In this episode, I will be speaking with Ms. Lynn Abramson, who leads the Clean Energy Business Network, which is the small business voice for the clean energy economy. CEBN elevates opportunities for small- and midsize clean energy providers through policy support, market and technology education, and business development assistance and its network spans over 6000. I hope you enjoy this wide-ranging conversation with Ms. Lynn Abramson!
1. The evolution of the Clean Energy Business Network
2. Near term obstacles for the growth of the U.S. clean energy economy
3. A deep dive into several promising clean energy technologies
4. Clean Energy Investment inflows for 2021, and investment / financing trends
Are you looking to become a leader in clean energy and an expert in cleantech? Do you hope to get noticed in the crowd? As you pursue a Career in this fastly growing industry you are in the right place. Join Karan Takhar as he invites clean energy leaders to share. Industry developments I like cleantech investment opportunities and shed light on how you can increase their chances of employment in this high-growth sector. We will also discuss the energy transition across key emerging markets like India and explore partnership opportunities for the US private and public sector after all. This is the Zenergy podcast.
00:50 Karan Takhar
In this episode, I will be speaking with Miss Lynn Abramson, who leads CEBN, the Clean Energy Business Network, which is the small business voice for the clean energy economy CEBN elevates opportunities for small and midsize clean energy providers through policy support, market and technology education and business development assistance, and its network currently spans over 6000. I hope you enjoy this wide-ranging conversation with Miss Lynn Abramson. Hi, Lynn. Thank you so much for taking the time, and I've been really excited to speak with you. I've been following the clean Energy Business Network for several years now, and prior to diving into your work with CEBN, Love to start by learning about what sparked your interest in clean energy to begin with and how you first got involved in this space.
02:05 Lynn Abramson
Thanks, Karan, and I'm so happy to be here. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today; I actually got interested in the clean energy space through a somewhat indirect route as I think a lot of people follow in their own career pathways. I started out with an interest in oceanography, and that was actually spurred by a book that I read when I was 11 years old by Madeline L'Engle called a ring of endless flight; I was really interested in science and nature and animals at that time, and decided that I wanted to pursue a career in oceanography and that interest persisted throughout high school. I did a bunch of summer camps and worked at the aquarium and did, you know, research projects in ocean science, and then I studied biology with a concentration in marine science in college and then decided to go and get my Ph.D. in Marine geochemistry, where I was studying the Oceans bowl in the carbon cycle, and some of the natural ways that the ocean sequesters carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and helps control climate change, so it's been a lot of chemistry, geology, biology It was a really interesting but in the process of doing the research I started to feel that I wouldn't find it fulfilling to continue on a pathway of traditional academic research, and then I wanted to get more directly involved in mitigation.
So I began to consider career options in policy and I was fortunate enough to secure a policy fellowship through the John Canals Fellowship program, which is sponsored by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which brings scientists to Washington DC to work in positions on the hill and in federal agencies to be engaged in policy, and the goal is to really bridge that gap between science and policy and I was fortunate enough to land a great position on the hill and ended up staying there about 6 years and works on a very broad range of policy issues ranging from energy to transportation, water policy, ocean policy, public lands, a whole range of basically environment and infrastructure policy, and learned a lot, but I really wanted to really return to that fundamental root in climate change and climate change solutions, and that's what brought me back to clean energy and I knew that I wanted to approach clean energy and climate solutions through a business centric market based approach coach and so I was really drawn to looking for organizations that were focusing on engaging business voices and and business solutions. In climate change.
04:55 Karan Takhar
Understood. Thank you so much for expanding on that. When you landed the job on the hill, was that in 2008?
05:03 Lynn Abramson
Yes, there was.
05:05 Karan Takhar
Got it because a lot of young people listen to this podcast, and I always love to learn about how people landed their first job or their entry-level job. Could you shed some light on how that culminated?
05:23 Lynn Abramson
Yeah, that's a great question, and I remember speaking to quite a lot of young people interested in jobs on the hill, and, you know, that's always an attractive career pathway for a lot of people who are interested in working in federal policy and these positions can be competitive, but I've seen a number of pathways to securing them you know, a typical entry point into positions on Capitol Hill for students coming right out of college is to try to get a job as a staff assistant with their home senator or member of Congress or a member who is in a state or district where they went to college or otherwise to have some sort of geographic connection that's it's the really common path and working as a staff.
06:11 Lynn Abramson
Assistant it's a rough job you have to answer a lot of phones, you know, handle some challenging conversations on the phone with constituents sometimes there's answering mail, a lot of kind of management of people, which can be quite a taxing experience, but it's really is a great way to get exposure to a broad range of issues and you have to be well versed enough to speak confidently on the phone about whole range of issues when constituents call so It's a really good entry point and the thing I will say about Capitol Hill is there's rather rapid upward mobility for promising staffers so if people, Work as this office has been for a year or so and really demonstrate a lot of promise, a lot of energy they can often move up into a legislative aide or research aid kind of position and eventually legislative assistant and so within a matter of years I've seen and promising staffers work their way up into being the point person on a particular set of policy issues so that so that is really one common pathway for students coming right out of college.
07:22 Lynn Abramson
And in fact, I've actually worked with quite a number of colleagues who became the legislative director or chief of staff moving through that type of, you know, upward mobility from entry-level position all the way to the leadership of the office for those coming out of Graduate School or with additional work experience typically they won't start with the staff assistant level or want to come in as the legislative assistant or if they really have deep expertise, you know, decade or more working in a nonprofit or with really deep expertise in a particular policy issue, they might get a committee position focused on that issue It's a little bit harder to come in at that level, but those positions do exist, and I think fellowships there's a number of different fellowship type programs, particularly geared at graduate students and those are a really good way to get your foot the door.
08:19 Karan Takhar
100% yeah. I actually, just as I was mentioning to you, finished a1 year fellowship at the DOEIA office, and several other fellows were offered full-time positions It seems like a great way to get into the government, and thank you for expanding on that; it's found extremely helpful after feeling full In now transitioning into your time with the Clean Energy Business Network, I know you joined Sibm back in 2013. I read that you've read or research project on state clean energy economies during that time, which garnered over 130 media hits and subsequently made quite an impact. I'd love to learn about this research project and some of the lessons learned about state clean energy economies at the time. Could you talk a little bit about that?
09:19 Lynn Abramson
Yes, absolutely. So back in that time. The Clean Energy Business Network was a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, and Peter was doing quite a bit of Economic Research on clean energy as well as formulating policy recommendations that were based on market-driven approaches to clean energy propagation and back in 2013 and the cleaning of the economy, you know, despite clean energy technologies have been prevalent since the 1970s, really at scale. We did not start to see a lot of these technologies deployed until 2007, 2008, and 2009, kind of in the time frame when a lot of states were first developing their renewable portfolio standards or other types of policies to promote clean energy deployment and certainly in 2009, we saw at the federal level the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which infused quite a bit of capital into clean energy deployment, so that was a big market driver as well. So looking ahead then to 2013, we'd had a few years of the rapid growth of the clean energy economy, and it appears we decided it would be interesting to explore some of the policy markets and also sort of natural resource or sort of local conditions that were driving the clean energy economies in certain States and we decided not to look at the Massachusetts or California, but rather to look at states that had emerging clean energy technologies and what were some of the unique conditions that were allowing those new clean energy industries to ripen in those states, so we call this project clean economy rising It's hard for me to recall exactly how many states we looked at Just to give you a handful Of examples we looked at North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan In North Dakota, so just kind of a range of very, very different states in terms of geographic location, what types of renewable resources or energy efficiency resources were present? What types of policies were in place and looked at some of the factors that were driving those clean energy economies and So we definitely learned that having some sort of policy signal, whether that was a renewable portfolio standard or a goal driven by executive order, some sort of forward-looking policy goal definitely helps to create the conditions to enable the development of these clean energy economies and then what was really interesting was how each of these states were very uniquely seizing the local opportunities that they've had so for example, one of the states we looked at was main and main was really doing quite a lot of innovative work in and bio mass energy, as well as marine and hydrokinetic energy in North Carolina, solar energy was a big resource where there was plentiful renewable resource and a lot of policy driversenabling that to move forward and also one of the things we saw in North Carolina was with the research triangle quite a bit of innovation going on in cutting edge free energy technologies in North Dakota certainly the wind industry was taking off and these states did not all have uniform types of policy. These approaches all sort of uniquely found their own way to set the stage to allow these conditions to ripen and allow these new industries to take hold.
