Q&A Series: Joseph Kopser Offers His Strategic View to Energy Innovations

Kopser is a technology entrepreneur and expert in transportation, smart cities, urban mobility, energy, national security issues as well as an Army combat veteran.

 

Question: Could you please describe you and your work?

Joseph: I am a serial entrepreneur and expert in energy and national security issues. Currently, I serve as an Executive-in-Residence at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas. In addition, I am President of Grayline after co-founding and serving as CEO of RideScout before it was acquired by Mercedes. I served in the U.S. Army for 20 years earning the Combat Action Badge, Army Ranger Tab and Bronze Star. I am a graduate of West Point with a BS in Aerospace Engineering and also received a Masters from the Harvard Kennedy School. In 2013, I was recognized as a White House Champion of Change for my efforts in Energy and Transportation. In 2014, RideScout won the U.S. DOT Data Innovation Award and I co-authored the book, Catalyst. I am the Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the CleanTX Foundation, an economic development and professional association for cleantech.

Q: What made you want to join the Path to 100%? 

Joseph: I want to partner with any and all parties that are moving towards a more sustainable energy economy. Some might find it ironic that I was born in a coal state (Kentucky), moved to an oil and gas state (Texas) and now I advocate for a cleaner energy economy. For me, it’s about the triple bottom line– people, profits, and the planet. And the good news is that with an appropriate balance between public and private sector policy goals, we can achieve success for all three elements of the triple bottom line. I see the Path to 100% as just one of the many ways to get there.

Q: Describe your passion for renewable energy and how you have put that to work in the United States.

Joseph: My interest in renewable energy started during my time serving in the military, where I was able to see first hand ways that our lack of a clear energy security policy was threatening our national security. I participated in missions in Iraq that were little more than delivering diesel fuel out to remote military sites with out of date and inefficient generators and motors that were guzzling the fuel. Every time a Soldier went on the road for a delivery, they were at risk from the enemy. It didn’t make sense for the greatest nation in the world (that put a man on the moon in the 1960s) to still be using generators that were made before the Soldiers were even born.

Since that time, I’ve become a clean energy warrior in and out of uniform. My first company, RideScout, set out to reduce our carbon footprint by making transportation more energy efficient. I was co-founder of the DefenseEnergy.com Summit and the National Security Technology Accelerator where both entities were in search of clean energy technologies to benefit the warfight at all aspects of energy production, storage and distribution.

Finally, I chair the board of advisors for CleanTX.org. CleanTX is a clean energy consortium dedicated to accelerate and promote the growth of renewable energy.

Q: How would you like to see your work implemented on a global scale? 

Joseph: First, the US has to be a leader. In the short term, some may perceive it as a cost, but we have to measure the fully burdened costs of our decisions long term. We have to be more willing to take risks, experiment with pilot projects and most importantly learn from our failures of what does and does not work. Finally, we have to align incentives and remind people that you always get what you pay for. Currently, the costs are disproportionately spread across everyone in the economy as opposed to certain producers or consumers that are actually generating the negative externalities. Being serious about some kind of carbon pricing will allow the marketplace to better align to a set of goals that work for people, profits and the planet

Q: What do you believe are the greatest areas of opportunity for your the U.S.’s renewable energy sector?

Joseph: Creating jobs for the 21st century energy economy. Lots of them. Bringing renewable jobs closer to home would allow us to decrease our dependence on foreign fossil fuels. All too often, people fight change when they see it as a threat. It is understandable that people seek economic security for their family and their kids long-term. Therefore, I see the greatest opportunity to bring people along better by demonstrating (not just talking about) how they benefit from clean water, fresher air, and most importantly, higher paying jobs.

Q: Now, what do you see as the primary barriers or challenges the U.S. faces on its path to clean, affordable energy?

Joseph: Fear of losing your job or your livelihood. The way I see it, innovation in the private sector is not enough to successfully reinvent the American energy economy. Partnership with the government that creates the conditions for innovation is essential, both from a funding and regulatory perspective.

The social, economic, and political environment in which we all operate is changing faster than ever, and the pace of change is accelerating. Robotics, autonomous vehicles, smart cities, renewables, 3D printing, and other emerging technologies are colliding with socioeconomic forces such as urbanization, wealth concentration, aging populations, and widespread workforce displacement. At the same time, socio-economic segregation is on the rise in the U.S. and our educational system needs serious changes to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

You cannot talk about a path to cleaner, more affordable energy without balancing all aspects of change in society that weigh a family down at the kitchen table. All too often, advocates in our industry are only looking at the issue from an environmental standpoint. I recommend they stand back and take a more holistic view.

Q: Finally, how can the U.S. lead in the path to 100 percent renewables? And what progress do you envision for the region over the next few years?

Joseph: We wrote a Constitution that despite its shortcomings has stood the time of time. We overcame the existential threat of the Civil War. We came together to pull ourselves out of the Great Depression. We won World War II and created the first middle class in human history. Thanks to American innovation, rule of law and protection of intellectual property, we have created the conditions with our economy to lift more people out of poverty world-wide than any other invention in human history.

I am confident that if we take all of our best collective talents, and point it in the right direction, there is nothing we cannot accomplish. In building a cleaner energy economy, we will create jobs, educate more people world-wide and leave a much better world for our kids tomorrow.

Photo: Mitchell Kmetz on Unsplash

2020’s Leading Clean-Energy Cities

At-a-Glance:

New York City, Boston, Seattle, Minneapolis, and San Francisco took the top 5 spots on the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE) annual clean energy scorecard, which analyzed and scored 100 major U.S. cities. The report revealed that cities took 160 new actions since the 2019 scorecard. According to ACEEE Director of Local Policy, these actions ranged from practical steps that made their fleets more efficient to cutting-edge initiatives like building performance standards. To learn more, read 2020’s Leading Clean-Energy Cities.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Cities were scored on five policy categories:
    • local government operations 
    • community-wide initiatives 
    • buildings policies
    • energy and water utilities 
    • transportation policies 
  • New York City’s ascent from No. 6 in 2019 to No. 1 in 2020 was due primarily to its Climate Mobilization Act, which sets a greenhouse gas emission performance standard for large buildings.
  • The report singled out San Jose, Calif., as No. 1 on renewable energy policy and No. 9 overall, up from No. 11 in 2019.
  • ACEEE found 20 cities on track for their energy efficiency goals—a significant jump from 11 out of 75 cities in 2019—with nine returning cities this year.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The Path to 100% is possible, practical and financially feasible. However, strategic and effective policy is required to achieve ambitious clean energy goals. Policies that enable rapid reductions in fossil fuel use and rapid increases in renewable generation in the electricity sector will accelerate the sustainable transition. Additionally, effective policy steers electricity-sector decisions about investments, infrastructure and technology toward decisions that quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pave the way for a 100% renewable energy future.

 

Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash