57: Clean Tech Entrepreneur Jimmy Jia


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Sustainable energy is a wicked problem. As we solve one aspect of the challenge, others arise—and the very definition of the problem evolves over time. Yet admitting uncertainty is unpopular. No one is holding a picket sign that reads, “It depends on a number of factors that are mutually interdependent.” So, what should we be thinking about as we work toward a sustainable energy future?

Jimmy Jia is an entrepreneur, author, educator, strategist and speaker at the intersection of sustainable energy and business. As the founder and CEO of Distributed Energy Management, he supports companies in right-sizing their energy consumption to reduce wasted utility spending. Jimmy also serves on the board of the Center for Sustainable Energy in San Diego and the Executive Committee of the CleanTech Alliance in Seattle. He teaches the Sustainable Energy Solutions Certificate at Presidio Graduate School, and Jimmy is the author of Driven by Demand: How Energy Gets Its Power.

Today, Jimmy joins Ross, Christophe, and Paul to discuss the wicked problem of energy, offering his insight around energy transitions and the value proposition of sustainable energy. He explains the concepts of a microgrid and a smart grid, speaking to the nuances of those terms and the challenge of assigning a formal definition to either one. Jimmy also addresses what Nori might learn from the Renewable Energy Credit (REC) market and how Nori fits into the overall energy balance framework. Listen in for Jimmy’s advice to consumers regarding sustainable consumption and get his take on nuclear energy, the rise of cooperatives, and even the feasibility of the Dyson sphere!


Driven by Demand: How Energy Gets Its Powerby Jimmy Jia

I, Pencil

Wendell Berry

Bill McKibben


Helion Energy

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Key Takeaways

[0:44] Jimmy’s energy journey

  • Developed interest during MBA 10 years ago
  • Link between materials science + energy market
  • Explore physics of energy, business realm

[4:56] How the laws of thermodynamics apply to business

  • Value proposition = useful energy out
  • Sustainable system requires discussion of demand

[7:12] Jimmy’s insight around energy transitions

  • Must define start point and end point
  • Start with value prop + work backwards

[12:48] How to frame the value prop of sustainable energy

  • Define societal benefits want to achieve
  • Find cheapest method (financially, in energy)
  • Look at energy as demand-side issue

[14:35] Jimmy’s advice for consumers

  • Efficient solution usually best practice for sector
  • Consume well to consume sustainably

[15:49] Why energy qualifies as a ‘wicked problem’

  • Definition of problem evolves over time
  • People find way to consume each new source

[22:00] The concept of the microgrid

  • Generic term for small power infrastructure
  • ‘Self-sustaining’ but boundaries hard to define

[25:06] The idea of the smart grid

  • Internet-enabled data available
  • More granular as evolves (i.e.: sensor in toaster)

[27:55] What Nori can learn from the REC market

  • Separates power production from fact that green
  • No way for consumer to know if bought green electron

[32:00] How Nori fits into the energy balance framework

  • Play in ‘waste box’ (carbon, pollution space)

[36:44] Jimmy’s take on nuclear energy

  • Tech today very different from 30 years ago
  • Some use rather than generate waste
  • Different risks, benefits among types

[39:48] The rise of energy cooperatives

  • Community choice aggregation in California
  • Adds retail layer separate from utility

[41:46] The feasibility of the Dyson sphere

  • Sensitivity to gravitational distribution makes unlikely
  • Smaller units (swarm) viable but far away

92 episodes