Oct 24, 2019
By Blake Marchand
Stephanie Medeiros leads ABB Canada’s Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure team, as well as transit bus charging in the United States and Canada. She has been with ABB in various positions for 10 years, compiling a diverse skill set that includes work all over the world.
After receiving a degree in Electrical Engineering from McGill University, Medeiros got her start in the industry out of school volunteering with the Canadian government as an electrical engineering intern, where she travelled to Peru to help improve their water treatment infrastructure. The experience was an invaluable one for Medeiros, ultimately teaching her a great deal about leadership and giving her perspective on what leadership looks like in another culture.
“As soon as I graduated, I thought it was really important to take some time off and use the skills that I learnt to do something good,” said Medeiros. “I was sent to different cities in Peru to optimize their DC circuit for their electric supply, but with the intent on improving their drinking water supply. The majority of cities in Peru got their water from underground wells. So, they had systems of DC motors and pumps to get that water from underground.”
Medeiros explained that, because the towns were in remote locations they didn’t have access to electrical engineers and those types of skilled workers on a regular basis, their systems were really antiquated. “A lot of villages that I went to, they only had drinking water supply for two hours a day, because their systems weren’t optimized.”
“My task was basically to go to each of these cities – using the skills I learned as an electrical engineer and my knowledge of DC motors to optimize these circuits. The goal was to increase the water access from two hours a day to 12-hours.”
The work was fulfilling from a humanitarian perspective, but it also provided Stephanie with a great deal of quality experience. In terms of technical experience optimizing these systems, but also leadership and management. The fact that she was young, and a woman made it challenging to prove herself as an expert in these communities. “Every town that I would go to, the first week or so was challenging,” she explained, “basically I was supposed to be the expert – there were some tests I would have to do that I couldn’t do myself, so I was given labourers to work with and every town I had start all over again to prove myself,” she said adding, “some of the towns were more reluctant to listen to me.”
It took a certain level of patience on her part to convince them to trust her expertise. Despite the challenge it was a positive and enriching experience. “I learnt a lot about myself and leadership,” she noted.
“Experiences such as this is really an intensive crash course. Whenever I go to a new country, and especially countries or cultures that aren’t used to seeing women in the workforce, you have no choice but to find creative ways to make it work.”
Following her trip, she landed a job with ABB as a project engineer working out of Montreal.
Her work as a project engineer included designing and commissioning components of substations. A particularly interesting role for Stephanie because it was a highly technical job. Given the point she was at, coming into her first job as an engineer, it allowed her to build off the work she did in Peru and develop a strong technical foundation doing field work across Canada.
Medeiros would eventually move into a product management role, again out of Montreal. Although the job would take her abroad as well, living and working in other countries was interesting professionally and personally, offering her a greater appreciation for other cultures by experiencing it firsthand.
Her new position included management as well as marketing aspects, so she returned to McGill for a management/marketing diploma. Furthering her education was beneficial because that role would lead her to other management positions within the company.
Currently, Medeiros is leading ABB’s Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure team for Canada, and in the United States she leads electric infrastructure for transit buses.
“The way I see it, what I’m doing at ABB is helping to create a better and more sustainable world for everyone, and at the end of the day this is what drives me.” Because there are always challenges along the way, Stephanie said she is motivated by the bigger picture associated with what she does at ABB Canada.
For Stephanie, this is an exciting time because the electric vehicle industry is approaching a tipping point. “One or two percent of vehicles in Canada are electric, but you’re going to see this rapidly change more and more. There are different factors that come with that, but to make it a reality you need to have the charging infrastructure in place. One of the factors involved with that is establishing standards for charging, as well as settling on a uniform method for charging. Ultimately, constructing a landscape that closely resembles that of internal combustion.”
For example, only a few years ago fast charging was considered 50kW, while today ABB is installing car chargers that are 350kW, which has the ability to charge a car in eight minutes, comparable to the approximately four minutes it takes to fill a car with gas.
“What’s happening now in the industry,” she said, in particular referring to overhead fast charging for electric buses, “there’s an increase in types of [fast] chargers. If you’re looking long term it doesn’t make sense to have multiple types, because you don’t have interoperability.”
Interoperability is key for the progression of electric vehicles. As a new technology, the industry hasn’t settled on an optimal universal method. This is critical because it adds risk to the investment for manufactures, municipalities, and transit authorities.
“These types of conversations are happening right now, and these standards are being created right now,” she said, making it an exciting time for the industry as it approaches a tipping point in the adoption of electric transportation.
The SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) will be coming out with a new standard for overhead bus charging that will have enormous implications on the direction of the industry. A standard that ABB, and Medeiros herself, had a part in developing.
“For me this is very exciting because this is the future of e-mobility and I have been able to contribute to the larger initiative that makes up the new standard for overhead bus charging,” she said, adding, “because this is a new industry it’s going to move super fast once we get past this tipping point, you’re going to see an increase in electric cars and electric busses.”
“Transportation is a very large contributor to CO2 emissions, so we have to find ways to decrease it,” she said, “electrifying transport… that’s key and will go along way.”
The fact that it is such a new technology is challenging because there is a continuous learning curve. Medeiros addresses that by dedicating at least 30 minutes every morning to reading about new trends and technologies in the industry. “You have to keep up to speed, and you have to see what the industry is doing, what stakeholders are doing, what competitors are doing; everyone’s really working together, and going at a fast pace.”
Medeiros explained that an asset for her, particularly given the rapidly changing landscape, is having an incredibly diverse team working with her. Any time you have a diverse range of people you are going to find differing perspectives, ultimately providing the new ideas and insights that are critical to innovation.
