Behind every great energy leader is a teacher who imparted sage lessons and technical wisdom. For many students at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, that teacher has been Ali Razban. As a professor, assistant director of the Industrial Assessment Center and director of the energy engineering program, he’s spent years influencing the next generation of energy managers and engineers.
Sparkfund: Describe your role at your IUPUI.
Ali Razban: I’m the director of the Energy Engineering Program, which was newly established in 2011. It’s a unique program because it covers both mechanical engineering courses and renewable energy design courses. There are only a few schools in the nation that offer undergraduate degrees in energy engineering, and we are one of them. We have 65 students in our bachelor’s program and they are passionate about energy. Most of them go on to work as energy managers or engineers at independent companies, but some of my past students have also been hired by utilities.
I’m also on the faculty of the department and am the assistant director of the Industrial Assessment Center on campus. There are 28 centers in the U.S., all sponsored by the Department of Energy, and we are the only one in Indiana. The centers help train the future generation of energy engineers, who complete free audits for small- and medium-sized companies.
What’s one piece of advice about being an energy professional that you like to pass on to your students?
Students need to work in the real world to understand the lessons we teach in the classroom. That’s the advantage of our Industrial Assessment Center — it gives our students the opportunity to get a feeling for the real world. The students are the ones who complete the audits, collect the data and do the work writing a detailed report for a company. Doing that report is using all the education they have learned in class, so it gives them a feeling of the real work world.
What’s one accomplishment at IUPUI you’re most proud of?
My passion is in automation, and we’re doing a lot of work on IoT here to marry energy efficient improvements with automation. We also do a lot of research and create patents for the new innovations we develop. One of the recent ones was a technology that predicts peak demand, which can help companies find peak savings.
What conferences do you go to that you think are most valuable?
I go to quite a few, mostly in Europe. The ECOS conference is one of my favorites.
What's standing between the average organization and sustainability?
Companies need to know about their energy consumption in order to improve it. I’ve been to companies that have no data on their energy use and don’t know what’s going on. The only thing they understand and measure is the dollar amount per month on their utility bill. Keeping track and measuring their consumption is so important, though.
What’s the biggest challenge when teaching the next generation of energy professionals?
My students will have to learn how to work with companies, and one of the biggest challenges is getting companies to see that managing their energy is important. Utilities are cheaper here than they are in most countries, which is why it’s more difficult to get companies’ attention here. Fifty years ago, people thought electricity should be free because that’s how much they valued it. The change in that mindset of companies is a challenge.
What’s one small thing you do every day to be environmentally friendly?
I don’t turn on the lights in my office unless I have to. I try to do the same thing at home, as well as recycle and drive a smaller, more energy efficient car.