The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with Dan Reicher of the Steyer-Taylor Center at Stanford
Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Welcome to our second Common Sense Colloquy, a Q&A with Dan Reicher, the executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University. We have had the privilege of working with Dan on behalf of an initiative on carbon capture for the past two years. And nearly 20 years ago, agency president Ben Finzel worked with Dan when he was Assistant Secretary in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy. In the intervening decades, Dan served as Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives at Google and as president and co-founder of a private equity firm investing in clean energy projects, among many notable positions. This month, we asked Dan to share a bit about the Steyer-Taylor Center’s work as well as his advice on communications. Check out his answers below.
Our thanks to Dan for sharing his time and insight with us – and you.
Q: You run an academic center at one of the nation's preeminent universities focused on energy policy and finance. How do you approach communicating about your mission with your various audiences? What's the most compelling message?
A: The link to the long-term existential threat of climate change is of course compelling but what often really engages folks is explaining how clean energy connects to their day-to-day work. The most effective tool has been my “clean energy triangle” of Technology, Policy and Finance. Whatever the audience – entrepreneurs, investors, politicians and, of course, students – I talk about the need to make progress at all three points of the triangle if we are going to successfully confront the downside of a quickly warming planet and seize the upside of the clean energy revolution. To students – and members of Congress alike – I stress the need for deep experience and strong commitment at each point of the triangle as well as the imperative of integrating across all three. As I regularly say, doing so successfully will put us in a strong position to do well – and do good.
Q: From topics such as renewables development to expansion of carbon capture technology, it seems that common challenge to growth is often the availability and/or applicability of financing. If so, how do you and your colleagues use communications to address that challenge?
A: Access to capital is key whether it’s venture capital investment in an early-stage clean energy company or equity and debt for a massive project deploying a tried-and-true technology. Communicating about finance is tricky, not because it’s controversial but because it’s complicated. Some of our work has been interpreting the needs and opportunities of the clean energy finance world for non-finance audiences. For example, our October 2017 report, “Derisking Decarbonization: How to Make Green Energy Investments Blue Chip” lays out the investment risks of tripling clean energy investment globally – in line with International Energy Agency projections – in a way that policymakers and technologists can understand. At the same time, it is helping to set research priorities in the finance area about how to address these risks, from electricity market design, project permitting, and rule of law challenges to tax issues, debt regulation, and currency volatility.
Q: What's the best approach to advancing sound energy finance policy in the current political environment? How does the Steyer-Taylor Center help?
A: In our highly polarized country, the best approach is to emphasize how smart clean energy policy, across a broad array of technologies, advances multiple U.S. interests from competitiveness to security to environment. Whether it’s increasing clean energy research and development funding or enacting long-term tax credits or opening up federally-authorized finance tools like Master Limited Partnerships, smart government policy can advance the U.S. clean energy industry and with it create jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources, and cut carbon emissions. Abdicating the federal government’s long-standing role in clean energy policy – dating back to federal support for the launch of nuclear power in the 1950s – will put our nation at a distinct disadvantage. Our center’s 2017 report on the Chinese solar industry highlighted how China has a well-organized and funded effort to own the global solar industry. Just as the Trump administration is trying to cut back on support for clean energy development and deployment, the Chinese are gearing up, and not only in manufacturing and R&D as well. R&D is an area where the U.S. has long been a leader – including inventing the nuclear power reactor, the solar cell, and the utility-scale wind turbine – often in well-funded government-industry partnerships.
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?
A: Don’t oversell your story -- and share the glory.
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?
A: Anticipate and address what folks on the other side of an issue will argue, be respectful of a reporter’s time, and be ready to suggest other sources.