13:08 Karan Takhar
So would you travel to these States and meet with either government officials or industry players during that time? I'm just cured.
13:18 Lynn Abramson
How we did it, well, that's a great question, So we have a number of ways that we conducted the research, So first we looked at data that was available from Navigant Consulting an investment and deployment, So this was uniformly compiled across all the states so we could have a, you know, apples to apple kind of comparison we also looked at data from industry-specific groups such as the Solar Energy Industries Association, American Wind Energy Association, etc., to see how these different states ranked, as well as get a deep dive into some of the policies specific to certain technologies we looked at data available from the Energy Information Administration we also subscribed at that time to a database that was compiling information on deal flow and investment in clean energy and then yes, we did quite a lot of, So we did a lot of.
14:18 Lynn Abramson
Research on this specific policy goals and market opportunities in each of these states, so we read documents that the state energy officials Or the governors offices, or the legislatures How pulled together looked in depth at what types of market conditions that they were hoping to create what kind of economic development they were going to freight and then we did a lot of interviews with officials in these states, so we didn't travel initially to the states due to research, a lot of that information was done over the phone, but then in disseminating the information we did and I did not personally travel to all of the states kind of my, my team was divided up and, you know, various of us went to different states you know, I was lucky enough, for example, to go to Columbus Ohio in January so but we would go to the states and speak directly with policymakers, industry audiences and the media in the states about some of our findings and often this was done in a roundtable dialogue format where we bring in voices from the state to unpack some of our research findings and alk a little bit about their Perspectives.
15:31 Karan Takhar
Yeah, I feel like, Since that time, the solar sector, in particular, has really grown significantly here in the US and as the main representative organization for small and medium-sized clean energy businesses in the USI personally feel like, in many ways, the growth trajectory of the Clean Energy Business Network can provide really good insight into the expansion of the US clean energy industry as a whole. Would you say that's a fair statement where people or businesses that you start to represent can kind of shed light on the growth of clean energy businesses across the Us?
16:20 Lynn Abramson
I would say yes, and we have experienced substantial growth, but I would also say I think we still only scratch the surface in terms of the number of businesses that are out there. It's quite an as audition when you look at just how broad this industry Has become.
16:37 Karan Takhar
And we will actually dive into those numbers in a second love to just hear about how CEBD has evolved from when you first started, especially in terms of like the number of businesses it may be represented back in 2013 to now and also in terms of the functionality.
16:56 Lynn Abramson
Yes, absolutely, so the clean energy business Network was actually started by some of my colleagues at Pew back in 2009, and this actually stemmed out of some research Pew was doing at the time looking at Clean energy economies, which were, as I mentioned, kind of decent and at that time, I'm in the process of really doing a census of various Clean Energy businesses and talking to these companies, my colleagues at PEW just sort of decided that it made sense to begin to engage these business voices is in the policy conversation about climate and clean energy and how that might impact mark the market landscape for these companies, so they formed the Clean Energy Business Network and I came in in 2013 off the hill to really take it to the next-level strategically, so that's the time when we began to do appliance to Washington DC to bring business voices to Washington, sign-on letters, events in the states, site tours for policymakers and other types of activities.
