Meet the fixer: This physicist is shaping energy policy. - Grist

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Grist 50

Krishna Kolluri

Meet the fixer: This physicist is shaping energy policy.

Before Varun Sivaram joined the Council on Foreign Relations in 2015, the leading U.S. policy shop wasn’t doing a whole lot of work in green energy. With a doctorate in condensed matter physics from Oxford and a background in public- and private-sector energy advising, Sivaram helped steer the council away from fossil-fuel thinking and toward the analysis of a renewable future.

What might this future look like? You’ll have to grab the book about solar power that Sivaram is finishing this year — or take the class on clean energy innovation he teaches at Georgetown University. One spoiler alert: Technological innovation is key, but venture-capital funding models for clean energy technology are broken. Luckily, policymakers and other private sector players can learn from venture capital’s mistakes by reading Sivaram’s research.

Looking forward, Sivaram suggests that policymakers disillusioned by the tumultuous energy and climate policy environment at the federal level could swivel an eyeball toward the progress being made by cities and states. Sure, one lone city touting “transformative” emissions cuts can amount to hype, but “what’s not hype is when a city or a state invents something innovative that can then be scaled around the world,” he says. “That’s actually important.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.