Knoxville resident now chairing Board of the World Energy Council
Mike Howard led the Electric Power Research Institute Inc. for nearly half of its existence. Now, he's bringing that passion to a globally-focused organization.
Mike Howard, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Emeritus of the Electric Power Research Institute Inc. (EPRI), has nearly a quarter-century association with the global science and technology innovation company that collaborates with universities, national labs, and other organizations to make a difference in how society produces, distributes and uses energy.
That’s nearly half of the time EPRI has been in business since its founding in 1972 by Chauncey Starr, a former Clinton Laboratories researcher at what is now known as Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Ironically, the second CEO of the independent non-profit energy research, development, and deployment organization was Floyd Culler, another ORNL alum.
During his tenure, Howard and his family have lived in Knoxville, where EPRI maintains one of three specialized labs; spent time in Palo Alto, CA, where EPRI was founded and is headquartered; and Charlotte, NC, where the company has its largest office, consuming 500,000 square feet in three buildings.
“We moved 18 times during my careers,” he said. Those stops also included Pittsburgh, PA, during an earlier stint with Westinghouse Electric Company where he started his career.
Howard’s work caused him to travel the globe for years as EPRI established and maintained an employee presence in more than a dozen countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the Americas through its subsidiary EPRI International Inc. and the company’s Ireland-based research arm named EPRI Europe DAC.
“We’re close to a $500 million enterprise, and almost half of that revenue is international,” Howard told us in a recent interview where we discussed the history of EPRI and ways that Howard is keeping himself very engaged since he retired at the end of 2020.
Having seen the world, when he and his wife decided on a location to call home after his retirement, they chose Knoxville. In some respects, it was a natural; Howard graduated from Carter High School, while his wife is an alumna of Bearden High School. Yet, it also says a good deal about the evolution of the community since their high school days and even the last time they had lived in Knoxville.
“It’s a comfortable, beautiful, and low-cost place to live,” he says.
Today, Howard serves on the Board of the Knoxville Chamber, which is not a time-consuming endeavor but also agreed to lead another global organization that does require a significant commitment of time. It’s serving as Chair of the Board of Directors of the World Energy Council (WEC). The 100-year-old organization is governed by a 15-member board focused on promoting the sustainable supply and use of energy for the greatest benefit of all people.
His LinkedIn profile captures the importance that Howard attaches to his WEC role: “I’m passionate about improving the world by enabling more sustainable and equitable energy for everyone’s global benefit. For over 40 years, I’ve been fortunate to practice my passion for helping accelerate the development of cleaner energy technologies, enabling better lives for all, and securing a healthier planet for future generations.”
Howard, who had worked with the WEC during his time at EPRI, began his three-year term leading the 92-member organization last October where he acknowledges that “I’m spending an undue amount of time,” something that he describes as “my philanthropic contribution to the industry.”
There’s also a symbiotic relationship between Howard’s time at EPRI and the role of leading WEC.
“EPRI develops the technologies, and the World Energy Council figures out the best social processes to get there,” he explains, noting that those strategies will vary by country. To illustrate the diverse nature of energy across the globe, Howard says that many citizens in African countries are still cooking with wood.
The signature event of the organization is the “World Energy Congress.” It’s an every-three-year conference that was scheduled to be held in Saint Petersburg, Russia last October but was obviously canceled by the Russia-Ukraine War. It is now scheduled for April 2024 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands with more than 7,000 energy stakeholders expected to attend.
“It brings a dialogue about all types of energy and where each is going,” Howard says, adding that the WEC also conducts several “World Energy Pulse” surveys each year that: (1) provide snapshots of current attitudes and trends felt by global leaders across the energy industry, and (2) deliver global and regional perspectives of crises implications and transformational actions.
As if the World Energy Council is not enough, Howard is also involved as a Business Advisor to Lime Rock New Energy, a venture capital firm investing in the energy sector. Other advisors include Ernest Moniz, former Secretary of Energy, and Arum Majumdar, former Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency in the Department of Energy. That fund closed in November 2021 at about $375 million.
“We focus on companies with $50 million to $200 million in revenue,” Howard says.
The Knoxville resident earned his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1980 and immediately joined Westinghouse. Nine years later, he launched Scientific Imaging Solutions Inc., an early-stage technology company developing computer-based image processing equipment for medical and material science applications incorporating advanced pattern recognition for near real-time automation. The start-up was sold to a venture capital firm in 1992, Howard spent the next seven years as President and CEO of Beta Development Corporation in Knoxville. The venture capital firm was focused on providing equity and debt investment for early-stage technology-based companies.
Howard began his association with EPRI in 1999 as President and CEO of EPRI PEAC Corporation which provided end-use power quality solutions and other specialized engineering services for large industrial customers and electric utility companies.