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Change in Power

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Paul F. Browning

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Mitsubishi Hitachi Power

By Eric Wright

The global economy is expanding at a pace that is unprecedented in history. In less than 25 years the world economy has grown by more than 50 percent. This means millions have escaped poverty and billions more have achieved higher standards of living. In fact, many economists believe the percentage of impoverished people is lowest and the number of people moving into what we would call “middle class” is higher than any time in the past.

One of the things that is making this ascent of the human community possible is the availability of affordable energy. Access to energy is foundational to nearly all economic activity and modern standards of living. Therefore, we should not be surprised that as prosperity has spread, energy demand has grown. The challenge the global economy faces today is continuing to provide the energy needed to sustain economic growth and lift more people out of poverty, while also minimizing the effects of energy usage on the environment.

By 2030, global demand for energy will likely be about 30 percent higher than it is today – even with substantial gains in efficiency. To meet this growing energy demand, suppliers are working to develop all commercially-viable energy sources. At this stage, no single source can meet mankind’s growing energy needs. In the world’s diverse energy mix, oil and natural gas are expected to account for nearly 60 percent of total energy through 2030. Today in the U.S., coal and natural gas account for 66 percent of our electricity generation.

While solar and wind technologies are continually developing, the technology to improve efficiency and to reduce environmental impact of our less expensive and domestically abundant fossil fuels is making remarkable advances. One of the leaders in this field is headquartered in Lake Mary: Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems America (MHPS).

MHPS was formed through the historic merger of the power generation divisions of two of Japan’s oldest and most iconic companies, Mitsubishi and Hitachi. The two giants, whose combined revenue exceeds $150 billion, joined to create one of the most competitive thermal power generation systems companies in the world. Energy veteran Paul Browning recently was named MHPS president and CEO of North and South America, and leads their operations from their offices in Central Florida.    

“When you grow at the pace that we have,you develop a culture that is flexible, innovative, and highly values its team”

Finding the Focus

Browning considers himself an engineer almost by nature, whose aptitude for leadership and management began to manifest early in his career at GE. “As a kid, I was always interested in how things worked,” he recalled. “One time I took apart the TV and experimented with the different components, making spark generators.  So, in terms of what I would study in college, engineering was a natural choice. After I graduated (BS Carnegie Mellon University, MS Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) I went to work at GE’s Global Research Center.

“I worked on everything from lightbulbs to washing machines, but spent most of my time on energy products. I originally thought of being a research scientist, because that passion to understand how things worked and to make new things never left me. However, I was surprised at first that people seemed to gravitate towards my leadership; there was almost a peer selection and I recognized I had more potential as a business leader than as a research scientist.”

Like many engineers who move into the corporate ranks, Browning recognized the skills he honed designing and working on “things” helped him in leading people and projects. “Engineers are fundamentally problem solvers. 

You learn a different way of thinking and can approach issues from a unique perspective. Having started my career as an engineer allowed me to master that skillset and apply it to business. At the end of the day, a problem, whether you are talking turbine design or people management, can be broken down, analyzed and solved. Plus, I found I got a lot of personal satisfaction out of tackling diverse business challenges. Of course, both engineers and businessmen need a good team.”

One skill that seemed to follow Browning as an engineer and as an executive is his ability and affinity for collaboration. As he said, “It’s rewarding for me to see a diverse group of people come together to tackle a problem that would be too big to solve individually.” That diversity, which is expressed in age, gender, expertise, and culture is readily apparent when you visit the MHPS campus.   

Browning also discovered, in one of his first key leadership assignments in Mexico, that he had an ability to lead people on an international stage. For him, MHPS is the perfect blend of two synergistic cultures: The innovation and experimentation with different approaches, which America is known for, and the technological genius and commitment to honor and deliver on a client’s expectations, which is part of Japan’s global reputation. “I observed that cultural differences are just that, they are differences, without making a value judgment of either good or bad.” Obviously that mix has been highly successful. MHPS has seen extraordinary growth in the Americas over the last 15 years. In 1999 they had five employees; now the total is about 2000.

“When you grow at the pace that we have,” Browning explained, “you develop a culture that is flexible, innovative, and highly values its team. Our people are our strength; there’s a real sense of camaraderie in the office, and it feels good to come to work knowing that your colleagues are proud to be there.”

MHPS’s Market Edge

Three things attracted MHPS to central Florida. First, their client base includes many of the large power generation companies in the state and the region, which makes their centralized Orlando Service Center geographically optimal. Second is the diverse and skilled workforce of central Florida.  Between the service center and their Lake Mary headquarters, they employ over 1,000 people with a team that includes accountants, sales representatives, welders, machinists and engineers. 

According to Browning, “This region was a natural choice for such a diverse workforce.  Being near UCF has also been very beneficial, since many of our engineers are UCF graduates, and we have also utilized the university for our internship program throughout the years.” MHPS has also taken a lead role in educating both students and the community about high paying career opportunities in STEM manufacturing.

Third, Orlando has good connectivity to cities in North and South America where MHPS Americas does business.

Browning is clearly focused on where the company and the industry are headed. “Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems is enabling the power plant of the future. What is happening in renewables and energy storage is fundamentally important for our world, but reducing emissions from natural gas- and coal-fired systems is also very important.  We are the technology company that is developing the means to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions, water consumption and other emissions,” Browning explained.

To Browning, one of the greatest opportunities lies in the development of natural gas technology, which has a very low carbon intensity. MHPS’s latest natural gas power plant system has about 67 percent less carbon emissions than a conventional coal-fired plant, to produce the same amount of electricity. Today many coal-fired plants are being retired and replaced with natural gas and renewable systems.  He believes this trend will continue and that any coal-fired plants that remain will eventually be retrofitted with emissions control technologies that MHPS also offers.

“The combination of natural gas and renewables produces 80 to 90 percent less carbon emissions than conventional coal. Currently however, renewables alone are not the answer, because they are an intermittent power source,” Browning said.

When you plug in your electric device or turn on your TV, you expect to have power, night or day, whether the wind is blowing or not. Part of the attraction to the natural gas-powered systems compared to others is their flexibility. The rapidity with which natural gas systems can be either taken offline or brought online, based on circumstances and requirements, makes them the clear partner for renewables.

“I think around the world this is the type of system we will be going to. The natural gas revolution here in the U.S. is changing things globally; power generation from natural gas and renewables is the clear win-win scenario, in terms of cost and environmental impact. Ten years ago, no one would have believed there was an answer that was both better for the environment and lower cost…no way! But it is happening,” Browning concluded. “There is a change in power.”

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  • I worked and retired from Mitsubishi in Orlando. The reason that I retired (early) was that the Management there had no respect for engineeing and supervisory talent. They thought that if they put the engineers directly on the shop floor in little cubicles that they would be “closer to the action” and could better react to problems. This was unlike any other industry in the world. Yes, engineers need to be close to the “action” but they need to be in a quiet, clean atmosphere so that they can think clearly. Mitsubishi’s New Manufacture shop was VERY noisy and dirty and allowed no professionalism. I discused this with the previous management and got a deaf ear. Many of the engineers have left because of this problem. If Paul Browning is an engineer like he says that he is, he will recognize that this is a problem and will fix it.