David Crane shares U.S. Department of Energy’s plan to catalyze clean energy

Jan. 25, 2023, 9:07 p.m.

U.S. Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations (OCED) Director David Crane told students that we are living through a “shockingly historic moment” for renewable energy at a fireside chat on Monday. 

The fireside chat was hosted by the Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy and moderated by professor Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate and former Energy Secretary during the Obama administration. Crane focused on the OCED’s plans to accelerate the deployment of hydrogen as a commercial fuel source that releases no greenhouse gases, as well as carbon capture technology to capture emissions from industrial facilities.

Both innovations can help drastically cut emissions for industries that are considered notoriously “difficult to decarbonize,” Crane said, including cement production, steelmaking and aviation.

The Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, works with the private sector to deploy emerging clean energy technologies on a commercial scale. It was established in December with the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, when the Biden administration allocated $90 billion toward helping catalyze the development of promising renewable energy sources. 

“In the energy world, you could really think of the 19th century as the age of coal and the 20th century as the age of oil,” Crane said. “We have the opportunity with 7 to 8 billion dollars now to create this as the age of hydrogen.” 

Crane shared how deployment will work for hydrogen and carbon capture technology, which is often used during hydrogen fuel production. The OCED is working with hydrogen hubs — which are networks of hydrogen producers, consumers and infrastructure — that can utilize the fuel source on a wider scale.

Prior to his role with the Department of Energy, Crane served on the leadership boards of several companies in the fields of energy and sustainability. Most notable was his experience as the CEO of NRG Energy, an energy company that has won numerous environmental awards for its large-scale initiatives in renewable energy and carbon capture technology. Crane said he applied these experiences to his work with the OCED to help hydrogen hubs develop economically viable and long-term projects. 

When asked by a student whether the private sector would have the will to continue scaling up clean energy deployment, Crane remained optimistic. 

“There is always money available for a well-structured project,” Crane said, referencing his experience in companies that chose to invest heavily into clean energy. However, he also stressed the importance of policies such as a carbon tax to push corporations to decarbonize and reach the United States’ goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Crane left Stanford students with a final call to action to consider a career in clean energy, whether in the private sector, academia or government. 

Holmes Hummel, Precourt Institute for Energy managing director and the resident fellow of Stanford’s Explore Energy House, echoed Crane’s sentiments after the chat. 

“I think this is a historic opportunity,” Hummel said. “It’s an extraordinary chance to participate for members of the Stanford community that are answering David Crane’s call to action.”

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