This week, we interview Wendolyn Holland, an advisor to Joi Scientific and a powerful voice in Washington to help bring about sustainable growth through clean energy. Wendolyn is a U.S. Department of Energy alumna where she served as Senior Advisor for Commercialization in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). The position fostered National Lab stewardship, creating economic value out of the continued taxpayer investment in the Labs. She helped to carry these ideals from the Bush Administration into the Obama Administration.
Wendolyn shares her insights on how innovative energy companies and government can work together. She also reflects on how clean energy companies can do well as they do good and how technology has enabled this to happen.
Here’s the interview Vicky Harris, Vice President of Marketing at Joi Scientific, had with Wendolyn a few days ago.
You call yourself an environmentalist from early childhood. Give us some insight on how you got the environmentalist bug so early in life.
Early in my childhood, I was fortunate to enjoy the wilderness and was vocal about the dangers of nuclear weapons, war, and waste. These passions remained with me in my professional life. I began pursuing work that I could do on my own small scale, in conservation, recycling, and other local activist efforts.
I had the opportunity to get involved in clean energy in 2003 just as its start-up scene was starting to boom. The movement fit my passion really well. Clean energy offered the perfect combination of lowering emissions and improving environmental quality, but doing so with a business focus that aligned the “doing well” with the “doing good.” Thanks to technology, these goals are not mutually exclusive. I was involved with building a few clean energy start-ups before securing a job with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in efficiencies and renewables where I thought I could have a greater impact.
Give us an inside scoop on your initial DOE role.
My DOE role was all about getting energy-related tech out of the National Labs and into the hands of the market, either with start-ups or licensed to larger firms. This technology transfer effort shifted to also include the university labs once President Obama took office. I got to work inside DOE Labs where we did some interesting work on hydrogen, and eventually became involved in work in the Southeastern U.S. in an effort to pull together a regional hydrogen economy.
This effort came with some challenges, as you know. First, was the challenge of building an infrastructure for transport, then pairing up hydrogen with other resources, whether the focus was on electricity or heat production. We had to ask the tough questions like how do we create a more diverse and resilient energy infrastructure? How do we include hydrogen in the current mix?
The real roadblock to hydrogen was that we had to build a whole new network—lay more pipes—in addition to addressing property rights in the sheer magnitude of this new infrastructure web. As you may imagine, it was a challenge to secure the resources and political will to build a new energy infrastructure alongside the already ubiquitous ones for hydrocarbons and electricity transmission and distribution.
From an investment perspective, what do you think is driving cleantech at the moment?
If we regard the first boom in cleantech research being around 2005-2008, I would say we are very much in a second boom right now. We saw the fall off from venture investors around 2008-2010 with the global financial crisis. However, we are now seeing different types of capital being deployed in our industry. There is an awareness that energy is different from IT because it requires greater capital investment, though there are exceptions, and a longer time to realize a return. Therefore, patient capital is required—funds from investors who are not required to make a quarterly shareholder return, but instead, can look to long-term investments. So, now we are looking to those sources of capital to be investing in early-stage clean energy, and there is quite an influx of that going on—both old money and new money are coming out of other booms, like IT, into the cleantech sector. Investors’ mindfulness of the impact of climate change is also an important driving force for attracting their participation. Of course, the regulatory sphere is always an important driver of clean energy investment.
One thing I noticed coming out of the climate change talks in Paris last year was the dynamic tension over whether countries ought to focus on technology deployment or commercialization. So the question is: should we focus on early-stage research, or should we get feet on the ground and focus on deployment? It’s a question of resource planning and allocation, and it is not at all trivial.
Where have you taken your environmental passion today?
Today, I use my experience to help companies in the transformational clean energy space with their business and policy strategies. I like to get involved in disruptive technologies and business models, as long as there is a cultural “fit,” of course. If a company has developed an incremental improvement on existing technology, that’s a great achievement, but I prefer to get involved with the real game-changers. And frankly, the companies with incremental improvements don’t much need me, as their policy pathway is often quite clear. We need innovations to solve our sustainability challenges. This can be achieved by working with companies whose technologies can totally change the game
How did you see Joi Scientific as one of these game-changers you refer to in the first place?
When I came across Joi Scientific, I thought that its approach to clean and affordable hydrogen, what is called Hydrogen 2.0, was quite remarkable. Specifically, I was impressed with the distributed nature of its hydrogen source, as well as its transformational cost-structure, compared to that of conventional methods. Having hydrogen available on-demand virtually anywhere there is water is a real game-changer. This will be huge if the company can successfully execute on its vision for Hydrogen 2.0.
So you’ve been there: can you expand a bit on your infrastructure point?
The implications for a distributed energy source in the larger energy network are pervasive. Joi Scientific’s Hydrogen 2.0 approach could significantly lower energy costs. Distributed energy changes the relationship to power grids. We will be able to power remote communities where the only requirement is access to a source of water—seawater for example. How this hydrogen source will then fit within and truly transform the existing hydrogen economy remains to be seen. I am excited to work with the Joi Scientific team as we lay all this out. No doubt, our partnerships will be key.
Overall, would you say the greater challenge will be political and legislative hurdles or the dominance of traditional energy market players?
They go hand-in-hand mostly because our regulators are people too and have their own particular views. Sometimes it is an iterative process, and sometimes public opinion gets ahead of that of the regulators. That’s just a fact of government. The communication Joi Scientific needs to have is different for regulators and the public at large. The company is being wise to look to partnerships in other realms of the new energy economy where it might find kindred souls and people with aligned interests. These partners can also be found in other energy sectors such as the environmental sector, as well as those efforts focused on poverty alleviation and environmental justice. All these are fertile spaces where Joi Scientific’s solution will be able to empower remote and economically disadvantaged communities.
Was Joi Scientific’s ‘one-for-one’ program, which ensures that for every commercial license sold, one royalty-free license will be donated to the developing world, a factor in your decision to advise the company?
Absolutely! Within fifteen minutes of meeting the Joi Scientific team, we were off to the races. I was so warmly welcomed into the community—like I said, it is all about transformative technology that enables doing well and doing good, and we quickly found this as a common starting point. I love their business model to energy challenges. They exude a strong ethos of being kind and treating people well while the company earns a return along the way. I have found that if I’m not aligned with my client’s philosophy, then there’s no need for me to take on a project—life is too short! I get up in the morning to do ethical energy work; that does not mean we can’t make a profit and provide for our families at the same time. Impact investing and philanthropic capitalism is one of the most effective ways to better the world on a large scale. Joi’s one-for-one strategy is really just a manifestation of the company’s larger corporate value to give back to this planet and its people.
About Wendolyn Holland
Wendolyn Holland is Managing Director of Holland Consulting, LLC, which assists firms in the clean energy and sustainability industries to achieve their business goals and understand policy implications for their technologies. She was appointed to the U.S. Department of Energy in 2008 as Senior Advisor for Commercialization in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The position fostered National Lab stewardship, created taxpayer value out of the continued investment in the National Labs, and was designed to carry these ideals from the Bush Administration into the Obama Administration. In this role, she served as Program Manager for the Technology Commercialization Fund, the Entrepreneur in Residence Program, the Innovation Ecosystem Development Initiative, and the Innovation Portal. Holland’s leadership positions under the auspices of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included the Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit Program and the State Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program. Before launching her consulting practice, she served as Director of Strategic Development and Technical Partnerships at Savannah River National Laboratory.
You can read more about her background here.
As the Hydrogen 2.0 ecosystem gains momentum, we’ll be sharing our views and insights on the new Hydrogen 2.0 Economy. We also update our blog every week with insightful and current knowledge in this growing energy field.