Alum Brings Solar Expertise to the ClassroomDan Giuffrida believes that understanding energy, water, and raw material usage with both a technical and financial acumen is imperative for sustainability professionals. As a Vice President in the Finance department at Safari Energy, he leads the financing process for all of Safari’s commercial and industrial scale solar development projects. This summer Giuffrida will be launching a new course for the MS in Sustainability Management program, Solar Project Development.
This course will prepare students to fully evaluate the technical and financial aspects of a solar project. The course will provide students with the skills to pursue careers in corporate sustainability with the requisite understanding and toolset to evaluate solar opportunities and shape future green energy corporate strategy. As an alum of the MS in Sustainability Management program himself, Giuffrida knows exactly what skills students need in order to pursue careers in the solar industry.
1. What is your current job and what are the responsibilities associated with your position?
I am currently a Vice President in the Finance department at Safari Energy, a commercial and industrial scale solar developer based in New York. My primary responsibilities include leading the financing process for all our projects whether that entails arranging equity, debt, or lease financing as well as developing bespoke structured finance solutions. I additionally am active in our business development and strategy process, leading the dialogue and strategic vision for large portfolio clients.
2. Do your current job responsibilities align with the professional goals that you originally had when you began the MSSM program?
When I initially enrolled in the MSSM program I was considering pursuing an environmental economics PhD but after beginning my coursework and being back in an academic setting, I realized that I loved the environment of working with a team trying to solve problems and so I decided to go back into the corporate sector upon graduation. Once I transitioned to pursuing a career in the corporate sector, I knew that the company had to have a social or environmental mission.
3. What has been your biggest challenge associated with sustainability in your current position)
My biggest challenge is convincing clients that they should deploy capital into a high yielding but non-core asset. Many large corporations still have a singular focus; profit maximization. While solar provides a very good risk-adjusted return, the struggle that remains is getting institutional buy-in to invest in a non-core asset. As many students are aware, many companies have sustainability goals and aspirations but I have found that these goals are not always fully integrated with the businesses primary goal of profit. This is a struggle that many students will face as a sustainability leader at companies across industries and must strive to find solutions to integrate green energy into their business operations.
4. What has been your biggest accomplishment associated with sustainability in your current position?
In 2015, my team originated, financed, structured and developed one of the largest commercial scale solar portfolios in the US for one of our large real estate clients. My team and I created a structured finance solution that allowed our client to own the system and efficiently realize all the financial attributes of the systems. The portfolio is over 30 MW of solar and it will generate over 40,000,000 kWh per year.
5. How have you used your degree from the MSSM program in furthering your career?
I think the interdisciplinary approach has equipped me with the skills to adapt as the sustainability and green business sector grows. The analytical skills and team working skills developed and honed in the MSSM program are skills I can take with me as I continue through my career in Clean energy.
6. What do you think is the most beneficial aspect of the MSSM program with regard to your career?
I think the network of students has been of the utmost value. I time and again am able to tap former classmates for advice and help on a variety of ventures. The wide mix of skillsets that the MSSM student body brings creates a tremendously diverse network for its graduates.
7. From your experience as a student and now returning to teach, what do you believe is the greatest benefit that the Sustainability Management program has to offer its students?
I think the interdisciplinary approach is incredibly valuable and of utmost importance. A sustainability manager is a jack of all trades and needs to be proficient in several disciplines. Understanding energy, water, and raw material usage with both a technical and financial acumen is imperative. The breadth of coursework in the MSSM program provides a basis for aspiring sustainability professionals to gain these vital skills.
8. Why did you choose to teach in the MSSM program?
I felt that a class in solar development was a glaring omission from the MSSM curriculum offering. Clean energy procurement and solar development strategy will be a major focus in every sustainability managers’ role and to do this effectively, sustainability professionals must understand solar and its value. Additionally, there was no course for students who wished to begin careers in solar energy. Solar employs thousands of people nationwide and should be employing hundreds of MSSM alumni! We are in the 1st inning of the solar industry and it is already growing exponentially. More solar energy capacity was added last year than natural gas power plants!
9. Why do you think that solar project development is important in the field of sustainability? What are the trends?
It is essential for any sustainability manager to understand the solar development process. Every sustainability manager will be approached by dozens of solar and renewable energy companies looking to serve their energy needs. At the very least, sustainability managers must have the skills to properly evaluate and vet solar and renewable energy proposals. Clean energy procurement and strategy will be a part of every sustainability managers’ role and to effectively do this, one must have a thorough understanding of solar and the value that it creates. To be effective, one must also have the skills and acumen to be able to identify the best partner to work with and be able to identify the best structure and approach for their environmental and financial goals.
10. What do you think students need to know about sustainability that they may not already be learning in the classroom?
While this course is in solar project development, students will learn about electricity markets, electricity procurement, SREC and REC markets, and how to think about energy procurement strategically. This is a skill that is imperative for any sustainability manager and to have an advanced understanding requires a deep expertise in solar energy.
11. What advice would you give to sustainability management students who are not already working in the field of sustainability?
In your studies and professional work always strive to understand the why and how. To be a successful sustainability professional, you have to be a master of many disciplines, not simply a master of one.
The M.S. in Sustainability Management, co-sponsored by the Earth Institute and Columbia’s School of Professional Studies, trains students to tackle complex and pressing environmental and managerial challenges. The program requires the successful completion of 36 credit points. Those credit points are divided among five comprehensive content areas: integrative sustainability management, economics and quantitative analysis, the physical dimensions of sustainability, the public policy environment of sustainability management, and general and financial management. Visit our website to learn more.