My Climate Journey

Ep 2: Joseph Stagner Executive Director, Sustainability and Energy at Stanford University

Episode Summary

In this episode, I interview Joseph Stagner, the Executive Director, Sustainability and Energy Management at Stanford University. Over the past several years, Joe and his team transformed Stanford’s energy infrastructure by electrifying its heating system, replacing its gas-fired power plant with grid power, creating a unique system to recover heat, building massive tanks to store hot and cold water, and building a solar power plant. This project cut the campus’s total greenhouse gas emissions 68 percent and is lowering the system’s operating costs by $425m over 35 years.

Episode Notes

In this episode, I interview Joseph Stagner, the Executive Director, Sustainability and Energy Management at Stanford University. Over the past several years, Joe and his team transformed Stanford’s energy infrastructure by electrifying its heating system, replacing its gas-fired power plant with grid power, creating a unique system to recover heat, building massive tanks to store hot and cold water, and building a solar power plant. This project cut the campus’s total greenhouse gas emissions 68 percent and is lowering the system’s operating costs by $425m over 35 years.

Joseph was very gracious to come on and talk about the origins of this project, the hurdles his team met along the way, the results so far, and where it is going in the future. We also covered how these learnings can be applied to get other universities and entities with large campus infrastructures to follow suit.

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did! Joseph is a rare one, in that he not only has a firm grasp on the problem and what is needed, but he’s gone out and deployed it at scale and is posting amazing results. His story struck me as a real bright spot in what, at times, can feel like an uphill battle. Enjoy!

You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 and email at info@myclimatejourney.co, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and provide suggestions for future guests or topics you'd like to see covered on the show.

For more information and to sign up for updates on My Climate Journey visit: www.myclimatejourney.co

Episode Transcription

Jason Jacobs:                Hello everyone. This is Jason Jacobs, and welcome to My Climate Journey. This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change and try to figure out how people like you and I can help. Today's guest is Joseph Stagner, the Executive Director of Sustainability and Energy Management for Stanford University. In this episode, we talk with Joe about the incredible work he's done to transform Stanford's energy plant to clean infrastructure while dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.

Jason Jacobs:                We also discuss Joe's views on the importance of transitioning from coal based power to clean electrification, some of the misconceptions and questions that need to be answered to encourage others to adopt similar models, how Stanford is helping mobilize other universities to head down a similar path and Joe's thoughts on how to accelerate the climate change movement overall. As you'll hear, Joe is deeply passionate and knowledgeable about his field and about this problem. I really admire not only the amazing work that Joe is doing and the result he's achieving, but also the optimistic spirit that he brings to the climate battle each and every day. Well, Joe, welcome and thanks so much for joining me on the show.

Joseph Stagner:            Well, thanks for the invitation Jason, and thanks for doing this. You're devoting your own time and resources to this, and I and many others you've been involved with are paid professionals engaged in this are being paid to do it. Not that we don't share your passion, obviously... And perhaps when we retire from our jobs, hopefully we'll do as much a good work as you. But thank you for doing this yourself.

Jason Jacobs:                Well, thanks so much, and I really enjoyed the discussion that you and I had a few weeks ago. And one of the things that struck me is not only your knowledge and the success that you've had at Stanford in this area, but also just that you're coming from such a mission driven place. So, from a criteria standpoint, I couldn't ask for a much better guest than that. So it's a real honor to have you on the show.

Joseph Stagner:            Well, thanks again.

Jason Jacobs:                Well, maybe as a starting point... I mean it was a fascinating discussion for me, because the things that you've done at Stanford not only have had financial success in terms of saving the university significant dollars, but they've also had a big impact on the environment. So it was really heartening for me to hear that it's possible to do both and that those can be in alignment and are not fundamentally at odds. So maybe just for the sake of our listeners, share a little bit about what you've done.

Joseph Stagner:            Sure. So quickly, Stanford's like a small city of about 30,000 people, with several hundred large buildings and many more smaller buildings. We have faculty and staff that live on campus, we have lots of students, of course, that live on campus. So we are like a small city and a world-class research university and world-class athletic university and many other things all rolled in one. So, the university has a central energy system, we call it a district energy system where most of the big buildings are supplied power, heating and cooling from a central energy facility. And district energy works for clusters of buildings. It's more efficient than putting individual machines that all the individual buildings.

