Jennifer Manning is Vice President and General Counsel of NRStor Inc., a Toronto-based energy storage project developer. She has a great deal of experience in both large-scale energy and infrastructure projects, including the Eglinton Crosstown project. Jennifer is also involved in other sectors, including being a member of the Board of Directors for the Fred Victor Centre, the board of epic School, the Torys LLP mentorship program of at-risk youth, and the Women’s Infrastructure Network.
Before joining NRStor, Jennifer worked at a corporate law firm (Torys LLP) for five years, and with Infrastructure Ontario for four years. With Torys LLP, Jennifer was involved with the successful financing of an 875 MW natural gas generating facility, and while she was working with infrastructure Ontario, Jennifer had successfully led the negotiations for the Eglington Crosstown Project. A recruiter, taking notice of Jennifer’s skills and experience with large-scale infrastructure projects, then reached out to offer her a position as general counsel at an energy storage company. At the time, Jennifer had known very little about energy storage, and could have overlooked the opportunity; but as is often the case, it can be these seemingly small unexpected circumstances that lead to unexpected and fruitful opportunities. There was also a personal element to it - Jennifer`s father had always commented that energy storage was the missing piece of the puzzle, the real key to large-scale adoption of renewable energy. It was, and continues to be, the problem everyone`s trying to solve. With this in mind, and a little general Googling in her back pocket, Jennifer decided to attend the interview with NRStor, excited at the prospect of being a part of a brand new cutting-edge industry, and to play a part in a field that could potentially hold the solutions to tomorrow's clean energy grids.
Now that she`s been with NRStor for a few years, WiRE asked Jennifer to share her experience and perspective as legal counsel in the energy storage industry. One thing Jennifer likes about NRStor’s approach is that it’s technologically-agnostic – they don’t focus on any one specific technology, and have worked on very different types of projects, which are often the first of their kind. In this way, NRStor has the unique and beneficial opportunity to stand behind some of most innovative and industry-leading technologies and systems. Jennifer notes, however, that this model can come with some inherent challenges in the current energy market: contract durations with governments can be shorter than the actual lifetime of an asset, which can make it harder to finance these projects. This is part of Jennifer challenge: to harness the trust of financers to "believe” in something that may not have been done more than a handful of times in the world. For her, it can be exciting in its own way, to be met with some scepticism. It gives her team an opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong, because Jennifer knows that behind these technology systems are teams of incredibly creative and skilled people working hard to bring their storage technologies to the market.
Financing any kind of new technology comes with some inherent risk; but for Jennifer, knowing and understanding the professionalism and drive of the teams behind these projects, it’s a worthwhile risk with a payoff that increases innovation, harnesses new technology, and grows Canadian businesses. In particular, the business case for storage has become more compelling as battery prices go down and the technological capabilities of storage increases. With each new project and test case, these innovative storage solutions can be brought to the forefront, and have the potential to improve financing opportunities through exposure and the chance to demonstrate the commercial viability of certain technologies. NRStor's recent successful partnership with the Labourers' Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada (LiUNA) to provide up to $200 million in project financing to support NRStor's projects is a demonstration of NRStor's continued success in this regard.
NRStor Energy Storage Projects
Jennifer first heard about WiRE at a conference, where founders Joanna and Rebecca were giving a presentation about WiRE. Jen's interest was piqued; she decided to reach out to WiRE, and soon joined the advisory committee. From there, Jennifer has taken on managing WiRE's successful speed mentoring events held annually at the Association of Power Producers of Ontario (APPRO) conference. WiRE's speed mentoring events connect students and emerging professionals with experienced industry professionals to share their insights, advice, and experience, and has even led to permanent employment opportunities. Jennifer is proud of the speed mentoring event, seeing it as an opportunity to support a group of students who are just embarking on their careers and have an interest in the space. It gives new and potential industry entrants a chance to make initial connections, as well as learn about things like the potential opportunities available in the energy storage space. In Jennifer's experience, one of the consistently great things about WiRE is that a great deal of time and energy goes into all the events and field trips, and it shows. They are extremely well-organized, and it is clear that the people behind the organization care a lot about what they do.
We asked Jen to share some of her challenges and opportunities navigating the energy industry, and she emphasized the importance of organizations like WiRE. The energy industry has historically been a predominantly male space, and the more we can encourage diversity of perspectives and backgrounds, the better. With more people comes the growth of support networks and connections that provide mutual benefits across the industry as a whole. And when asked to provide some words of advice to women looking to enter the energy industry, especially in energy storage, Jennifer emphasized that new market entrants should not be intimidated by lack of experience or knowledge. There can be a learning curve, but the area is still growing and new, and can provide ample opportunity to learn and grow on the job. Echoing her earlier sentiment, a background in another unrelated industry does not have to be a barrier - it can bring diversity to the field, and offer unique opportunities by bringing extensive experience and successes to a brand new field.
As a starting point, anyone looking to learn more about NRStor can follow NRStor's news page, and also follow WiRE's networking and field trip events.
By Jennifer Ng, WiRE Volunteer