By Susan Lee 9/17/13
Tom Steyer, Founder and Board Chair of the Advanced Energy Economy Institute, business leader and investor, recently climbed Mount Tyndall – one of the highest peaks in California. This awesome feat is number eight of the fourteen peaks he plans to climb. In the energy space, Mr. Steyer is also tackling mounting challenges and left his investing career to focus on such issues full-time. As Mr. Steyer discussed in his keynote, energy challenges can be addressed and overcome through a multilateral approach with capitalism as the driving solution.
“From an economic standpoint, energy is the single biggest threat to the American economy, bigger than the fiscal cliff and global competition,” emphasized Mr. Steyer. He described the near perfect correlation between energy price spikes and recession, and rise of public panic in times of deregulation and insecure energy supply. Furthermore, climate change in the last few years has disrupted infrastructure throughout the U.S., with extreme record disasters having lasting impacts on the economy.
In every challenge there is opportunity. Mr. Steyer asked the audience to consider the great communications change. “Think about how far we’ve come between 1983 and 2013, from rotary phones to Twitter going public. We re-did the industry in ways no one could have imagined.” Mr. Steyer also explained that today, companies from eBay to Sears count themselves as internet companies because the internet has become such an incremental part of business. “When you get an advanced change, it pervades everything,” he said. “When this is over, every company should think of themselves as an energy company. Here we have the opportunity to re-do the biggest industry in the world for disruptive change.”
Perhaps most compelling was the parallel Mr. Steyer drew between World War II and the current energy crisis. “In World War II, Detroit stopped making cars, shipyards expanded in Oakland. What American industries can do when called upon is astounding. American businesses have the ability to solve problems faster than everyone expected,” Mr. Steyer said. “I have no doubt we have to do this— and no doubt we can.”
To move forward, Mr. Steyer believes “we need to get used to the idea of investing and we need a comprehensive framework for how those investments are to be made.” In conjunction, “We are going to have to come up with new technologies, move to different parts of the world… for a global problem, we need a global solution.” In focus now, more than ever, is the need to progress through innovation and collaboration.
Mr. Steyer concluded with a call to action. “We need to create change, and we need to take the fork in the road… just hoping people recycle is not going to make it work. It’s time we started thinking about winning this.”
Susan Lee is writing on behalf of the Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative. She is a current student at the University of California, Berkeley, majoring in Molecular & Cell Biology. Susan plans to combine her interest in clean energy with finance next year as an analyst at Goldman Sachs.