Guest Post: The 5 Most Influential Figures In U.S. Clean Energy

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Jen Alic from

The 5 Most Influential Figures In U.S. Clean Energy

As embarks on its Top 5 series, we thought it expedient to begin with our take on the key figures shaping and influencing U.S. renewable energy efforts, not least because the issue of energy security is being prioritized in campaigning ahead of U.S. presidential elections.

In considering from the numerous choices for these top five slots, we take into account a number of variables, including investment in renewable energy, the ability to influence policy and shape public opinion, and advocacy efforts. This goes well beyond simply counting coin – it is about innovation, imagination, vision, risk and patience. Arguably, these people will play an important role in your life and leisure, for better or worse.

These are our picks:

Steven Chu – The China Link
Steven Chu

Co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997, US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu is one of the most distinguished faces of renewable energy in the world, tasked with helping the Obama Administration invest in clean energy, reduce dependence on foreign oil, address climate change concerns and create millions of jobs while doing it. Chu has devoted a large part of his scientific career to alternative energy solutions and climate change research, in part as former director of the DoE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. While the last century saw him win the Nobel Prize, this century earned him R&D Magazine’s Scientist of the Year award for 2011. In announcing his appointment as Secretary of Energy, President Obama said that the “future of our economy and national security is inextricably linked to one challenge: energy [and] Steven has blazed new trails …”. Chu’s most tangible successes have been the government’s investment in geothermal and offshore wind projects.

Indeed, Chu is one of the world’s leading authorities on renewable energy; and on a geopolitical level, his influence reaches to China. Chu is a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has trained prominent scientists in China and helped to establish the Bio-X Center at Jiaotong University in Shanghai – all of this gives him valuable access to Chinese politicians. 

Dan Reicher – Energy Guru
Dan Reicher

Until November 2011, Dan Reicher served as Google’s director of climate change and green energy initiatives, during which time he convinced the company to invest in a number of energy projects, some of them rather eccentric and risky, others more pragmatic. He was also behind Google’s policy proposals for Washington. Prior to 2007, Reicher served in the Clinton Administration as the assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy. He was also considered for the post of energy secretary in the Obama Administration, but lost out to our first pick, Steven Chu.

Today, he’s practicing his innovation at Stanford University, which chose him to lead its new $7 million center to study and advance the development and deployment of clean energy technologies through innovative policy and finance.  Stanford alumni Thomas Steyer and Kat Thomas donated the $7 million and trust in Reicher to lead the university’s efforts, which they said “is uniquely positioned to change our nation's attitudes and capabilities regarding how we make and use energy. What our university did for the information revolution, it must now do for the energy revolution." Broadly, the Stanford center will conduct research on energy policy and finance, with a particular focus on legislative, regulatory and business tools – all intended to boost public support for funding clean energy technologies. It also hopes to produce world-class research for policymakers, the business community, and technology leaders. Reicher is influential in the renewable energy world on a number of levels, from finance to policy to advocacy. Not only does he have the ear of the government on policy, he also has the $7 million Stanford research effort at his disposal.

Elon Musk – Iron Man
Elon Musk

Elon Musk is probably the most colorful of the figures on our Top 5 list. He has Hollywood’s eyes and ears, as well, which only adds to his public influence. Musk is the co-founder of and head of product design at Tesla Motors, the producer of electric cars, which is almost a singular focus of Musk’s current green energy efforts. Musk entrepreneurial innovation had already been demonstrated pre-Tesla, when he co-founded PayPal and SpaceX. He also chairs the board of SolarCity, a start-up focused on photovoltaics products and services aimed at climate change solutions.  Most recently, Musk created the first viable electric car of the modern era, the high-end Tesla Roadster sports.

The Tesla Roadster will be followed by the four-door Model S sedan, scheduled to release in July, and the ModelX (a sort of SUV/minivan hybrid), slated for production in 2013. Musk’s vision: making electric cars affordable to mass-market consumers thereby making a huge footprint in American and global energy efficiency and security. The Roadster is a high-end vehicle that will only attract the wealthy, but that is the point: Roadster revenues can fund research and development for lower-priced electric cars.

Countless awards and honors have come Musk’s way, from the Heinlein Price for Advances in Space Commercialization in 2011 to inclusion on Forbes’ list of “America’s 20 Most Powerful CEOs 40 and Under” that same year. Incidentally, Mush designed the first privately developed rocket to reach orbit and served as the inspiration for the genius billionaire Tony Stark in the Iron Man movie series. He also made it onto TIME Magazine’s (often dubious) list of 100 most influential people in 2010.

