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Holmes Hummel: Accelerating private capital utility investments in inclusive clean energy solutions

Posted by Lauren Hertel on Tuesday, May 21 2019

Fellows: 

Fellow Holmes Hummel is the Founding Director of Clean Energy Works, a nonprofit organization that seeks to accelerate private capital utility investments in inclusive clean energy solutions.

After the Great Recession of the last decade, as government stimulus funds started to wane, utilities began to respond much more strongly to electric investment in vehicles than to energy efficiency in buildings, says Hummel, with the greatest response in heavy duty vehicles. Electric transit buses offer a compelling business case for cities, as their life cycle costs are often competitive with diesel buses due to declining battery costs and lower fuel and maintenance expenses. Nevertheless, widespread adoption has been hindered by the high initial investment required to purchase onboard batteries and build charging stations that are connected to the grid

That’s where Clean Energy Works comes in. Hummel’s organization is working with utilities, city leaders and transit agencies in a variety of communities to accelerate investment in electric buses. Hummel says that finding trusted messengers with experience and local authenticity is critical to raising the confidence level in electric buses, so Clean Energy Works finds local partners that specialize in policy advocacy to join them.

Their pitch is that the utility can make a place-based investment and recover the cost of that investment through a terms of service agreement with the transit agency that uses it to charge its buses. Cost recovery is on favorable terms for the transit agencies, which are currently dependent on government grants to make the financial commitment work. Hummel says that while the United States market is currently dominated by federal grants, private financing solutions that allow the technology to scale faster and wider without grants is urgently needed. Programs like these also help utilities prepare for the future, as they get comfortable with new “grid edge” distributed energy technologies.

Right now the organization’s biggest challenge is being oversubscribed by the level of interest from municipalities, transit agencies and utilities.

Because the scale of work to be done is immense, Hummel says the most important solutions are ones that can quickly reach large scale impacts. Bridging the distance between research labs and the streets in an incredible opportunity that any young professional with technology training and an orientation towards public interest can pursue. The work requires interdisciplinary skills because of the nature of intersectoral engagement, so degrees in business, technology, earth science, sociology, public health and more are all relevant.

Hummel is bullish on the future of electric heavy duty vehicles, predicting that within ten years we will see fossil fuels eliminated from their supply chains.

“It is physics,” Hummel says. “When you move from internal combustion to electric fuel efficiency, there is a jump of 500%. That is a compelling revenue stream for any vehicle that is used more than it is parked.”

The technology is already there, so the question is whether suppliers will be manufacturing enough vehicles in different heavy duty categories.

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