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Department of the elemental passion of Jose Zayas.


Jose Zayas has recognized the awesomeness of wind and water since his childhood. He has spent his education and experience learning how to transform that awesomeness into real, usable energy. Manager at the DOE's Wind and Water Program, Jose, not even 40, is ready to make so al waves of his own from DC.


AN ISLAND BOY, Jose Zayas grew up close to the elements. The innate respect for the tempestuous climate of Puerto Rico inspired the energy prodigy's fierce, enduring love of the sky, the sun, the water; this kindled his unwavering passion to protect the earth and her resources wisely. "I always wanted to give back," Jose said.

Jose's principled intentions illuminated his destiny and work. Creatively harnessing the natural elements became Jose's magnificent obsession--his driving force. He laughs, "I was bitten by the green bug." His natural ability with mathematics grounded his creativity and hyper-facilitated his credibility. An "Army brat," Jose's family traveled to Central America, but when he reached the eighth grade, Jose pressed his parents to return to Puerto Rico where he could get a summer job at Sandia, the prestigious lab where he would spend a good chunk of his career before moving upward and onward. As young as 13, Jose knew that his career would be in technology, and he was anxious to save money for college. He attended the University of New Mexico. He worked at Sandia during his summer vacations, becoming proficient and confident. "I was the youngest kid on the job," he jokes.

Jose would eventually run the very program where he had been the up-and-coming teen. As a young man, being hired to manage the very engineers, in some cases 20 to 30 years his senior--the very people he had learned from--was a nerve-wracking experience. "This was a strange feeling, but I have always been the youngest wherever I go. I was honored and humbled."

Entering college at 17, Jose pursued mechanical engineering and focused on machine design. However, true innovation is never about respecting the status quo. "I got wired into a solar group in the mid 90's; it wasn't popular then. It was a lot of hippies with ponytails," he laughs. "Now the hippies wear pinstriped suits." He knew that he'd need to go to grad school and asked Sandia to foot the bill. They agreed "with no hesitation," Jose added. Apparently a good investment, Jose returned from UC Davis to the Sandia lab inspired. "I'd come back with some deep dives; some of what we did a decade ago is just now surfacing in wind energy technology."

Promoted to Senior Manager, Renewable Energy, he developed a highly sophisticated applied GPS system with a time stamp for the wind power that allows for synchronization. "Wind power machines look deceptively simple, but are incredibly complex; a lot of people don't know that there is a clock in there. They have to take into account everything that Mother Nature can throw at it."

Jose's agile mind and natural ambition are well-matched with a rare gift for solution-oriented invention. Like most engineers, he began by tinkering. "I was intrigued by how things worked; and was always taking things apart." The essential edict of the inquiring mind was then redefined beyond the usual boundaries of talented engineers, as Jose, the visionary discovered his life's passion: "I know that I will be working with green power for the rest of my career." Jose also possesses a talent for management; "I put together a team and we began a very robust water power technology; waves, current tides ... work which I'm very proud of... imagine being able to be at ground zero of wind technology."

"In the late summer of 2011, I was asked to come out here [to Washington D.C.] from Albuquerque, the White House appointment as Program Manager, U.S. Department of Energy."

Wind and Water Power came at a time when he was deep in development. "It wasn't an easy decision to make." His budget of $120 million seems small for the task, but he's confident that they will be able to make giant strides in the next year. "That's the beauty of a national laboratory."

Water Power technology is the new frontier. "There is a very clear gap that water technology can fill." Almost 80 percent of the population of this country live near the water, the opportunity to bring water technology is great. It's so new...wave energy, tidal energy. Envision a central power collecting station with a single power line back to shore. It's doable".

Jose admits to missing the day-to-day fun of development: "I'd be lying if I said I don't miss getting my hands dirty." But the potential impact that he can have on America's power innovation outweighs any sacrifice. "My passion is the creation, and America needs to do something about leveraging our indigenous resources."

To propel and sustain the precocious vision of transforming America's natural power is Jose's mission in life, weighting it with purpose and making a difference is a prerequisite for his every action. Evolving an industry that has transformed the landscape of energy creation, and eventually, the job market as well is a tall order, but Jose has a lifetime to work it out. Unraveling mechanical mysteries and interpreting intuitive creative urges is what he does.

At a mere 39 years old, Jose Zayas is destined for greatness, and dedicated to the task. "I will be in clean energy until I retire."

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Title Annotation:LATINOS IN ENERGY
Author:Jordan, Judi
Publication:Latino Leaders
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2011
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