June 2009

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EMAIL INTERVIEW - Andrew "Drew" H. Johnston & Ken Sinclair

Andrew (Drew) H. Johnston

Drew Johnston is a Policy Aide to Austin Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken, working on energy, land use, transportation, environmental and economic development issues. Drew is involved in the Austin-based Pecan Street Project – a proposal to generate over 300 MW of power for Austin using smartgrids, distributed solar, energy storage and aggressive energy efficiency efforts. Drew is a Masters of Science candidate in Community and Regional Planning at the University of Texas. Drew was a Policy Research Team Member for the Sustainable Options for Austin Energy Report published by the LBJ School of Public Affairs, sponsored by Austin Energy and Solar Austin. Prior to his work in Austin, Drew was Chief of Staff for the economist Jeremy Rifkin, at The Foundation on Economic Trends (FET) for four years. At FET, Drew worked on energy, climate change and regional economic development initiatives.  Clients included major industry associations, Fortune 500 companies, political parties and offices of heads of state including Chancellor Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain and the European Commission in Brussels.


www.YoungEnergy.org Network - Key Pillars of a Third Industrial Revolution

The five key pillars of a Third Industrial Revolution are aggressive energy efficiency, renewable energy and energy storage technologies, buildings as positive power plants and a smart grid that allows consumers to also be producers.

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Sinclair:  How did you get involved in the energy field?

Johnston:  As Chief of Staff at the Foundation on Economic Trends, I learned about energy generation, transmission and distribution on the fly.  Since we worked with all segments of the producer/consumer paradigm, my clients would look at energy in an environment context or in terms of economic development and try to figure out what policy levers must be pulled in order to achieve there goals. In the EU, business, civil society and government leaders saw the benefit of a new energy regime generally in terms of, ‘What is the gross value added to our national/regional economy?’ ‘How will government support our efforts?’ ‘How many jobs will we produce in fields of local expertise if we shift to a more sustainable means of energy production and consumption?’  And our clients were always coming to us, eager to start connecting the inter-dependent spheres of influence involved in making these complex decisions about their energy future. The funny thing was, it had really nothing to do with climate change or sustainability - it was a purely business-case approach to solving the dilemma of how to shift into the next industrial revolution.

I got the idea of looking at interdisciplinary solutions to climate change and shifting to renewable energy in 2004, working with a new regional community development group that was supported by area foundations, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and researchers and fellows from Urban Institute, Brookings, etc. We had the local example of smart growth policies that meshed land use, transportation, environmental and economic development policies at the state and local level to create feasible and equitable growth patterns. I applied some of that same thinking to how we can have a more holistic response to climate change, energy independence and sustainability.

Sinclair:  Why is connectivity important right now?

Johnston:  I’m glad you asked, Ken.  It’s because connectivity really addresses sustainability. As my old boss, Jeremy Rifkin, points out, the great pivotal economic changes in world history have occurred when new energy regimes converge with new communication regimes. That is happening right now with IT converging with our upstart renewable energy regime. Connectivity is at the core of what some of us are calling a Third Industrial Revolution. The key pillars of a Third Industrial Revolution are aggressive energy efficiency, renewable energy and energy storage technologies, buildings as positive power plants and a smart grid that allows consumers to also be producers. This dynamic, or prosumerism" is the essence of connectivity.

Working across industries, and between producers and consumers to find the right balance for our energy future is the name of the game. Right now, state capitols across the country and DC are feverishly dealing with a lot of issues, and one of the top concerns is how do we wean our economy off of finite energy and an old-centralized form of distributing that energy. They are creating policies, rightly or wrongly, that they say address sustainability.  What I would say to that is, “Sustainability needs renewables, otherwise, it's not sustainability, just extendibility”. We need to envision a future in which millions of individuals can produce locally generated renewable energy.

Sinclair:  Why are you participating in ConnectivityWeek?