Joseph Stagner:            And by grouping all these buildings together and serving them as one, you can get optimum opportunities for efficiency in things. And back in the 80s, the university was well ahead of the game, as Stanford often is technologically, in putting in a large gas fire cogeneration plant in 1987. That served the university well and is still thought of, cogeneration, as a very efficient next step technology for many moving off coal and other less efficient, more polluting forms of energy.

Joseph Stagner:            But back in 2005 and six, Stanford's faculty students and leadership really got on board even more, like a lot of us have, a lot of universities, a lot of cities, every folks. Following up on the Kyoto Protocol work and other things of the 90s, more and more people became aware of the climate change threat and the general need for focused efforts in sustainability. And Stanford at that time said, "Let's really work hard at this. Let's understand what the challenges are and see if we can find some creative solutions and test them out here at the university. If it works here, maybe it'll work in other places."

Joseph Stagner:            So that's when I came over from the University of California and enjoyed the challenge of trying to find better ways to supply and use energy, water, waste, transportation, and the other things that we all affect the environment with in this kind of setting. And the first thing we looked at was energy, because it is such a large expense. It's the source of most of our greenhouse gas emissions. Then it turned out a source of much of our water used too. And when we started looking at how we're using energy in 2008 and nine, we somewhat stumbled upon this great opportunity to start reusing a lot of energy we had been wasting in the past.

Jason Jacobs:                And Joe, I just want to interject for one second. So the fact that you guys started down this path so early is amazing. Where was that coming from within the university? What led Stanford to start thinking about and acting on this area, and who in the organization was championing that thinking?

Joseph Stagner:            So, a lot of it came from students. So a lot came from faculty engaged in the world and understanding these problems, and Stanford's leadership and board. We quite an illustrious board of trustees who are very engaged not only in how to run a university, but in the world in general. So it really came from all areas. Even though my father was "environmental engineer" and a lot of us from '70s, '80s understand the term environmental engineering, really, it was when I was at UC Davis in 2003 and four when leading utilities program, when a group of students came and said, "Can we have some of your time? We want to explain some things you may not know about greenhouse gases and climate change."

Joseph Stagner:            And I, like others, had heard of the Kyoto Protocol at the time. And really, in our minds, it was about chlorofluorocarbons and the ozone layer. And we hadn't heard much about this growing CO2 threatening things. And so my first real awakening about it came from students at UC Davis, and at the same time all around the country. I think many student groups were helping to awake the folks that do these things and the older folks in society that there's information coming out, and you need to pay attention to it. Maybe Al Gore helped spark some of that stuff.

Joseph Stagner:            So a lot of that stuff in the late '90s and early 2000s, Al Gore, students and many others got the word out, and I think that's where this motivation from Stanford came to, just the organic collection of everybody saying, "Look, let's see if we can help find some solutions and do this better."

Jason Jacobs:                And how much of it was driven by mission, and how much of it was driven by cost?

Joseph Stagner:            Stanford went into it with eyes open and with no prejudgment about any of that. They didn't say, "You have a blank check, and we want to be green and spend whatever it takes." And they didn't say, "If it doesn't pay off, we're not going to do it." I think they approached it with a completely open mindset, "We have no idea what's possible. Look at what's possible and bring us options, and we'll go from there." And so in the end, we are fortunate enough to find things that both saved money and increased efficiency, and the university never had to make that tough choice, do I save money and state brown or do I spend more and go green?

Joseph Stagner:            We were fortunate, and I think much of society will end up being fortunate, whether it's electric vehicles or electrification of buildings or anything else, that perhaps it's not all doom and gloom, it's not all loss of jobs and costing more money and all these other things. That creasing efficiency and reducing waste and finding innovative to do things, I think we can have our cake and eat it too in this country and on the planet. Stanford had that positive attitude and so did I. And so that's really an enabling way to start things.

Jason Jacobs:                And what was the mandate going in? Were there clear metrics by which success would be measured in the alternatives that you were evaluating? And if so, what were they? And I don't necessarily mean specifics, but more, were they business type metrics or metrics as it relates to the environment? I get the spirit of it, but when it came to actually evaluating scenarios, how were those decisions made?

Joseph Stagner:            So, actually, they weren't. Again, it was a completely blank slate. At the time, the American College and University president's climate commitment was being passed around the country with chancellors and presidents of universities assigning this commitment to as soon as possible, inventory what they have and develop long term plans to get better and then to follow up and actually get better by certain dates. And I think now over 500 college and university presidents have signed this. And there's similar commitments amongst mayors of cities, for instance, and even some leaders of States.

