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First director of DOE’s new Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations to discuss $25-billion program at Stanford

David Crane, former CEO of U.S. independent power producer, NRG, has championed the energy transition to sustainable electricity for decades.

In December 2021, Congress passed with bipartisan support the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act. Part of that was a $25-billion commitment to advancing sustainable energy technologies from research laboratories to commercial-scale demonstration projects at the U.S. Department of Energy. This part of the act is meant to fill a gap in achieving U.S. climate goals of net-zero emissions by 2050. 

On Monday, Jan. 23, , David Crane, – the first director of the $25-billion Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations (OCED) – will discuss at Stanford University how the Biden administration and the DOE are working to catalyze commercialization goals. Crane will be interviewed by Stanford's Steven Chu, Nobel-winning physicist and former U.S. Secretary of Energy under President Barack Obama.

The new program's targeted funding by solution areas includes hydrogen ($8 billion), carbon capture and carbon management ($7 billion), industrial decarbonization ($6.3 billion), next generation nuclear power ($2.5 billion), improving rural electric co-operative utilities ($1billion), and long duration energy storage ($500 million). The taxpayer money is meant to support public-private partnerships to produce far more than $25 billion in investments. All of this work includes a focus on equity and quality jobs.

Headshot of David Crane at the DOE.
David Crane (Image credit: Donica Payne)

“David was a pioneer – notably early in this millennium – as a U.S. electricity company CEO on the energy transition to sustainability,” said John Weyant, professor of management science and engineering, and course instructor of the Stanford Energy Seminar, where Crane will speak publicly.

From 2003 to 2015, Crane was chief executive of NRG, a wholesale power producer, which he took from bankruptcy reorganization to a Fortune 200 company. He also steered NRG from the largest owner of U.S. coal-fired power plants to the forefront of clean energy development through large-scale renewables, residential solar, carbon capture, and electric vehicle charging stations. Under Crane’s leadership, NRG was a key member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership from 2008 to 2011.

In 2014, as NRG’s near-term profits suffered from its large investments in sustainable energy, he described telling shareholders: “It's time to take a stand right now on this issue [climate change]. Whether you're a public corporation, for profit, a not for profit, a member, you know a thought leader in society, the time is now.”

Nevertheless, NRG’s board dismissed Crane in 2015 after 12 years due to the tradeoffs between near-term earnings and his vision for clean energy success.

“Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, the United States is going all in to save our planet,” said Crane on Friday. “And the point of the spear in the clean energy transition is the U.S. Department of Energy with the OCED at the very tip. I like to think of myself as a “run to the fire” type of person, and joining the Department at this critical moment in time is the privilege of a lifetime.”

U.S. President Joe Biden also nominated Crane as under secretary of energy for infrastructure. That nomination requires U.S. Senate approval. The Senate energy committee, chaired by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), approved the nomination in December, but the full Senate failed to vote on the nomination before the 2021-22 Congress concluded. On Jan. 3, President Biden resubmitted Crane’s nomination to the Senate.

Monday’s agenda

Crane will speak at the 50-minute Stanford Energy Seminar. He plans to speak for about 10 minutes and then entertain questions from the moderator and audience members. The Stanford Energy Seminar is held in person and streamed online Mondays during fall, winter, and spring terms starting at 4:30 at the Nvidia auditorium. For more than 15 years, the Energy Seminar has been a course for Stanford students, as well as open to the public without charge. However, due to COVID concerns, the seminar’s leadership asks that persons without Stanford affiliation watch the seminar online to reduce indoor risk.

After the seminar, Crane will meet privately with Stanford students, where he will discuss – among other topics – job opportunities at OCED and in the Office of the Under Secretary for Infrastructure at large. Stanford students interested in attending the student meeting can request participation with teaching assistant Akruti Mahesh Gupta.

Before his current job, Crane was the CEO of Climate Real Impact Solutions and served on the boards of Heliogen Inc., Source Global, JERA Co. Inc., and Tata Steel Ltd. along with the not-for-profits Elemental Excelerator and The Climate Group. Prior to NRG, Crane was CEO of International Power plc in the United Kingdom, a FTSE 100 company.

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