18:05 Lynn Abramson
And it's funny because I think when CEBN first started, it wasn't necessarily envisioned to be a small and medium-sized business association or organization, but it naturally started to evolve that way because these small businesses were the ones that did not already have a voice in Washington. So, some of the larger corporations became members of trade associations, and they had lobbyists in Washington, but small businesses that had limited time and resources really didn't have the capacity to fully track and engage in the federal policy landscape. So, overtime CEBN started to evolve to really cater to those small companies that otherwise weren't represented, and so during my time at Pew from 2013 to 2017, I saw that evolution take place, and then in 2017, we spun out of Pew to become an organization in our own right but housed under the parentage of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, which was a partner that we had worked with very closely in a large number of policy issues and for perspective, the Business Council is a 30-year strong coalition of some of the major sector-specific trade associations so solar, wind, biomass, hydropower, etc. as well as major corporations in clean energy, and as I mentioned, a lot of smaller businesses typically haven't been part of these big trade associations, and the Council had been interested in engaging small business voices, but didn't really have the tools in place at the time to do so. Meanwhile, at the Clean Energy Business Network, we felt that spinning out on our own, but under the home under the umbrella of an established organization would be the most strategic way to launch and that partnership has proved to be really fruitful, so what we're able to do is take all of this insider information that the Council members, you know, these big trades, these big corporations, people who are leading on the hill, constantly meeting the agencies, constantly tracking a lot of federal developments we're able to take all of that information And translate it out to small businesses across the country who don't have a presence in DC, who don't have the time and capacity to track things in depth and able to give them sort of a cliffs notes of here's what you really need to know, cut, cutting through all the noise, here's here's what's really important If you're interested in this particular technology, here's what you know your industry is saying right now are the priorities here's the opportunities to engage and really make it a kind of plug-and-play opportunity for these companies. So when we were at PEW, our numbers hovered around 3000 business leaders give or take for the time that I was there and when we launched that appear in 2017, we had a little over 3000 business leaders within the network and then in the past five years, we just celebrated our fifth anniversary on May 1st, so we've doubled in size to more than 6000 business leaders were actually close to approaching 7000 and I would not be surprised if we reached 10,000 within the next year, but I've seen quite a diversification, of the types of technologies, I mean, what constitutes the clean energy economy has really just exploded over the past few years and I'll talk a little bit more about why I see that growth, but also I'll talk a little bit about the functionality of CEBN as you as you asked about when we started we really were primarily focused on federal policy and that does remain one of the cornerstones of our work but we now define our mission to be that we serve as the small business voice for the clean energy economy and we work to enhance opportunities for small and mid-sized companies in clean energy through policy, engagement, market and technology, education and business development assistance. So, just to unpack that further, you know I mentioned a lot already about how we engage companies policy on the market and technology education front.
22:35 Lynn Abramson
We try to promote information internally within the industry, but also externally through stakeholders and policymakers and the public about clean energy technologies and just understanding more about these different condescending technologies waters in the market condition and then finally on the business development front, we do not serve as an incubator where we're handholding particular companies or helping them to develop their business plans, but rather at scale we work to aggregate information and resources that companies in this industry are seeking, for example, we maintain a read the US cleantech funding database where we are aggregating information about federal certain state incubator or accelerator, Private sector, foundation, etc. types of funding resources for clean energy companies at various stages and scales we also produce a lot of events where we're unpacking, as well as communications, blogs, etc, where we are unpacking different federal programs and how to engage and we produce a lot of networking events as well as leveraging our communications platforms such as our newsletter or e-mail lists or social media case studies, etc., to provide exposure to these small businesses that otherwise might not be on a national radar. So I think, partly because we've really expanded our functionality to try to encompass the broad set of needs of these small businesses as well as you alluded to earlier or just seeing the growth of the industry as a whole, I I think those are some of the factors that have led to the growth of our network over the past five years.
24:25 Karan Takhar
Got it. That makes a lot of sense. And yeah, just to provide some numbers around that growth today as reading actually from year July 2020 testimony to the US House of Representatives on SPA's role in climate solutions, which I found extremely informative, mentioned how today over three million Americans in the living in the clean energy economy with solar and wind in fact accounting for the fastest growing occupations in America and another insightful figure, which I was pleased to come across is that the US clean energy industry generated 240 billion in revenue in 2020, which is supposed to only increase, I mean, that's like an astounding number 240 billion in revenue and would love to just hear your thoughts on what you feel or some of the near term obstacles in the US in terms of what potentially could slow down this fast-paced growth?