Joseph Stagner:            And so Stanford was considering signing that. Students and others thought we should and whatever, but really, our president, John Hissey and our leaders said, "We don't know what we can do yet." And so I'm not going to sign a commitment to do something that I don't know if I can do it, and I don't know how I'm going to do it. It's not that I don't want to do it, but we think actions speak much louder than words. Deeds, not promises. And so Stanford decided, Let's first see what we can do, and then let's do it, and that'll be the fulfillment of our promise.

Joseph Stagner:            And so they didn't sign that. And it wasn't to be elitist, and it wasn't to be against the effort. I think it was pragmatic, and with a great desire to actually achieve change and not just promise change. And so there was a blank slate, to me, that we have no specific goals, we have set no goals, we need to know what we can do by when. Bring us options and let us formulate a plan. So it was great having that blank slate. And indeed, it turned out that we didn't have to make a promise, that we actually did things much faster than we thought we could. And before we even have time to set a goal and make a promise, the job's done.

Jason Jacobs:                And what are some examples of some of the things that you did that you think have been of the highest impact?

Joseph Stagner:            So first take greenhouse gas reduction; a lot of folks were looking at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change goal of reducing your peak emissions by 80% by 2050. And so it's like, okay, well let's... 2010, we got 40 years to do it. It seems like enough time. And let's see. Well, come 2015, 2016 and we're at 68% greenhouse gas reduction. And come January of 2022 when our electricity is fully clean with our next solar project we're doing, we will meet that 80% goal 30 years early. So, that's evidence that how finding out what you can do, focusing, planning and executing it, it may not take that long.

Joseph Stagner:            And I think we were all surprised that these opportunities existed and we could do this so fast, that we didn't really have to set a goal. We were already kind of there in many aspects. We've also saved a lot of water. So, one of the things that we didn't know was our energy system was using 25% of our drinking water. And now we've cut that down to where our energy system is only using about 5% of our drinking water, and that will go even further. So you're saving a very significant amount of drinking water for Stanford community. That's on top of 20% through conservation we had already done. Solid waste, we're at 60 something percent and moving towards zero waste, it's the new campus long range goal. We're proceeding very fast than any of the standards, sustainability metrics and decades ahead achieving the kind of goals that people are just setting.

Jason Jacobs:                I think I read that one of the big ahas that you had along the way was that the heat that was generated in powering the campus and electrical systems was being wasted. And by pouring that back into the system, it could greatly reduce the need for new energy sources. First, did I get that right? And second, what percentage of the portfolio... Like, those numbers you just put up or mentioned are amazing numbers and far different from what we're hearing in most of society right now. Overall emissions, as you know, went up last year. So was that the big aha, or were there other key insights that you came across along the way that are worth discussing here?

Joseph Stagner:            I think there was one kind of pre-known aha and one that was discovered. So the pre-known aha was that you can't continue to burn fossil fuel and expect your greenhouse gas to go down. So we have a natural gas fired cogeneration plant. There likely is going to be no way to keep doing that in the future and make any significant reduction in greenhouse gas. The chances of finding sustainable biofuel that's available for the longterm to invest in 30 more years of a major energy plant that relies on that and that'll be anywhere near as economical as electrification, I kind of knew that going in.

Joseph Stagner:            And surprisingly, a lot of people, they ask why when I arrived at Stanford, within a year, I'm proposing the shutdown of the cogen plant, which most in society think is the best possible thing we can do. And that's simply because I knew there were more efficient ways, more economical ways, and that you simply can't continue to burn gas and hope to make any change.

Jason Jacobs:                So, I mean that sounds like that was an obvious [inaudible 00:14:04] to you coming in, but it seems like with the current state of our... certainly federal government, that's a controversial statement. Would you agree?

Joseph Stagner:            Yeah, but it shouldn't be. Scientifically, it's really a no brainer. If we need to reduce and eventually eliminate our greenhouse gas, I don't think anybody with any common sense could say, "Well, we can do that by continuing to have a carbon based fuel system." The hope for "clean coal and carbon capture and storage," the cost efficiency in a vast of those technologies hasn't nearly met the pace of renewables and clean electrification.

Joseph Stagner:            We eventually may need carbon capture and storage at a very large grid power plant scale, but you're not going to do it at the automobile or building exhaust level. There's too many millions of these small types and smokestacks around to think that your lawnmower is going to have carbon capture and storage or your home heater. They can't do a thousand megawatt power plant grid scale efficiently yet. So there's a lot of time before we can do that.

