17 Cleantech Champions

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There are actually thousands of cleantech champions out there, and many of them are CleanTechnica readers. I was actually a bit hesitant to make this list because of that — there are going to be a lot of people not on this list that really could be. However, in honor of the tremendous work some of these people are doing, I felt compelled to write this up.

Importantly, beyond the main work they are doing, this piece is particularly focused on highlighting cleantech leaders who make their presence and views known in the public eye. We’re in the business in moving the public pendulum towards cleantech, and I greatly value the cleantech business and science leaders who also do so. Lack of awareness and lack of the strong citizen/political push that could come from greater awareness are perhaps now the largest barriers to the cleantech revolution. We need cleantech leaders and “business celebrities” or “political celebrities” who really know the story to get out there and help in informing the public.

17. Paul Scott 

Founder of Plug In America, leading Nissan Leaf salesman, former solar salesman. Overall, one of the leading EV advocates in the world, and has been for a long time. Gets out there and writes articles on sites such as CleanTechnica, and also good at coming up with grand ideas for getting more attention on electric cars.

Where to follow Paul online? Twitter

16. Opower guys, Dan Yates & Alex Laskey

Dan & Alex co-founded what has become perhaps the best home energy management company in the world. They also do a good job of getting out into the public eye and giving excellent presentations.

Where to follow Dan & Alex online? Dan: Twitter. Alex: Twitter?

15. Nawal Al-Hosany

Dr Nawal Al-Hosany is director of sustainability at Masdar and also the director of the Zayed Future Energy Prize. With Masdar being a $15 billion effort to become something like the Silicon Valley of cleantech, her leaders is pretty huge. Nonetheless, Nawal somehow finds a way to provide CleanTechnica and others with original guest posts and interviews in order to advance global cleantech awareness.

Where to follow Nawal online? Twitter and maybe also LinkedIn

14. Al Gore

As one of the most notable figures working to fight global warming, Al has to be on this list. While he focuses a lot on the problems of global warming and fossil fuels (not exactly the focus of this list), he also delves into cleantech topics quite a bit. And there’s really no possibility to untie the important global warming–cleantech link.

Where to follow Al online? Google+Twitterhis blog

13. Bob Lutz

Bob was a key GM notable behind the Chevy Volt. He is also now pioneering electric trucks with the Via Motors VTRUX. Bob gotten on Fox News and also written articles on conservative media outlets — places where he has some sway as a global warming-denying extreme conservative — in order to defend electric vehicles. Despite coming from a career in the highly entrenched auto industry, Bob says that an “electric car future [is] definitely coming.”

Where to follow Bob online? Good question…

12. Adnan Z Amin

Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency. I think that says enough, but I’ll add that Adnan gets out there and writes some great articles on blogs around the world (including here). Furthermore, he gives some of the best presentations out there on renewable energy.

Where to follow Adnan online? Good question…

11. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber

I’ve already mentioned Masdar. Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber is the CEO of this cleantech monster. The responsibility of that massive effort must create quite a bit of pressure, yet this CEO seems to handle the position with tremendous ease and coolness. He also delivers exceptional presentations on a variety of cleantech matters. Hopefully I’ll be able to nab an interview with him at the upcoming Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, but I’m not so sure — last year, he was very quickly zipped in and out of the numerous events where he was speaking.

Where to follow Al Jaber online? Huffington Post?

10. Billy Parish

Billy is the co-founder and president of Mosaic (originally termed Solar Mosaic). Mosaic is already having a big effect in the solar energy space through the possibility of decentralized investment in solar energy projects — solar energy investing for “the common Joe.” But Mosaic’s offering still hasn’t hit the majority of the US or other countries (at least, the option for “the common Joe” to invest hasn’t). I think it will see tremendous growth in the years to come, but even if it didn’t, it has had a profound impact on the solar energy market. Billy does an excellent job of getting the good solar word out there to the public, which includes posting articles here on CleanTechnica. Overall, Mosaic’s blog is one of the best solar blogs around, which I assume Billy has had some influence over.

Where to follow Billy online? Twitter

9. Lisa Jackson & Steven Chu

Both Lisa and Steven were exceptional in the roles as the director of the EPA and US Secretary of Energy, respectively. I think they would have done even much more if not held back by higher-ups, but even with the opportunities they were given, they were excellent at promoting cleantech and cutting into the harm caused by fossil fuels. Lisa and Steven stepped down from the roles in the US government this year, but both have gone on to do other important work in the cleantech space. Lisa is actually now the vice president of environmental initiatives at Apple, the high-valued brand in the world. Lisa and Steven were both often in the public eye and were very good public communicators and verbal champions of the cleantech revolution.

When a popular Onion joke about Steven sleeping with a solar panel came out, the clever Nobel-prize winner put out a great response:

“I just want everyone to know that my decision not to serve a second term as Energy Secretary has absolutely nothing to do with the allegations made in this week’s edition of the Onion. While I’m not going to confirm or deny the charges specifically, I will say that clean, renewable solar power is a growing source of U.S. jobs and is becoming more and more affordable, so it’s no surprise that lots of Americans are falling in love with solar.”

Where to follow Lisa & Steven online? Lisa: Twitter. Steven: good question… (Steven, please share a bit with us on Google+ or Twitter! I suggest Google+ since it has a little bit of math in its name.)

8. Hermann Scheer

I was initially making this list about current cleantech champions, but then Herman Scheer came to mind and I couldn’t leave him out. If he were alive today, he’d surely be higher up on this list. Hermann was one of the key people behind the German feed-in tariff (FiT), which has transformed renewable energy sectors, especially the solar energy sector, globally. I would say that the FiT is inarguably the most important renewable energy policy in history, and Hermann was crucial to its implementation.