“Having a team like the ABB Canada EV Charging Infrastructure team that is really diverse, everyone comes in with valuable viewpoints that are outside of the box. It definitely helps in this landscape.”
Medeiros has worked on many unique and interesting projects at an exciting time for the industry, contributing to the aforementioned SAE standard, for example. However, one of her greatest accomplishments is co-founding an ABB Canada program called the Excelle Group.
The Excelle Group promotes gender diversity at ABB Canada by putting on small and large events involving guest speakers, panel discussions with women across various industries, guided discussions and networking. Medeiros said ABB Canada’s Human Resources department has a lot of great initiatives to support woman in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), and “the Excelle Group is a means to work alongside these HR initiatives and to continue this important discussion.”
As a woman in STEM, Medeiros has experienced the challenges women face in the workplace firsthand. Without a support system of people with shared experiences, it’s easy to lose confidence and become discouraged.
“I felt alone sometimes early in my career,” she said, to a point where she would question her ability, “Those thoughts definitely happen, so I don’t want any woman – or man, because I know this happens to men, as well — to feel they are alone because they’re a minority in their field.”
“Just hearing other people’s stories and connecting with people gives them that extra push.” Having those support systems in place goes a long way in fostering a productive working environment.
Medeiros noted ABB Canada has many women in leadership roles, starting with their President, Nathalie Pilon, “Nathalie is a great role model for many in a STEM company, and even in other industries,” she said, because there certainly is cross-over to the challenges women face. And as Medeiros mentioned, having differing perspective is a huge asset for innovation.
Stephanie said Canada is in a good position with respect to Canada’s EV charging infrastructure. Provinces like BC, Ontario, and Quebec are being aggressive with their charging infrastructure targets, and Quebec has plans to build 1,600 DC fast chargers over the next two years. “Overall, when you’re looking at EV charging in Canada you are looking at the perfect landscape.”
When it comes to transit bus charging there are plenty of organizations, along with the government, that are doing great work. ABB is involved with the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC), an organization that Medeiros has worked with as a board member. The consortium focuses on low-carbon emission mobility projects across Canada. They consider electric batteries, fuel cells, and various technologies.
Stephanie explained that because Canada is a relatively small market compared to the U.S it’s ideal setting for demonstration projects. One Canadian project going on right now (Pan-Canadian Electric Bus Demonstration and Integration Trial), is showcasing interoperability between bus and charger manufacturers, utilizing buses from Nova Bus and New Flyer Industries and OppCharge protocol chargers from ABB Group and Siemens Canada.
“Whenever you have interoperability it really increases the adoption,” Medeiros added.
As we speak, there are a lot of great innovations shaping our future, from programs like the Pan-Canadian Integration Trial to advancements in technology. Although, there are certainly obstacles to ramping up the usage of electrical vehicles, from transit systems to commercial commuters. Stephanie highlighted a couple of areas that will be crucial to getting the industry to a tipping point. Primarily, public policy and leadership from the government to encourage and incentivize manufacturers and consumers.
“One of the big roles for policy makers is to encourage and facilitate the development of the necessary infrastructure by putting in laws and incentives that go towards that goal,” she said. “It is crucial to take the infrastructure to the next level.”
Stephanie highlighted Norway as a country that has the highest market penetration for electric vehicles, and it is in large part due to the government’s leadership. Norway has committed to installing charging stations every 30 miles, as well as implementing other incentives for EV drivers like free public charging, parking, and free access to toll roads.
Interoperability is another crucial aspect to widespread adoption. A lack of interoperability complicates the market, as well as the adoption of infrastructure, making things more cost prohibitive.
In the shorter term, increasing charging points will have a massive impact. Lowering EV cost will be crucial, as well.
“We need to have more affordable EVs, we also need to have more choices of vehicles,” Stephanie said, which includes increasing quantities of vehicles available.
There are more SUV options than there has been in the past, but the price point still needs to come down. Improvements to battery technology will play a major role in reducing costs. Over the past 10-years battery cost has come down considerably, and that’s expected to continue.
Ultimately, increasing market penetration relies on affordability, options, and the requisite infrastructure.
Increasing charging speed and reliability will be a major factor for industrial and commercial EVs. Long-hall transport, medium and heavy-duty vehicles, for example, will require better batteries and faster charging. Currently public charging installed can go up to 350 kW, but the industry is working towards reaching 1 MW and more.
“It’s going to happen sooner than you think,” she added.
“There are a lot of these developments happening, and again, it’s not a matter of one company or organization thinking about this, it’s the entire industry: from utilities to stakeholders like transit authorities, operators, manufacturers, associations, governments, everyone has to come together to make electrification of transport a reality.
Reducing CO2 emissions is clearly a highly pressing issue. Transportation, as Stephanie alludes to, accounts for approximately 15% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. In light of reports like Canada’s Changing Climate Report and IPCC Global Warming Special Report, we have to commit to reducing emissions considerably to protect the planet and our ability to live on it. Making the transition to EVs is critical, alongside increasing renewable energy sources, reducing emissions in manufacturing, and so on.
Overall, Medeiros is optimistic about the current state of EVs and EV charging infrastructure in Canada. The landscape Canada presents is prime for fostering the EV industry, and it is an exciting time to be immersed in the industry.
Not only as a woman succeeding in a leading technology company, but as a leader who has carved out an impressive career in a rapidly changing landscape, she is a fantastic role model for any young professional. From volunteering in remote Peru villages, working in the Middle East, developing standards with international organizations, to promoting gender diversity and inclusion, she has led an incredible career already, showing tremendous ambition, expertise, and leadership.
Blake Marchand is Assistant Editor, Panel Builder & Systems Integrator, a sister publication.
Photo credit: Marc-Andre Pichette, ABB