Q&A: Adam Wright

Adam Wright is the president and CEO of MidAmerican Energy Co., which serves 760,000 customers in Iowa, Illinois, South Dakota and Nebraska. In the first part of 2018, the energy company announced it had completed two of its latest Iowa wind farms, adding to Iowa’s growing wind energy generation. MidAmerican is on a quest for 100 percent renewable energy.

How do you define innovation?
To me, innovation is coming up with or doing something new or different to solve a problem, capture an opportunity or make something better. The “innovative solution” usually is a culmination of multiple innovations; for example, the iPad. At MidAmerican Energy, it means constantly looking for ways to improve the way we provide service to our customers, lower our impact on the environment and make the workplace better for our employees.

What did you learn about innovating from your parents/mentors?
There are answers and solutions all around you and within your reach — now, go figure it out.

What was the first significant innovation, invention or process that you were associated with?
Extracting zinc and other metals from brine during geothermal energy production.

What are some of the ways that MidAmerican cultivates a culture of innovation?
We have an online suggestion box so anyone in the company can present new ideas or ways of doing things. We also are transitioning to an open floor plan concept in our offices and facilities to better allow for the free exchange of ideas.

Outside of MidAmerican, what recent innovation has prompted a “wow” reaction from you?
Virtual personal assistants like Alexa and Siri. These aren’t new, but I’m amazed every time I use them.

What are two or three of the most exciting areas of innovation that MidAmerican is working in?
MidAmerican is pursuing use of augmented reality and digital e-books to enhance training of our skilled craftspeople and other technical roles — the technology is mind-blowing, and we can easily see how the quality, depth and pace of learning will improve as a result.

What areas of education or expertise are in the shortest supply for companies like MidAmerican?
Skilled crafts. Parents — and society — tend to push kids toward secondary education rather than the trades, which offer great wages, benefits and career opportunities. This has historically resulted in a shortage of people with the right aptitude for this work, although we are starting to see some of the interest return through initiatives and partnerships like the Skilled Trades Alliance. Something most people don’t realize is that these jobs come with a paid apprenticeship — so you make money while you learn how to do your job — as opposed to secondary education that usually comes with a significant cost burden.

At MidAmerican Energy, we’ve partnered with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to open the Center for Excellence, a state-of-the-art facility to train future line mechanics.

What do you see as the most pressing global innovation challenge?
Climate change. It will take multiple innovations to create the incremental improvements necessary to move toward a solution. There are countless benefits to moving the focus to renewable energy, which is a place where MidAmerican Energy can make a difference. We are working to set the standard and demonstrating how the transition can be seamless for our customers.

What are the most significant challenges MidAmerican confronts as it transitions away from reliance on coal?
Balancing the outcome. MidAmerican Energy has a goal to provide our customers with 100 percent renewable energy. We’ve made great strides toward that mark due to our investments in wind energy projects around the state. But those investments must occur in a way that also allows us to prioritize reliability and affordability for our customers. n