Eddie O’Connor – Supergrid Superhero
Eddie O'Connor

Eddie O’Connor, the CEO and co-founder of Mainstream Renewable Energy and the original founder of Airtrcity, is one of the world’s most interesting, energetic and innovative clean energy figures. O’Connor sold Airtricity to E.on and Scottish and Southern Energy for €2.2 billion in 2008, when he launched Mainstream along with Airtricity’s former finance chief, Fintan Whelan, investing €32 million in the start-up.  O’Conner, who got his start in Ireland’s electricity company, has earned energy leadership awards across Europe, and in 2003 was named World Energy Policy Leader by Scientific American Magazine. O’Connor is behind the creation of some amazing onshore and offshore wind farm projects in Europe, North America, South America and South Africa, and is perhaps best known for his promotion of the European Offshore Supergrid, which envisions electricity interconnectivity on a scale that would entirely transform the European energy scene. O’Connor’s work has been extremely influential on global policy and he has certainly earned his place among the world’s most innovative public figures. He combines ideas with advocacy and action.

Paul Woods – The Algae King
Paul Woods

Paul Woods would like no less than to revolutionize the energy sector, and his charisma is hard to match. Woods is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Algenol, the Bonita Springs-based alternative energy company, and his trademark is turning algae into ethanol (with the help of salt, carbon dioxide and sunlight). Algenol has not yet made its definitive mark on the energy industry, but Woods is certain it will. It has not been easy but Woods has proven a very patient warrior. There have been stops and starts. Most recently Algenol was forced to shelve expansion plans after concerns were raised about potential environmental consequences, but in April expansion plans were back on track and in full force. We like Woods because he’s a risk-taker and not one who will give up easily. We’re hedging our bets that algae will play a major role in America’s future energy security.

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The Alarmist's picture

a veritable rogues gallery.

fnord88's picture

A compelling TED talk on how the free market can deliver 100% renewable energy by 2050. No stimulus, no incentives etc etc. Just pure clean energy and 5 trillion a year in savings to the USA.

Oh regional Indian's picture

Amory Lovins is just another bought out, sold out shill. 

My company was working with his Institute (I forget it's name, Rocky Mountain some such or the other). We called him Mr. Tomorrow never comes.

Musk....ugh.... that is the power of Jewish money and influence, in that one man. Stinks, as do his creations. Think Skoll, Musk, the ebay CEO woman.....whitman? No Whit and much more than a man. All cut from the same, acceptable cloth.

If this is the seal team six of the energy future, we are truly doomed.



lewy14's picture

I thought ManBearPig would count for 3 right there...

knukles's picture

What about Voltaire, the famous French energy and blowjob pioneer in honor of whom that stunning success from GM selling 40 thousand a month was named, the Volt?

lewy14's picture

I'm naming my electric car company Ohm. Official car of the Resistance™

Oh regional Indian's picture

2 late to tm. us electric car folk have been Ohm-ing for years. 



Wakanda's picture

I'm naming my electric car company "Capacitor".  It will have a potential difference, but, as usual, DC will not pass.

It won't go far(ad).

AnAnonymous's picture

Volt comes from Alessandro Volta.

Bill D. Cat's picture

Seekers of rent . Fuckers .

fnord88's picture

Fool. Lets stick with the petro-dollar eh? Like wars in the middle east do you? Love trillion dollar a year subsidies to the oil industry? Like a system that runs at 10% efficiency? Like being dependent on multi nationals for your food, energy and transportation? Think all the US needs to do is drill for oil and everything will be OK? Fucking dumbass.

AustriAnnie's picture

Fool.  Lets have the whitehouse control the war on the petrodollar, just like they are with the war on drugs and the war on terrorism.  They are doing pretty well with the economy and the financial system too.  Think all we need to do is have the taxpayers dish out more for government sponsored research and projects which reward political connections and the ability to spew bullshit at a black tie fundraiser, instead of actual efficiency at generating cost effective energy?  Want to continue to be dependent on those contractors who get government-sanctioned monopolies on energy production?  Fucking dumbass.

Oil might be dead.  But counting on politicians to provide a solutions is just plain stupid.

These people all get paid big bucks to play politics.  They do not have your energy needs in mind.  

fnord88's picture

Can you read you fucking illiterate dumbass? Only one of those people works for the government. And if the oil industry gets trillion dollar a year subsides, how do you expect anything else to compete? 

Tortfeasor's picture

Cite one subsidy you knew about at the time of this post.

Bicycle Repairman's picture

Do any of the current wars count?

jmcaule4's picture

Like Zero Hedge? King World News?

Want to know when to expect the next round of QE?

Is it a good time to be long stocks? What about gold miners?

The Proletariat's picture

I'm sorry you need to reapply...... then wait for three days without food, shelter, or encouragement and only then may you enter and begin your training.....

DrunkenPleb's picture

It's an oversight for them not to have included J. Craig Venter in this list. In the 10+ year time frame, it's extremely likely that new approaches to biotechnology are going to have an important role in energy production.

