21.06.2023 | Working in an industry that is part of the solution – an originator’s perspective
Senior Originator Cathrine Torvestad joined the Axpo Nordic team in Oslo six years ago. In this interview, she talks about the key role of origination in supporting the energy transition, her career development, and reveals what a day in the life of an originator looks like. With offices in Oslo, Malmö, and Helsinki, Axpo Nordic is one of Axpo’s largest and most successful subsidiaries, so we took the opportunity to ask Catherine how she perceives the company’s culture.
Let’s start with how you got into the world of energy.
Cathrine Torvestad: While I was studying at the Norwegian School of Economics, I got involved in a tidal energy project, a technology which my brother patented. I was responsible for business development, promoting the company and taking a general overview. This was my first contact with the energy industry, and the reason why I decided to write my master’s thesis on the Nordic power market and El-certificates.
This led to me joining a one-year renewable energy management executive programme in St. Gallen, Switzerland, where I discovered that this wasn’t just a very interesting sector, but an industry that was underpinning the transition to a more sustainable future.
How did Axpo come into the picture?
As part of my master’s thesis research, I got in touch with Axpo Nordic, as the company was a large trader of El-certificates. That’s how I got my first job at Axpo as a risk analyst, covering a maternity leave. It was more than interesting to learn what Axpo was doing and get an insider’s view of the industry.
I then moved in to consultancy to further broaden my knowledge of the energy world.
After four years, I was approached by Axpo for a different role as an originator. I felt it was good timing to get involved in a business that was managing risk in the market. As a consultant, you give a lot of advice and opinion, but you’re not actually doing any market transactions. And since I already knew the company and the people I’d be working with, it was a small risk to take… (laughs).
With more than a decade’s experience under your belt, what is it that still draws you to the energy world?
I’m one of those people who take climate change very seriously. To solve the biggest challenge of our lifetime, you need to transform the whole energy system, so I find it very rewarding to work in an industry that is part of the solution.
The energy industry mirrors everything that is going on in the world in terms of economics, geopolitics, and innovation. Working in it, you can take the pulse of not only your local market but the global one, too.
There’s a lot of fast-paced change, new technologies, as well as a constant need for new products. It’s never ‘business as usual’. You need to be creative, flexible and strategic. You apply your skills, and you see the results. You work with clients who build assets and that has a tremendous impact.
What can you tell us about Axpo Nordic’s culture?
Well… (laughing) I was hired in a front-office role while pregnant, and I believe this speaks volumes about Axpo Nordic’s long-term approach to talent acquisition. It was a very positive experience.
At Axpo Nordic we have a good work-life balance and are encouraged to do so. I work with very inquisitive and smart people and it’s a culture where you’re encouraged to ask questions, challenge the way we do things, and suggest new ideas.
What keeps you on your toes?
While not a large organisation, at Axpo Nordics there are plenty of opportunities to broaden your focus and expertise. You can explore new markets and strategic areas if you believe it will bring value to the company.
With several emerging areas within the industry, we work with partners in search of different solutions. We have new challenges on the production side, too, with increased volatility and the impact of new energy production. So, our solutions need to mitigate these new emerging risks but also take into account an ever-changing landscape.
Is there a typical day in the life of an originator?
It’s not very routine-based work and your customers set the agenda to a certain extent. As an originator, you are the main point of contact for clients. Whenever there is a need to change their energy portfolio, to sell or buy short-term power or guarantees of origin, they reach out.
Additionally, your customers rely on you for insights about market developments and new solutions that fit their needs. Good originators have a strong grasp of the market. Not only are we being analytical but also people oriented.
Finally, you need to understand the longer-term industry trends. In parallel, you’re working on longer-term transactions and identifying long-term opportunities, which means you collaborate with several other functions across the organisation.
Speaking of long-term agreements, what does it take to conclude a PPA?
A PPA can be implemented in a few months, or it can take years. It’s instrumental for us to make sure that all parties understand the risks, so in the early stages there’s a lot of information and knowledge transfer, market insights and updates. When you’re concluding a PPA, you’re signing up to a long-term relationship, so it’s key that all parties understand what they’re signing up to.
Lots of functions in Axpo get involved. We work closely with the trading desk, which is essential in pricing the PPA and managing the risks related to a long-term deal. Our physical desk, legal, credit risk, market risk and mergers and acquisition colleagues are also instrumental in long-term deals.
In executing a PPA, an originator is effectively a ‘project manager’, trying to bring all these inputs together.
It sounds like a pretty challenging role…
I’m not entirely sure my family understands what I’m doing (laughing). You are juggling a lot of things at the same time, and you need to be able to shift your focus where it is needed.
But success is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. If you develop a strong understanding of the market, and are ready to act at the right time, you ensure that you’re supporting your clients in the best way, when they need it.
We understand that you’re also doing an MBA?
Yes, I’ve completed 40% of my MBA. I like learning new things and I believe this is something that one should aim for throughout one’s career.
I wanted to have input from the outside world, learn about the latest developments, gain new perspectives and conduct research that could help my work as an originator. Plus, it’s quite refreshing to interact with students from other industries who are also dealing with the same challenges.
Now that I’ve been working for more than a decade, you’re oriented towards decision-making and understand things at a higher level. I find it extremely valuable to put this knowledge into context and see how it could be applied in my role.
It’s a lot of work, especially before exams, when I sometimes think, “Why did I do this? Was this really necessary?” (laughs), but Axpo gave me the flexibility to embark on this project and encouraged it, as did my family.
How do you relax after work and your studies?
I like to spend time with my family and friends. I enjoy reading, I’m a big movie fan, but I guess everybody became one during covid, right? When I really need to switch off my brain, I play Call of Duty on PS5. This is something that my husband bought when I started my MBA. I gave it a go and it’s surprisingly fun.
Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
At some point in the past, I took acting classes, and I dubbed a few episodes in a cartoon series for children. It’s something that completely took me out of the business environment and gave me insights into a very creative industry, completely different from what I do. Also, one of my stage partners is now acting in a popular Netflix series.
About Cathrine Torvestad
Cathrine Torvestad (37) studied economics and finance at the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) in Oslo. She then gained a diploma of advanced studies in renewable energy management from the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. Catherine is one of the founders of the tidal energy project Aqua Energy Solution. She started her career as a risk analyst at Axpo Nordic before working as a consultant for Pöyry Management Consulting. She re-joined the Axpo Nordic team as an originator in 2017 and is currently pursuing an executive MBA from NHH.
Go to Cathrine Torvestad's LinkedIN profile.
About Axpo Nordic
Axpo Nordic is part of the Axpo Group, the largest energy company in Switzerland. The wholly owned subsidiary was founded in 2003 for the markets in Northern Europe and the Baltic region. The focus of its business activities in the Nordics is on long-term power supply and purchase agreements. In addition to its PPA business, Axpo Nordic develops bespoke products and associated services for its customers, such as retailers, industry, and producers. The business activities in the Nordics are part of Axpo’s strategy to grow its international presence and business specialising in tailor-made energy solutions.