Dan Couillard BSGE 2004

Emily Scott

Dan Couillard sees himself as a participant in the clean energy revolution. 

After earning his general engineering degree from the University of Illinois in 2004, he worked for several companies specializing in geothermal energy, and eventually founded his own consulting company for sustainable engineering design. 

As a general engineering student, Couillard wanted to keep his career options open. He said he enjoyed the overall concept of the general engineering major.  

“I liked the idea of general engineering being I could get a technical education from a great school and then see what options I had getting out of school,” he said. 

His first job came out of his senior design project that dealt with designing an automatic car wash for the company Brite-O-Matic. After he graduated in 2004, he was hired onto the company and became their main engineer.

“I literally learned how to weld, and I welded and fabricated my own car wash,” Couillard said. “That was a really good experience out of college because it allowed me to apply a lot of the theory that I’d learned on to tangible things, and have that personal satisfaction.”

After working for Brite-O-Matic for about four years, he began to learn about the effects of climate change, a topic that he said wasn’t talked about nearly as much then as it is today. He decided to get involved in the energy field and joined a startup called Indie Energy, which worked in geothermal construction in the Chicago area. 

“That’s where I then fell in love with the renewable field and saw, okay, this is going to happen, whether people like it or not,” he said. 

Then in 2008, the stock market crashed. With it came the renewable incentives that pushed the renewable energy industry open. 

“While the market tanked, the green building industry grew,” Couillard said. “It was a weird position I found myself in, in this market that grew. We were busy.”

Near the end of 2011, Couillard moved on to a company called GI Energy, which also worked in developing geothermal opportunities. He worked on spearheading the company’s geothermal division in the U.S. for two years and then started to think about starting his own business.

“I liked the idea of not having a boss, things like that,” he said. “But what I found out is what really matters is — are you really willing to not get paid for as long as it takes to make it succeed?”

And that’s what he did. At that point, Couillard had an expertise in geothermal energy, so for six months he worked on figuring out if clients would be willing to hire him to design geothermal systems. 

In 2013, he founded his own company, Element Energy Consulting, which specializes in sustainable engineering design and is based in Chicago. 

“It’s rewarding, it’s tough, basically because if I don’t do the work, then I’m not going to make any money,” Couillard said. “But it’s fun and I love it.” 

Couillard sees the renewable energy industry as an important industry to be a part of. In his opinion, renewable energy will become less of an option and more of a requirement. 

“I tend to believe there’s two things that are fundamentally important to the economy and what we do, and that’s money and energy,” he said. “Without either one of those, it’s kind of hard to make an iPhone, a computer, it’s hard to make anything. It’s hard to run a business if you don’t have the money and energy to do it. They’re just so fundamentally basic principles.” 

He believes that if renewable energy can make itself cost-competitive with other forms of energy, that will be a game-changer, and he sees his company as a part of that change.

“We’re trying to change this market, we’re trying to clean it up, and it’s a practical thing we have to overcome,” Couillard said. 

Now as he runs his own business, Couillard sees how the critical thinking skills he learned during his time at ISE are helping him now.

“I was trained and built to think through things a certain way, and then once I was out trying to make money in the world, I gravitated toward the industry I wanted to be in,” he said. “I’m grateful for that education because that’s the foundation of everything I’m doing now.” 

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