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Wednesday, August 5

Today's Paper

Graham Richard ’69 champions advanced, sustainable energy through business and technology

Graham Richard ’69, CEO of Advanced Energy Economy, “the business voice of advanced energy,” seeks to change the nature of laws regulating energy use to create stabler, cleaner energy sources in the United States.

AEE, a trade association, brings together a number of advanced energy businesses to influence state and federal governments to modify rules and regulations so that markets for advanced energy can be opened. Richard said that he believes that the failure of laws to change with the rapidly growing energy services field has slowed the use of sustainable energy.

The power of advanced energy production stems not only from its sustainability, but also from its resilience, he explained. According to PRNewswire, advanced energy systems are now employing over 3 million Americans, a sizeable sector of the workforce.

“We take energy for granted,” Richard said, recalling the devastating Hurricane Sandy, which left thousands of individuals across the East Coast without electricity for days in October 2012. Richard said that he believes a realignment of energy sourcing can be the answer to problems, such as those that arise after natural disasters, when only traditional energy sources are available.

Richard explained that in order for the power grid to operate more like “the internet, with lots of information flowing all at one time at the same time,” institutions must be able to have their own power sources and operate on their own, remaining unaffected when disaster strikes.

It is clear that the creation of technology to produce and harness power is no longer the problem facing advanced energy expansion, Richard explained, but rather the growth of the market to allow for greater integration of advanced energy companies. He noted that the monopoly on the electric system by larger incumbent groups has been a major barrier to some energy companies’ growth today.

“When we have a choice, as we do today, of having more secure, cleaner, and more affordable energy opportunities, it is really important that we get society to notice,” Richard said.

He said it is this goal and vision that drives AEE’s efforts, which range from engaging with state legislators to enlarge the advanced energy market to informing the public utility commissions with key regulatory issues that should be addressed when regulating electric and natural gas utilities.

The growing popularity of energy clubs across college campuses is telling of the growing importance of environmentalism to American students, he said. Sustainable Software Initiative, Sustainable Engineering and Development Scholars, and the Princeton University Energy Association are student groups that address sustainable energy questions at the University.

According to Richard, Lisa Perez Jackson *86, who joined recently, and Dan’l Lewin ’76 serve on AEE’s board of directors.

Richard noted that not all those who can and should make an impact have to focus on environmentalism itself; he encouraged individuals to search for other ways to get involved. Richard suggested students interested in business to start companies for new energy producers or find new ways to to finance advanced energy. He said those interested in politics can work for state regulatory agencies that govern utilities.

Richard explained that the possibilities are endless when it comes to advanced energy, and that many people underestimate just how much it has contributed to economic growth and job creation.

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To illustrate the kind of impact advanced energy can have and the vastness of opportunities it opens, Richard mentioned the possibility of transforming cars into power sources. He said Teslas are quickly becoming zero-emission vehicles, running on electric batteries. If there were a way to connect all these electric vehicles to a larger power grid, they could become a new source of cleaner energy, as opposed to a huge coal power plant, he said. Not only is this highly energy-efficient, but it is revolutionary in that it “completely changes the way in which we think about electricity,” according to Richard.

Tesla is a member organization of AEE. According to AEE’s website, other members include Siemens, Intel, Facebook, Walmart, Comcast, and Amazon. Leadership council members include such companies as Microsoft, Oracle, and Apple.

The regulation of energy is highly complex, but that does not mean individuals like Richard and organizations like AEE are going to stop pushing to bring to life their vision of a prosperous economy run on affordable clean energy. As Richard said, it is by joining and creating more coalitions, like AEE, between influential business leaders today that we can begin to think about the larger impact technology can have on environmentalism.