storage, and other power sector issues.

Photo of a woman with cameras around her neck and a big smile on the way up to Machu Picchu in Peru.
Weber on the way up Machu Picchu—one of her many international travels. Photo courtesy of Liz Weber

"What I love most about JISEA is that it's multidisciplinary, which really fits the training I had in law school," Weber said. "At JISEA, I'm not focused on just one element of the clean energy transition; I get to work with engineers and scientists across the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on critical topics including vehicles, natural gas, food systems, social science, and have the opportunity to think about intersections that haven't already been explored."

Today, Weber oversees a dynamic JISEA portfolio, from coauthoring a case study on opportunities for renewable energy in Colorado dairies for Colorado Governor Jared Polis to managing international partnerships with the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy and the Children's Investment Fund Foundation.

"Project management is critical to the success of clean energy analysis," said Jill Engel-Cox, JISEA director. "Managing these types of projects is unique and challenging because it can involve technologies and solutions that haven't been proven at scale. They also bring together a diverse set of stakeholders. However, Liz makes it look easy. She keeps things moving efficiently, is a creative problem-solver, and delivers successful projects that bring new insights to the clean energy transition."

Weber also contributes research and analysis to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), including the Tribal Solar Initiative to reduce barriers to deploying solar on tribal land, and she is currently the lead of State Energy Programs under NREL's State, Local, & Tribal Governments program. Weber will soon conduct resilience assessments to identify high-risk areas for grid outages and other power disruptions. She is also becoming more interested in supply chains, food systems, environmental justice, and clean energy workforce development.

Project Leadership Institute

Every year, through a competitive process, 25 individuals from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) complex are selected to participate in the Project Leadership Institute (PLI)—a yearlong program in partnership between DOE and Stanford University to cultivate the next generation of project leaders who will be critical to DOE's future success in delivering high-risk projects.

This year, Weber was nominated by NREL and selected by the PLI.

Since starting at the PLI in January, Weber has been learning critical leadership development principles including executing complex projects, communicating with stakeholders, leading effective teams, and understanding the dynamic role of a project leader. She's applying these skills in her current roles in JISEA and NREL projects. Weber will graduate from the program and complete her capstone project for the PLI in November 2021 in Washington, D.C.

"I'm proud to be an NRELian," Weber said. "My path certainly hasn't been linear, and I started my career a bit late, but in retrospect I wouldn't change a thing. I am grateful for the experiences that led me to this point because I know my dedication and perseverance made it possible for me to have landed my dream job. From my colleagues who are now friends, to the clients, and the impact I contribute to, it's truly amazing to be a part of it all."