Transforming the power industry to provide clean, reliable energy and good jobs.
The U.S. energy system is at a tipping point. Climate change, the fracking boom and subsequent surplus of natural gas, innovative clean energy technologies and other factors all play a role in the constant evolution of the energy business. Our modern lifestyles depend on a reliable power supply, but generating electricity from fossil fuels creates greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. And climate change is expected to affect every aspect of the electricity grid—from generation, transmission and distribution to demand for electricity.
To address these challenges, the International Energy Agency advocates for building more resilient, cleaner energy systems. This means ramping up carbon-free electricity generation, upgrading and expanding power grids, and improving technology, such as small modular nuclear reactors and efficient batteries. The cost of renewable energy from wind and solar power has dropped in recent years. But because wind and sun are not always available, energy companies must be ready to transmit energy wherever consumers need it and fill gaps in supply with more consistent energy sources, such as nuclear power.
Exelon, America’s leading competitive energy provider, has one of the nation’s largest, cleanest, lowest-cost power generation fleets. The company invests in carbon-free energy sources and new technologies to reduce carbon emissions, with the added benefit of maintaining clean energy jobs.
“In order to obtain excellence, we need to be able to lead and engage teams, for innovation, planning, problem-solving and strategizing.”
John Barnes ’00 recently retired from his role as the senior vice president of Exelon Generation and president of Exelon Power, where he oversaw safe, efficient and reliable operations of generating facilities across the country, ranging from natural gas and oil to hydropower, wind and solar power. In his 36 years with Exelon, he held several leadership roles in which he helped transform operational performance, optimized assets to save millions of dollars and led strategic planning and organizational redesign efforts.
Barnes played an integral role in the Exelon/Constellation merger in 2012 when he helped lead the integration effort for one of the largest energy mergers in the U.S. Under his leadership, Exelon Power Generation achieved operational and financial performance records by managing costs and keeping the focus on core capabilities—delivering affordable, clean energy.
Barnes witnessed significant changes in the power industry during his career, especially related to evolving technologies. “Base load coal and oil power generators were replaced with state-of-the-art, high-efficiency gas turbines that can respond rapidly to changing market conditions,” he noted, along with “the continued increase of wind and solar generation into the energy mix, as carbon-free energy gained momentum.” He oversaw the construction of a solar facility in California and the acquisition and integration of the John Deere wind turbine portfolio, bringing along new technologies and talented employees.
He added, “I think the future will consist of a mixed portfolio of generating assets—wind, solar, hydro, gas and nuclear. Nuclear is an enormous source of clean, reliable, base load generation to withstand grid instability during extreme weather events.” He also believes battery storage will continue to evolve to support the ongoing shift to renewable energy.
Early in his career, Barnes worked as a boiler expert and saw that the power industry was changing. He survived two rounds of downsizing, but without additional training beyond his technical degree, he realized his career prospects would be limited. “I recognized the need to enhance my skills to be more versatile and marketable,” he said.
He started taking classes at a large local institution, but he felt daunted by the idea of spending as many as eight years earning a traditional bachelor’s degree while doing shift work. In 1998, he saw an ad for an accelerated bachelor’s degree at Immaculata in just two years.
Barnes brought his transcript and sat down with an advisor to plan a path to a degree. Immaculata accepted some credits from his technical degree, and he enrolled in an accelerated degree-completion program. “The best part was the speed did not negatively impact the quality,” Barnes said. He chose Immaculata’s Organization Dynamics program as a complement to his technical training. Barnes said the program’s cohort-based structure helped sharpen his teamwork skills as he and his classmates progressed toward graduation together.
Drawing on that experience, Barnes sought to be an approachable leader at Exelon, developing a conversational style of interacting with his team. “Numerous studies confirm high-performing organizations evolve, tackle challenges and remain efficient utilizing teamwork,” he commented.
Barnes said his career path within Exelon “zigzagged” through different divisions of the generation company. This non-linear advancement gave him more avenues to learn, network and work on new skill sets. He also benefited from a finance course he took at Immaculata. “The skills for budgeting, interpretation of corporate financial statements and understanding the financial language of industry were critical as I progressed in my career as an executive in Exelon,” he said.
Once in a leadership role himself, Barnes sought to develop other leaders on his team. “I think the most successful and rewarding parts of my career were participating in the advancement of front-line employees into supervisory roles and executive leadership roles,” he reflected. “Coaching, mentoring and providing training and rotational opportunities for our employees to advance and grow was extremely rewarding.”
In his retirement, Barnes is staying active through independent consulting, helping with organizational design and cost efficiencies. He combines his expertise in power generation with the power of teams, enabling him to help the industry evolve to meet customer needs while addressing competitive challenges.
“It’s imperative in today’s business environment,” he says. “In order to obtain excellence, we need to be able to lead and engage teams, for innovation, planning, problem-solving and strategizing.”