Sustainable Change

Rather than Run from Disruption, Organizations Can Embrace It—and Thrive

By Rajeev Supekar, PMP



Wind turbines near Minamisoma, Japan

Japan’s energy landscape has turned upside down in the past few years. A country once dependent on nuclear energy was forced to rush into renewables after the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant meltdown, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

The disruption wasn’t planned, but project leaders leaned into it. And the industry has taken off: Today, renewable energy accounts for nearly 17 percent of the nation’s electricity use, according to the Renewable Energy Institute. As someone who’s managed renewable energy projects in Japan for years, here are three factors I’ve seen help organizations embrace the novel—with success.


Innovation and risk often go hand in hand, and the entire team needs to understand risk management’s importance.

For example, Japan, with its hills and long seashore, has limited space for utility-scale power plants. For one project I worked on, from 2014 to 2017, we had to move about 5 million cubic meters (177 million cubic feet) of soil to make hilly forest land suitable for solar panels. When we ran into harder rock than expected, we turned to controlled explosives, which tested our risk management skills and required shifting the sequence of development. But thanks to an experienced team with solid risk management skills, we completed the project early and within budget.


For disruption to truly take hold, an organization needs cheerleaders and change agents beyond the company walls.

In Japan, the government’s proactive embrace of renewable energy created the right climate for successful change. It began requiring electric utilities to buy some power generated from renewable energy sources, with a goal of about a quarter of Japan’s electricity coming from renewables by 2030. That government buy-in extends to the local level. On a solar project I worked on from 2017 to 2018, the project site was a salt flat, which posed two problems: It was a bird breeding area, and the salt water easily corroded steel. The city government helped overcome these by prohibiting construction during bird breeding season and employing anti-corrosion measures for the plant’s steel.


In a nascent or innovative field, project leaders can’t expect to find abundant homegrown talent. So they must be willing to rely on outside expertise to drive project success. That’s been the case in Japan, where as late as the 1990s there were few native experts in the renewable energy sector and large companies were reluctant hire non-Japanese executives.

Today, the country has welcomed outside investors, manufacturers and integrator companies to the energy sector, meaning that it’s not unusual to see companies operate in English (and sometimes in Spanish or French) and employ diverse staffs from multiple countries.

Although disruption can often feel abrupt, project leaders poised with the right mindset and willingness to grow can help organizations write their own success stories in the new world. PM

img Rajeev Supekar, PMP, is general manager (construction) at Trina Solar Japan Energy, Tokyo, Japan.