In recent years, the energy industry has experienced sweeping changes—many of them better for customers and the planet. Thiam Giam shared with us the importance of embracing change and how he went from building substations to helping clients plan for a cleaner future in his role as Senior Managing Director of Transaction & Planning Services at Black & Veatch (B&V).
How did you start you career?
As I was completing my bachelor’s degree, I had the opportunity to intern with B&V in Kuala Lumpur in 1995. At the time, they were consulting for the electric utility Tenaga Nasional Berhad in Malaysia. My internship went well and after I graduated I was offered a full-time role with the company. I had the opportunity to choose from two locations, Kansas City or Bangkok. I chose Kansas City and that has turned out to be one of the best choices I’ve made in my life. At the time, I had never been to Kansas City and I had no relatives in the US—that was 1997 and I’ve been here ever since, and I really like it.
Since then how has your work at B&V evolved?
What I enjoy about B&V is that we cover multiple industries and technologies, so you never get bored, you can always find something new and interesting to focus on within the company. I started my career in the B&V power delivery business. During the first ten years, I worked on various aspects of consulting, design/engineering, procurement and construction projects related to high voltage substation and transmission lines. At some point, I realized that repeating that work and continuing to design-build more substations wasn’t all that I wanted from my career. I began exploring other opportunities within B&V and identified a role in the management consulting practice area providing advisory and planning services across our four focus industries: Power, Water/Wastewater, Oil & Gas/Mining, and Telecom. I have enjoyed growing with this team ever since. Within the management consulting practice, I have had the opportunity to see a lot of different technologies and changes across multiple engagements year over year. For example, when I made the transition 12 years ago, there were few renewable projects being planned or developed, it was mainly conventional thermal power projects at that point. It is a different story today as renewable projects continue to grow.
Were renewables interesting to you previously?
Before I joined management consulting, I knew very little about power generation (either renewables or conventional), but I was curious. So, in my first few years in management consulting, I chose to work on several long-term power supply and market modeling simulations and studies. This opportunity allowed me to understand how all the pieces across power generation and delivery systems worked together to reliably and cost-effectively serve customers over the long-term. At that point, the cost of renewables was rather high compared to conventional thermal plants so there were not many renewable projects being developed. It’s been fascinating to see how quickly the cost of renewables has shifted. As the proper level of incentives are put in to place, this has allowed for the development of large-scale renewable deployments. The scale, in turn, has encouraged more competition, driving solar and wind costs down to where we are today. I don’t think that many experts could have predicted the cost reduction trend to be as drastic as we have seen in recent years. I hope to see a similar cost reduction trend for energy storage projects going forward.
Can you talk more about your current role?
I co-manage our Transaction & Market/Planning Advisory practice at B&V with my “partner-in-crime,” Chris Klausner. Any time there’s a merger, acquisition or financing transaction related to Power, Water/Wastewater, Oil & Gas/Mining, and Telecom, our team gets involved helping investors and lenders assess the technical, environmental, commercial, market, and sometimes regulatory aspects of the transactions.
The Cleanie Awards aim to raise the profile of the industry by recognizing innovative projects, products and people. What are you hoping to see when judging?
Each year our team looks at more than 200 different merger, acquisition or financing deals. Most of these deals involve companies, projects, or technologies that are rather mature or well established. In this judging position, I am excited to learn about the new and innovative ideas that emerging companies are bringing to the market as we all work to make the world cleaner and more sustainable. I was a judge last year and it was interesting to see how the different ideas came to fruition from the entrepreneurs and start-ups trying to make things more efficient in the renewable industries. I hope to see more of that this year.
Looking back on 22 years in the industry, what have you enjoyed most?
I’ve enjoyed observing how the renewable industry has embraced changes and evolved over time despite facing some policy challenges along the way. I hope to see continued growth in the renewables industry going forward.
If you had to take a job in a different industry tomorrow, what would you be most proud of in your career so far?
I’m most proud of being able to transform in my career from someone who was only working on substation and transmission line projects to leading a team that helps our clients assess various projects and companies across the multiple industries B&V covers globally.
What’s captured your imagination or interest recently?
Three things have been on my mind lately. The first one is energy storage — it may not be that cost effective currently, but a certain push or right level of incentive could really ignite the market. We could see energy storage benefit from the cost reduction trend we have seen with solar and wind. Number two is on the distributed generation side—there are a lot of exciting financial products and companies trying to make things more efficient. It will be interesting to see how competitive and streamlined some of these processes are to develop, construct, and operate multiple distributed generation projects and sites. The third one would be the utility transformation. There will be a lot of advancement technologically in the coming years for the industry and it will be exciting to see how these businesses evolve over time as they look to meet the changing expectation and needs of their customers.