U.S. Energy Law and Policy Lead, IronOak Energy Capital
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Hugh B. Brown Presidential Endowed Chair in Law, and
Presidential Scholar, University of Utah
What do you do within the renewable energy sector and why is it essential?
My work focuses on law and policy analysis for renewables and other clean and emerging energy technology sources. It is an extraordinarily exciting time to be working in this area. Law and policy for renewable energy are moving fast; they need to. The sector is rapidly evolving, and the old rules of the game are quickly being changed.
Can you describe 2 of your most impactful past projects or engagements?
Last year, Sanya Carley and I conducted an assessment of the factors that led to changes in the net metering laws in Nevada, compared against other jurisdictions that have considered moving away from net metering but decided not to. This work has been very useful, I think, to those concerned about what is going to come next in rooftop solar, and where possible solutions might be found. I have also provided analysis to the Korean government about green growth as well as about how feed-in tariffs and renewable portfolio standards function. That experience was very rewarding.
What are you most excited about for the renewable energy industry in 2017-2018?
Opportunity. I think that’s what this year holds first and foremost.
There is opportunity emerging at every turn as prices for different technologies continue to fall, as the public becomes increasingly interested in participating in the energy sector, and with the promise of new infrastructure across the nation. States like Nevada are looking to build electric vehicle corridors. Rooftop solar has transitioned from a minority position to a major player. And there are so many more opportunities that are only now emerging or are about to.
In these and other opportunities that we cannot yet see, there is significant potential for the renewable energy industry to contribute—to change the way we make energy, to improve the security of our nation, to help forge new paths forward.
For those of us who work in the industry, that makes these very exciting times. Our task is to capitalize on these opportunities—to be leaders and innovators.
What are you most concerned about for the renewable energy industry in 2017-2018?
Uncertainty. We already were living in quite uncertain times, and that uncertainty has only heightened as the new administration has assumed office. Conventional wisdom is that national efforts to curb carbon emissions are likely to be allayed—or evaporate—but exactly how and when that will happen remains to be seen. At the same time, energy is often a more bipartisan issue in Washington, D.C. than other topics, so there is good chance there will be federal legislative movement on energy this year. Meanwhile, the states have been very active in their own right, and I only expect that to continue.
While uncertainty is always difficult to deal with, it also opens doors for new and innovative solutions. So, while the uncertain times of today of course concerns me, I remain eager to help find those solutions going forward.
What is one trend in the renewable energy sector that few are paying attention to?
Breadth and diversity. I think many people view the renewable energy industry as one particular thing, when in fact that is not true. Both the scope and the differences within the industry are wide, and important. Renewable energy is not just wind or solar or distributed generation. It’s that but a lot else as well, including large centralized projects, storage, and a million other imminently creative solutions that are not receiving adequate attention, are just emerging, or are not yet discovered.
Why does renewable energy law and policy matter?
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that every part of the renewable energy industry works together. What this industry is really building is a massive, new, emergent ecosystem. So law and policy cannot get lost in that mix, just as finance, engineering, sales, and every other part of the industry can’t be forgotten. It all goes together; it all relies on each other. Law and policy set the ground rules for the game—and they can and do change, and can be influenced by those who must play within their constraints.
What has surprised you most about your career in the renewable energy sector?
In my prior career, I represented (usually large) investor-owned utilities. That knowledge is extremely useful, because the clean energy industry is growing in a world that the historical vertically integrated utilities created. There is also much room for synergies between that part of the energy industry and the renewable energy industry itself. Synergies matter. And they are available.
What are 1-2 pieces of advice you would give someone thinking about entering the renewable energy industry today?
Buckle up. It’s a fun ride, but there is no question you’ll go fast. In many ways, what we are working on today is really a project in building the future.
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