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Event recap—Powering a clean energy future

May 4, 2023
Solar panels in front of a city - Climate

In April 2023, The Hamilton Project at The Brookings Institution and the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability convened leaders and experts for a hybrid event at Stanford University examining the future of clean energy innovation and deployment. 

The event coincided with the release of a set of economic facts on significant but surmountable barriers to making the clean energy transition, as well as a policy proposal that lays out the rationale for substantially increasing federal spending on clean energy research and development (R&D) and attendant guiding principles for how those funds should be deployed.

The event began with opening remarks from former U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geither. This was followed by a fireside chat between Dean of Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability Arun Majumdar and Tom Steyer, co-executive chair of Galvanize Climate Solutions, moderated by Hamilton Project Director Wendy Edelberg.

Steyer began by emphasizing that the public sector and the private sector need to work together in the clean energy transition. “We are not going to radically change without an all-of-society response … For the kind of change we are looking for, we are going to have to do it together,” said Steyer. “When we think about this relationship [between public and private sectors], there is an awful lot of information that has to go back and forth between what’s necessary to happen, what’s possible to happen, and how we can accomplish it best together.”

“We are not going to radically change without an all-of-society response.”

Tom Steyer

When asked whether there is a priority between mitigation and adaptation, Majumdar said, “This is a false choice … We cannot afford not to do mitigation and we cannot afford not do adaptation because climate change is here.”

The fireside chat was followed by a panel of experts addressing public policy solutions that support more productive clean energy R&D at the federal level, moderated by Jason Furman (Harvard University).

In terms of reaching climate goals and reducing emissions, “We won’t get there without international cooperation,” said Inês Azevedo (Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability). “For the scale that we are looking at in terms of manufacturing, deployment … transmission, citing, investments—all of those features—we need a scale of public investment that is simply not there yet.”

Michael Wara (Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability) followed with insight on current government policy framework. “I think we need to move from a framework around transmission planning and construction … to what I like to call an ‘if we build it, they will come’ kind of approach,” he said. “If we make the transmission to support buildout of renewables, renewables projects will occur.”

Catherine Hausman (University of Michigan) agreed, explaining that the existing transmission framework is not adequate to fit new infrastructure challenges. “Those infrastructure challenges are there whether you like them or not, because of the exciting developments in renewables technology,” she said.

The second roundtable discussion, moderated by Mark Gallogly (Three Cairns Group), focused on how private industry can best partner with the public sector in the clean energy transition.

“As we actually start to change out the infrastructure and invest in capital that is climate resilient … that ultimately does result in lower pressure on bills,” said Carla Peterman (PG&E Corporation). “When we look at California, one thing California does well is it sets the signals, it provides long-term certainty— it says, ‘We want to go to 100% clean.’ It’s not just an aspirational executive order or target, it is in the legislature … that enables private industry to come in and innovate,” Heather O’Neill (Advanced Energy United) said.

The final panel of the event concluded with a lesson: Private industry can help boost innovation, but it requires significant coordination by all industries and strong leadership through federal policy to ensure an efficient and productive clean energy transition