DeadFred's picture

If much of anything gets done I'll be surprised. I've been listening to politicians talk about secure energy sources since Nixon and all of them did zip. Non-oil energy research was in fact suppressed for decades. I wonder why that was. It would be nice to see real progress but I'm pretty sure roadblocks will be thrown in front of any promising technologies until they are bought up by big oil or someone else politically connected. Real capitalism is dead if it ever existed at all.

piceridu's picture

Fuck every one of these shills...they don't give a shit about helping humanity, they're all sell outs to corporatocracy

falak pema's picture

Whoever comes next or whatever the direction, one thing is certain the current model is unsustainable and renewables have to show the way.

It is interesting to note that ALL sectors, if not TPTB of the Oligarchy players themselves, are sectors where the innovation will spawn the new paradigm. 

The area of LAser tech in Lawrence Berkeley, Algae, offshore/hi-alt wind fed grids, geothermal, solar desertec grids, are all promising. The key is the mindset change and moving away from the Rockafella-Henry Ford age of oil/car duopoly, which makes liquid fossil fuel king and hangs like millstone around our necks in the Pax Americana Mid-East construct.

21st century will be a Renaissance age or it will be Armageddon squared. Maybe both! 

mess nonster's picture

If there is ever going to be an "alternative" to oil it will have to be just as controllable (by the elite), and just as profitable.

We have descended the efficiency gradient ever since the 19th century.

Horsepower/direct traction without gears (ie any animal, including human, powered effort) 50-60 % efficient

Bicycle: 85% efficient

Overshot waterwheel: 95% efficient

Impact turbine: 80% efficient

Steam engine: 30% efficient

Diesel engine: 25% efficient

Gasoline engine: 15-20 % efficient

Electrical anything: less than 10% efficient

Solar power is too diffuse. Incredible efficiency losses are incurred in the effort to concentrate solar power to useful levels. As a solar energy concentration system, nothing beats photosynthesis combined with metabolism. Algae is a crude replication attempt. It wil not work. All solar based alt-energy systems are doomed to failure because of the losses caused by concetration. Ethanol is a perfect example. Negative efficiency realized in producing ethanol (more energy in than out). Wind is solar energy, with the first level of concentraltion performed by the atmoshere. Factor in production costs, maintenance costs, and wind is a net loss energy-wise.

Nuclear- 'nuff said, we're all dead.

Tesla-zero-point energy- feasable, according to theory, but how to controll it? Ahh, now we know why it is not pursued.

Devices to increase effciency of fossil fuels- uncontrollable, can;t make money if everyone's 8 cylinder caddy gets 75 mpg! Such devices will not be pursued.

These worthless fucks are in it for the money. No difference between them and the no-loads down at the social security office signing up for Disability. Free gummit money! Gimme mah gummit money! I wannit! Now!










AnAnonymous's picture

Tesla zero point energy? An exhaustive list to list that kind of things.

Matt's picture

<citation needed>

for some better stats:

essentially, something with an EROI of 5:1 is actually 80 percent efficient. This is looking at the energy production side of things.

Converting that energy into work, electric motors can be pretty efficient, in the 80 percent range.

Why do you need concentration of solar energy? You complain that these people are all demanding government welfare for their large scale projects, but you overlook localized energy production. Tranmission of power, by grid or pipeline or trucks or ships, are a major source of inefficiency.

Eeyores Enigma's picture

The western world prostrates themselves before their god TECHNOLOGY and prays for the next incarnation of the Bill Gates of energy. Dismissing physics as the blasphemous dogma of heretics. As the real world constraints BITCH SLAPS MR FREEMARKET..




AnAnonymous's picture

Probably. But US citizens also aim at depleting resources and all those projects fit perfectly the bill.

They make no sense in the perspective of conservative use of energy.

They make all sense if you look at new ways to consume the environment.

akak's picture


But US citizens also aim at depleting resources and all those projects fit perfectly the bill.

Oh the dishonest hypocrisy!

How richly ironic this statement is, coming from a Chinese Citizenism citizen, whose totalitarian nation has by far the LARGEST rabbit-breeding population in the world, and which is in the process of blobbing-up the world's resources at an unprecedented rate, and polluting the world, and their own environmentally-degraded nation, at an unprecedented rate as well.

Behold the resource-raping wok trying to call the kettle black!

AnAnonymous's picture

Energy's security? What is that?
How is it defined?
Is this quantifiable? What is the aim?

What is energy insecurity?

LULZBank's picture

You think American citizenism would bother to answer so many questions?

Matt's picture

Energy Security means making sure you have a secure supply of energy.

Energy Insecurity is when someone else can or does cut off your power.

Energy security can be obtained by:

1) producing your own energy 


2) using military force to make sure other people continue providing you with energy.

One of the goals of renewable energy research and production is to create more of solution 1 so that less of solution 2 is needed.

tom a taxpayer's picture

I nominate the squirrel in the rotating power-generating cage as the Most Influential Figure In U.S. Clean Energy.

Coldfire's picture

US watermelonism as well as tax "fairness" synthesism has taken over the 'Hedge?! What have you done with the real Tyler Durden, you cunts!!!