Johnston:  Because I’ve seen firsthand what can happen when you breakdown the old “silos without windows” mentality in the energy industry.  And to that end, European industry and government are beating us in the race to build a truly connected energy infrastructure through implementation of such critical EU-wide policies as the multi-billion Euro Strategic Energy Technology Plan, and the Energy Liberalization Package.  In the US, the collective we, industries like IT, Energy and Water Utilities, Construction, Manufacturing, Supply and Logistics, Embedded Computer Systems, Steel, Vehicle, and Road/Rail Infrastructure need to open up to working together in order to catch up, let alone, set the pace for the future. That's why I'm so excited about observing BuilConn, HomeConn, IndConn and InfraConn!

Once we get the conversation going across industries on how to align standards and regulations for systems that require the involvement of two or more industries, we’ll be in much better shape.  Take the case for AC/DC-hybrid electrical wiring and plugs and sockets in new buildings - this will require construction, IT and manufacturing industries to work together - it’s just one example where we need to get our industries working together.

Let me tell you one way that Europe is beating us. From 2006 to 2008, I worked on implementation of the EU's Strategic Energy Technology Plan with the office of the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso. We were able to bring together the major industries involved in the new energy regime, these reps from Fortune 500 companies shared R&D with one another, across industries for the first time ever. In effect theses industries are already aligning the larger strategic priority of a sustainable energy economy with industry-specific metrics. Europe is winning because all these different technology platforms have been working together for the past 3 years.  By connecting now, across industry, we can begin to establish now, how all these inter-dependent and inter-related industries will work together in a Third Industrial Revolution.

Reliable Controls Sinclair:  How does it feel to be a YoungEnergy grant recipient for ConnectivityWeek?

Johnston:  I feel privileged to be chosen. Texas, and Austin in particular, has a lot of amazing young talent in the energy field. This is an opportunity to share some exciting developments in energy in the Lone Star State; Mission Verde in San Antonio, the Pecan Street Project in Austin, Houston's energy efficiency efforts, El Paso's taking the lead in Biofuels, etc. And particularly, right now is a great time for connectivity to get the spotlight in Texas. In Austin, we have the Pecan Street Project; a consortium of 12 major corporations, city government and the municipally-owned utility, Austin Energy, exploring how Austin can generate 300 MW by 2020 through a blend of the five pillars of a Third Industrial Revolution: A Smart Grid that connects Energy Efficiency, Distributed Solar, Energy Storage, and Buildings as Power Plants. Together, these 12 corporations and their industry partners, and our local government can reshape the local-level energy landscape in Austin, and provide a vision for the rest of the US and the World.

Sinclair:  Why did you move from DC to Austin?

Johnston:  Central Texas is one of the leaders of sustainability across the country, and I know that’s hard for people out there to believe.  The Austin Climate Protection Plan demands that Austin hit 30% renewables, 20% increase in energy efficiency, and 100 MW of solar by 2020. The EPA has sighted Austin Energy as the Greenest Utility in the Country year after year in part because of our GreenBuilding program.  Green Building is shifting to a 100% performance-based building code for the city, and LEED certification is partly modeled after what we've been doing in Austin since 1984. It's a city at the heart of Texas - a traditional worldwide energy leader. We have the knowledge base to be a leader worldwide in a new energy era - University of Texas, the Austin Technology Incubator, numerous solar installers and manufacturers, Dell, Samsung, Texas Instruments plus the Sematech Semiconductor Consortium. And here is the kicker - we have an almost perfect blend of natural resources, social capital and government incentives that make Austin an ideal place to bring promising practices to market in smart grids, renewable energies, energy efficiency and repurposing buildings as power plants. But one of the greatest things about being down here is that there is such a great blend of people who are ambitious and deeply committed to these issues of climate change and sustainability – Austin Energy is a great example.  This is a great time to be in Texas - we believe this is where the future is happening today. And of course, it's warm and sunny all year around!

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