25:36 Lynn Abramson
Absolutely and just for context, those numbers are coming from the US energy employment report and the sustainable energy in American fact book, and one of the things we've seen when we do look at the data, you know, in these materials and other sources about the energy industry is those clean energy industries are the growth sectors of the US energy economy, so I don't think we're going to see a deceleration of the growth, but the question is how quickly can it occur how quickly does the transition occur and how do we make that it's an affordable and sustainable transition and as well as a just transition. So, in terms of some of the factors that define just how rapidly the clean energy transition can occur, I would say one of them is inertia or the status quo and so, for example, you know we see in countries that are just starting to industrialize, and you know, we see this in a lot of developing countries, we see a lot of distributed generation, so that's On-site generation we see a lot of solar deployment, battery storage, a lot of clean energy technologies being deployed. Here in the United States, since we have an older electric grid, we have a lot of road infrastructure. All of our Infrastructure has been in place for decades to centuries. It's harder to make a transition to modernize that infrastructure we have already got a built environment, so building a more reliable, resilient, cleaner built environment is a challenge. Modernizing buildings that are decades old to make them more energy-efficient, figuring out new ways to provide transmission for clean energy to better manage the distribution electric distribution system so that we can mitigate against power outages, the ways we can integrate renewables into the grid, how to integrate on-site generation to the grid, these are all big Challenges and then and when you look at the transportation sector, I mean they'll rapid growth we see right now in just new electric vehicle models coming out but the infrastructure that has to go along with that to provide charging, it's all quite challenging, right so just figuring out how to change the status is difficult, so that's an infrastructure challenge but also that's a customer challenge and sometimes the inertia is at the customer education level so we've seen this a lot from some of our members you know, going into customers, maybe it's a factory owner, or it's a military base or a university or a homeowner you know, there's just, there's work to be done to update infrastructure and sometimes the lack of familiarity with technology or fear of installing something new or concern about the return on investment you know, the payback period those are all challenges.
28:52 Lynn Abramson
So, I think that there's just that simple difficulty of overcoming the inertia there's also, I kind of alluded to this with the return on investment sometimes the financing challenge and we've seen actually through public purchase agreement sort of financing structures through which large corporate customers can procure power over a 20 or 30 year period from a renewable source that actually in many parts of the country that's currently the cheapest source power and the prices are most reliable 'cause they're not subject to the ups and downs of commodity prices like we're seeing with very high gas prices right now, but still I think to install new infrastructure, there's an upfront capital costs and so that's also an issue with customers sometimes is how quickly can they recover that constant, do they even have the capital at the outset, so, a corporation might have the resources to modernize its infrastructure, but does a homeowner necessarily, especially when you come to a low-income homeowner. So, there are a lot of questions I think that need to be resolved around How do we make cleaner, more reliable, more resilient infrastructure affordable and accessible to all Americans; that that's another challenge, and all of that does tie into the policy landscape I talked earlier about some of the research on the state, clean energy economies and one of the things we found was irrespective of the types of policies in place, having some sort of long term visions, some sort of long term either regulatory signal or goal or other approaches to encourage clean energy deployment was helpful and at the federal level frankly.
30:43 Lynn Abramson
We have not had a concerted federal energy policy at all, really our federal energy policy for several decades has frankly been limited to tax policy and the tax incentives for clean energy have been really important market drivers but they've been a bit boom of us they've, you know, expired and retroactively reinstated 2 years later you know that doesn't create a lot of long-term certainty so one of the things we're really hoping to see at the federal level, I mean the enactment of the bipartisan infrastructural law last year and the infusion of around $90 billion in capital into modernizing our electric grid, deploying big hubs, research hubs to develop new technologies such as clean hydrogen or carbon capture and direct air capture and all these these new types of technologies that's really important but we also want to see enactment of a longer turn suite of tax incentives for clean energy that's you know scaled over a multi year period and also encompasses some of the newer technologies that weren't incorporated in the in the tax code when it was first written in for such as energy storage back when a lot of the energy tax credits redacted, that wasn't really a technology. Right now, there is legislation pending in a budget reconciliation package that would provide most likely a 5-year extension of various tax incentives, and an expansion of these incentives followed by a five-year or it would depend actually on the electric grid and how clean it is but a tech neutral tax incentive, and so if this does get enacted, I think this would be really transformative, and there's about $500 billion worth of investments in and cleaner more resilient and more reliable energy infrastructure and climate solutions in this package so if that gets enacted, I think we're going to see a lot of really rapid transformation of the energy economy.
32:52 Karan Takhar
Amazing! Are you hopeful that there is a lot of positive support around that package?