Joseph Stagner:            It may be that a clean grid requires that and some new form of nuclear, as you've heard politicians talking about. Enough engineers and business people and regulators need to design what a clean grid will look like in this country and in different parts as California is now embarking upon to actually be informed as to what might be required. Scientists are now arguing, "Can we do it all renewables and storage, or do we need carbon capture and storage and nuclear?" Who knows? But the fact of the matter is, we have to move to clean electrification. We've got to electrify everything in society we possibly can and supply it with carbon-free electricity, sustaining distributed carbon based systems, whether it's a lawnmower and automobile or a gas heater at your house, there's too many of them, and we'll never capture that carbon at that scale. So we must electrify and supply a clean grid.

Joseph Stagner:            So many countries and nations, from the United Kingdom to California, have already moved well down the path of cleaning up their electrical grid and now they say, "You know that's only half the task. What we've got to do is now get the natural gas out of our buildings and out of our vehicles, the liquid gas. Because we've got a clean grid, now we've got to use it and get the stuff out." That was kind of the pre-known aha moment, that if we could find a way to power, heat and cool our buildings and transportation electrically, then that plus a clean grid, that's the path forward. It's now known as clean electrification.

Joseph Stagner:            I think most scientists and many policy makers that have really applied just some common sense could see that that that's really the only way. The United Nations, The International Energy Agency, our national labs. Even old Southern Cal Edison at the end of 2017 looked at three major paths of energy, carbon hydrogen and clean electrification and clearly said, "Clean electrification is by heads and tails the way they go." And that's what we learned too.

Joseph Stagner:            So, I think society's understanding that now. Now the real aha moment then... With that in the back of our minds, the real aha moment was that while we thought to electrify our buildings you might need to deploy heat pumps so that we could suck the heat, we need to make hot water and space heating out of the ground and ground source heat exchange, or maybe run a pipe to San Francisco Bay and suck the heat out of that or something... Those are the things we had in our mind that would be required. The huge aha was that when we looked at every hour of the year how much heating and cooling we were doing and how they overlap, that there was enough heat we were wasting in our cooling process, air conditioning buildings as it were, to supply all our hot water and heating we needed practically.

Joseph Stagner:            And that was amazing. We thought it might only be five or 10 or 15%. And you can liken that... For the person at home listening to this, you can liken that to... I use the analogy of someone in Phoenix, Arizona when it's a hundred degrees outside, and they're cooling their house and then they turn the hot water faucet on to have a bath or do some laundry. They're burning natural gas probably in their garage, in their hot water heater to make that 120 degree water. Meanwhile, their air conditioner is sending 140 degree refrigerant to the outside of their house to a fan that can then blow all that 140 degree heat into the hundred degree atmosphere.

Joseph Stagner:            Why not just route that tube of hot fluid through your water tank and heat your water up with it and not burn the gas? Well, that potential, that heat recovery from cooling, it turns out it's incredibly widespread and incredibly beneficial. We supply about 90% of our heat now with their own recovered waste heat. And folks have said, "Well, that will only work in Palo Alto. You have a mild climate. It won't work in extreme climates." So we said, "Well, let's not assume anything. Let's get the hour by hour heating and cooling data from different parts of the country and let's see what their potential is."

Joseph Stagner:            Low and behold, in Boston, Massachusetts, you can meet over 50%... A university that we studied can meet over 50% of its annual heating and hot water needs with recovered waste heat. University of Illinois can meet 60%, UC Davis can meet 60 or 70%. So even in climates of extreme summer heat and extreme winter cold, this opportunity exists. And the reason is that summer, it's hot and so there is a surplus of environmental heat. And so the last thing we need to do in summer anywhere, whether it's Phoenix, Seattle, Chicago, Miami, Boston, New York, when it's hot outside, you do not need to burn fossil fuel to make heat. We already have too much.

Joseph Stagner:            In winter, we don't have excess heat in most places. There are some excess heat sources available from data centers and complicated buildings and things, but the home doesn't have it typically. And so you aren't left to then using an electric machine to extract heat out of the ground or the air heat pump. But that heat pump, instead of doing extra work to extract heat from the ground or air in summer, it can just use heat you're wasting anyway. And having all that extra free energy really makes systems more efficient, really makes them more economical to really help finance all of this. And that's one of the pleasant surprises, that there are some magic bullets we can use that make this not as painful as we think.

