NextEra Energy’s Central Lab brings chemistry and energy together, increasing reliability
Jan 3, 2024
Jennifer Corbitt works at the NextEra Central lab

West Palm Beach, Fla. - Wearing a crisp, white lab coat, safety glasses and powder-blue nitrile gloves, Jennifer Corbitt makes her way through the NextEra Energy Central Lab in West Palm Beach, passing rows of whirring machines and stacked trays of water and oil samples. She marches past the science-class style tables to a metal device that towers over her. She gives it a quick hug and a pat. 

“I have great memories with this machine,” said Corbitt with a laugh. “We’ve spent many hours together.” 

As an intern at NextEra Energy the summer before her senior year at the University of Florida, Corbitt and her Ion Chromatograph tested water samples day after day. That internship led to a job offer and Corbitt officially joined the company just weeks after earning her chemistry degree in 2017. Most people don’t associate chemists with an energy company, but Corbitt says she and her colleagues at the lab know how important their work is. 

All of us understand the role we play in the company,” said Corbitt, who now leads a team of six scientists as one of two technical services leaders at the lab. “We are one piece of a group effort; and we do whatever needs to be done to help keep the power on.” 

The Central Lab operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, available to any part of the company needing emergency testing, helping leaders make decisions affecting reliability across the energy grid.  

An FPL scientist measures liquids inside the Central Lab

Since 1991, the unassuming one-story structure nestled behind a popular water park has housed scientists and all the equipment needed to perform test on samples from every part of the company, from the fluid inside Florida neighborhood transformers to the grease helping wind turbines function efficiently in the Midwest. Today, the lab and its 16 scientists are also certified as an environmental laboratory by the Florida Department of Health, which means it meets the state’s rigorous testing standards.  

Jonathan Robison works alongside Corbitt as a technical service leader, heading a second team of chemists at the lab. 

We test all types of samples to ensure the reliability and safety of our power plants,” said Robison. “What I love most about my job is the constant challenge and the new technology we get to use on a daily basis.” 

This band of self-proclaimed introverts perform detailed tasks that labs across the country do for private companies. NextEra Energy’s scientists have the advantage of working exclusively for one company, which can alert company engineers and leaders to future problems. Leading the Central Lab is Michael Virata, who joined NextEra Energy in 2006.  

“We do a lot of condition assessments of the equipment, especially for substations and transformers,” said Virata. “Often, we are giving a heads up to engineers when we see patterns within our samples, so we provide more information for engineers to use when making decisions on how to resolve issues.” 

Whether it was helping to resolve issues or performing routine testing, the team tackled approximately 187,300 analyses in 2023, including more than 16,000 water analyses and roughly 169,000 transformer and lubricating oil analyses. By keeping testing in-house, NextEra Energy saved 25% in costs in 2022, savings that help increase reliability and keep bills low for Florida Power & Light Company customers.   

But even with so much analysis going on, the team finds ways to break up their time with a fun atmosphere. How do scientists cut loose: daily trivia and theme weeks throughout the year for every holiday (pumpkin decorating for Halloween, origami for Valentine’s Day). 

“What makes this place so great is the people,” said Corbitt. “We know how to work hard as a team and meet deadlines, but we also know how to come together and have a good time.”

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