Making the Grid a Two-Way Street

Matthew Ketschke ’95 M.M.S. ’98

From beneath city streets to the tops of the highest skyscrapers, and looped pole to pole across open areas, a profound energy transformation is taking place in the way New York City heats, lights and cools its buildings. “It’s like changing the energy system that powers your car — while you are driving,” says Matthew Ketschke ’95 M.M.S. ’98. 

Ketschke ought to know. As president of Con Edison of New York, he bears responsibility for the safety and reliability, as well as the planning, design and construction, of the metro area’s enormous energy infrastructure, which provides electricity, natural gas and steam to millions of customers. 

ConEd, as it is widely known, is the nation’s oldest and one of its largest investor-owned energy companies. It inaugurated the age of electricity on September 4, 1882, when Thomas Edison himself flipped a switch to deliver power (and the new-fangled electric lighting) to the company’s first 59 customers in Lower Manhattan. But that original design is part of the problem. 

“The challenge we at Con Edison and all public utilities face is that the legacy systems we have in place were designed to function like a one-way street. Energy comes from a central location and is distributed outwards,” explains Ketschke. As more and more customers generate quantities of electricity through home solar and wind or have whole-house battery systems, the way the grid works now must change. “We need a system that works efficiently in two directions to accommodate renewables,” he says. “And that’s an incredible technical challenge.” 

Ketschke grew up outside of Boston, in the town of Danvers on Massachusetts’ North Shore. Opting for the additional semesters and rigors of the co-op program while at Stevens, he nonetheless found time to play centerfield on the baseball team his first three years and eventually served as president of his fraternity, Delta Tau Delta. 

“It was a solid education,” he says of his eight years earning two degrees. All of which helps guide his efforts to reinvent something almost everyone takes for granted. “The State of New York has mandated we achieve decarbonization by the year 2050. This is going to radically change how energy is generated, distributed and used,” he says. 

Steadily, quietly, without much fanfare, Ketschke is leading a profound transformation in how things work.  “Energy is the incredibly important part of our daily existence that we don’t think about,” he says, “and we don't want to think about." 

– Mike Field