Unfortunately, Hermann did rather suddenly in 2010 at the age of 69. As summarized on Wikipedia: “Fourteen days before his death he was seen live on German television[7] making a statement in the Bundestag about a highly explosive (“hochbrisant”) 60 billion euro breach of contract (“Vertragsbruch”) by Germany’s privately owned nuclear power corporations.[8] He suddenly died in a hospital in Berlin from heart failure[9] after an unspecified short and severe illness.[10]

6 (tie). Lynn Jurich

Lynn Jurich is the co-founder and co-CEO of Sunrun, which pioneered solar leasing and PPAs for homeowners and is now apparently the “#1 home solar company.” The rather short Wikipedia bio for Lynn is actually quite good, so I’ll just use that here: “Jurich was named as one of the Ten Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs by Fortune in 2009, and received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2010 award in Northern California together with SunRun co-founder Ed Fenster. Jurich serves on the Sierra Club Foundation Board of Directors and holds an MBA and BS from Stanford University.” I haven’t seen Lynn in the public eye much, but I have seen one or two videos with her.

Where to follow Lynn online? Good question…

6 (tie). Danny Kennedy

Danny Kennedy came from a Greenpeace background to start up one of the biggest solar companies in the world, Sungevity. He’s now the president of Sungevity and also serves on the boards of The Solar Foundation and Mosaic. Other notable side projects include spearheading the “Solar on the White House” push and writing Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Power Can Save Our Economy—and Our Planet—from Dirty Energy. Danny is quite often interviewed by the media and does an excellent job — perhaps the best around — at communicating the… well, rooftop revolution. A couple of videos I highly, highly recommend are this TEDx talk and this recent interview on Bloomberg TV.

Where to follow Danny online? Twitter (where he even does solar-inspired shout-outs to little guys like me) and Google+ (one of the first cleantech leaders I’ve seen there).

5. Mark Z Jacobson

Mark Z Jacobson has done exceptional research in the renewable energy sector. But that’s obviously not enough to land someone on this list. Mark has also led by getting the word out (perhaps more than anyone else) that renewable energy is indeed capable of powering the world with current technology, and cost competitive. This year, he even showed up on the Late Show with David Letterman to talk about powering New York with renewable energy.

Where to follow Mark online? Twitter (he even posts drafts of research he’s working on there!)

4. Denise Bode

She actually stepped down from her role as the CEO of AWEA around this time last year, but she was so instrumental and so effective at growing the wind energy business in the US (and, thus, globally), that I thought she deserved to be pretty high on this list. For a number of reasons, wind energy is further along (as far as low costs and high capacity) than solar energy. Denise was an excellent face and voice of the wind industry, and even had the courage and ability to go to battle with misinformants on Fox News. As a Republican, she had a bit more sway with Republican politicians, voters, and media agencies, but she still had to battle with a massive amount of misinformation there. And I think she did that exceptionally well.

Where to follow Denise online? Huffington Post?

3. Carlos Ghosn

Alongside Elon Musk (sorry, he didn’t make the list 😉 ), Carlos Ghosn is probably the most notable EV advocate out there. As the head of both Nissan and Renault (Chairman & CEO of both), he also has a lot of power to make magic happen. Right now, with a couple of medium-market EV models available and a fairly aggressive push to have his companies lead the electric revolution, Carlos definitely claims the top spot for electric vehicle sales. Also, I just love this man. His comments are so spot-on, so sharp, and cut through the BS faster than Fox News creates it (well, I guess I wouldn’t go that far). I love his attitude and his wicked-fast mind, and I look forward to seeing him continue to transform and grow Nissan and Renault.

Where to follow Carlos online? Good question….

1. Jigar Shah

I had a really hard time deciding which one of these top two people should be #1, so I finally decided to make it a tie. Jigar Shah founded SunEdison, which pioneered a financing model that would lead to explosive growth in the solar industry. He grew SunEdison into a solar giant and then moved on to other things. From 2009 to 2012, Jigar was the CEO of the Carbon War Room, “a global organization founded by Richard Branson and Virgin Unite to harness the power of entrepreneurship to unlock the potential of proven climate change solution technologies to be deployed at scale,” as Wikipedia summarizes it. He was fundamental in the growth and influence of the Carbon War Room, but then moved on to consulting as CEO of Jigar Shah Consulting (odd name…). Jigar serves on the board of more cleantech startups than there are months in the year, probably more than there are days in the month — I’d actually be curious to know the exact number. His influence in the industry is broad, deep, and powerful. He is consistently publishing insightful articles (including a CleanTechnica one with a very counter-intuitive message), answering interview questions, and participating in podcasts.

Where to follow Jigar online? TwitterGoogle+, and perhaps LinkedIn. He’s all over the place.

1. Elon Musk

Come on, this was more obvious than daylight. The man is CEO and Chief Product Architect of Tesla Motors, which has transformed the electric vehicle and arguably even the entire automobile industry. He’s also the chairman of SolarCity, one of the largest solar power companies in the world. Earlier this year, he was named to the TIME 100 list, a list of the “most influential” people in the world. He is often making public statements about solar and EVs, and he even tweets a bit.

Where to follow Elon online? Twitter, where he regularly engages with the public, makes some quite big announcements (and bigger hints), and even tweets stories from simple bloggers like me. To give an indication of his influence, Elon has nearly 500,000 followers in the land of the little blue bird, about 100 times more than the person on this list with the third-most followers (Jigar Shah — nearly 5,000) and only behind former US Vice President Al Gore, who has about 2.7 million.


Think I missed a beat by not including someone? Drop that person’s name in the comments below.


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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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