33:00 Lynn Abramson
It's been, you know, quite the rollercoaster ride, I would say, over the past year to see how those negotiations come together, and there's been a parallel by personal effort, and I am encouraged to see the growing bipartisanship behind climate, and clean energy solutions this particular package is a democratic LED budget reconciliation that would part would pass only on sort of narrow party-line vote, but it does sound like, from what we are hearing, there's reason to be optimistic that it might come together, but your guess is as good as mine is looking into that crystal ball my experience in congress is that you know you wait until the 11th hour and see how things shake out.
33:43 Karan Takhar
Another really insightful statistic from the sustainable energy in America facts Book was that in 2021, US private sector investment in energy transition soared to a record $105 billion, which was an 11% year-on-year increase, so only you can imagine if this does go through US investors will be even more optimistic and have that certainty that you alluded to, which would, I mean maybe propel this $105 billion figure even higher. So, thank you for just shutting light into that package, and I would love to kind of wrap up and talk a little bit about it because I know CEBN represents a lot of clean technology companies like small to medium-sized businesses which are developing really innovative clean technology and I'd love to just hear your thoughts on what some of these technologies that you feel a lot of companies are focusing on whether some of the solutions are trying to solve and what you feel are like the more promising technologies in the pipeline that could really make a transformative impact on electricity an energy system here in the US.
35:06 Lynn Abramson
I'll start by saying I can't choose along with my children, but I do think we need all of the above and a very comprehensive suite of energy solutions, and I think one of the lessons we've learned recently in terms of a global linkage between national security an energy security and just seeing how the current crisis in Ukraine and Russia monopolization of fossil fuel resources in New York has really triggered great instability and price hikes across the globe. I think one of the lessons is that we need to diversify our energy economy, and I say this hour, meeting the United States, or globally, we need to diversify our energy economy as broadly as possible. So, I do see certain technology is getting quite a lot of interest from investors investing into bipartisan infrastructure laws things that are piquing the interest and some of these include green hydrogens or finding less energy-intensive ways to produce hydrogen fuel, which can be used as a substitute for fossil fuel in a lot of different types of applications, I see a lot of interest in ways to sequester carbon dioxide and through, whether that's the direct air capture or other mechanisms because part of the growing realization is no matter how clean we get in terms of the sources of electricity or transportation or you know, other energy that we use that we really are a bit behind and school buses, that are going to have to sequester carbon from the error in some manner there's a lot of interest right now or electrification of vehicles, so whether that includes passenger vehicles trucks, school buses, and that does have to go hand in hand with greeting the electric grid as well so those are some of the buzz technologies I think that are getting a lot of interest, but I think we need it all and one area all flag that doesn't get a lot of attention is energy efficiency. It's just common sense that the less energy we use, the less we have to produce, but that's not always the scientist technology portfolio, but very important, and there's a lot of low-hanging fruit, particularly the residential sector where I think financing and just making technologies affordable to homeowners could be really important, and I think we need at the power production level a whole suite of technologies, we need to look at the commercial and industrial scale power production, but also water new ways that we can help power resources on-site at large facilities such as manufacturing facility, schools, etc. So there's a lot of innovative work in renewables plus microgrids or waste heat to power or combined heat and power at industrial facilities we need to see all of those solutions and then, I would say in particular when you look at some of the data from the sustainable energy in America back book some of the areas where we really need to work harder are in the transportation sector and the industrial sector so we have done a pretty good job of gradually making our power sector cleaner and more efficient over the past few decades doesn't mean we need to slow down and that we need to accelerate but we have seen emissions rising in the transportation and industrial sectors, so trying to figure out ways to power vehicles of all sizes more efficiently or with cleaner fuels is really important, finding more efficient ways to move goods and people around the country and also, you know, we don't, we want to grow the US manufacturing sector it's experienced traction in the past few decades and now I think it's poised for resurgence, particularly in clean energy where we see so much opportunity to create these new energy technologies here in America, but we have to make sure we are powering these facilities in the cleanest and most efficient manner possible. So, you know, again, it's hard to choose amongst my children, but I see, just enormous opportunity in all of these areas and where there are challenges, I see opportunities for new economic development, new innovations and just, you know, the growth of new American industries.
39:40 Karan Takhar
Thank you so much for your time when. I really appreciate it and learned so much through talking.
39:45 Lynn Abramson
To you really enjoy it? Thank you so much, Karan.
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