Jason Jacobs:                Did you have much switching costs, by the way, of some costs in existing infrastructure? And if so, how did you handle that?

Joseph Stagner:            So that's another question we get. It costs a lot of money to do this. Well, we were lucky enough at Stanford that when we started looking at this in 2007 and eight, we knew that our existing energy plant, this natural gas cogen plant built in '87, that in 2015, a contract Stanford had with a third party company who owned and operated it and sold energy to the university, that that contract was up then. And at that point, the plant was 28 years old, some parts, like some old boilers from the '50s and '60s were even older, some of the chillers were a little newer. So they had a mix of things.

Joseph Stagner:            But basically, it was a $500 million or more system that had only about 10 to 15% of its remaining book value left. We've gotten most of the work and the life and the use out of this. You'll never be to zero because so many different parts of buildings and infrastructure are built at different times that you'll never get to the point where you won't have any stranded assets, or you won't have to throw away something that you haven't got as much life as you can out of it.

Joseph Stagner:            But if you give to the low point, somewhere around the low point where if you have a power plant or an energy system university now, and you know in five or 10 or 15 years, you've kind of got the life out of it, like getting two or 300,000 miles out of your car, that that might be a good time to switch, maybe that's when you do it. You let the economics tell you, because maybe you could do it sooner still even with stranded assets. But in our case, we were fortunate that we were at a good place, and I think we had maybe $60 million in stranded assets of theoretical book life left on things that we had to throw away. And that's only in a little more than 10% of the system. So it was good timing for us, but it could be good timing for others if they're aware of that and they plan for it.

Jason Jacobs:                I heard you talking in other interviews about some significant cost savings in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars from the efficiencies that you've been able to drive. I guess my question is, what kind of payback period are we talking about, and what kind of capital investment upfront? And also, just how do you get a major initiative like that through, especially since, as you said, it was Greenfield and you were essentially feeling your way in the dark?

Joseph Stagner:            So, the numbers are that when we modeled the life cycle costs, the longterm and present value cost of energy systems, we first picked a horizon of 2050 to plan through because we knew any new energy system that had come online between 2015 and 2020, and that most of the general assets have a typical 30 year life. Many last much longer, but for accounting purposes and amortization, you assume the 30 year life on the each of this stuff. And so that was a good planning horizon.

Joseph Stagner:            So we not only looked at this system, but brand new cogeneration plants of all types and the standard systems. So we had about nine energy systems. We really modeled every possible energy system that anybody could think of so that we covered all the bases known to man as it were. And when we did life cycle costs, the present value cost of what it would take to build on and operate these nine different systems from 2015 to 2050, we found that the most expensive would be to continue to use our vintage 1987 energy plant, to continue to add and replace it, like keeping a car with 200,000 miles going for another 200,000 miles kind of deal.

Joseph Stagner:            That was about $1.6 billion of present value cost. We then found the other eight options, which were all modern and which used newer technologies that were more efficient. Whether they'd be fossil based or clean energy based, those had a range of from 1.2 to 1.4 billion, with the cheapest being the $1.2 billion system we ended up putting in. And so we knew going forward in 2011... And all this had extreme vetting, extreme internal, external peer reviews. So it was very well thought out, very open, transparent peer reviewed by anybody that wanted to, because we wanted to make sure we weren't making any mistakes, that we were applying the best knowledge and reasoning that was possible.

Joseph Stagner:            And so when we took this to our board and showed them these options, they rightly concluded that, "Well, anything's better than keeping that old cogen plant. But of these other eight options, they're all within 10 to 20% of each other because they depend so much on longterm projections of electricity versus natural gas price." And so with half of them being natural gas based and half electricity based, whether it was regular energy or clean energy, they rightly thought that we can't really discern clearly which of these will be most economic. Nobody can forecast energy prices so well to tell this.

Joseph Stagner:            If one stood out as being 50% less than all the others, maybe you'd have that confidence, but they were all in a similar ballpark. And so they said, "If they're all in a similar ballpark, let's go with the one that opens the path to sustainability, clean electrification, because not only is it a path to sustainability, it saves a lot of water. And we think electricity might be able to be produced in many different ways in the future, including the ways today, whereas if we stick with natural gas, it's just natural gas."

Joseph Stagner:            So, when we say the thing say is going to save four or $500 million over 30 years, it's going to save that versus continuing on with the previous system we had. And so when people say, "Well, if you invested 500 million to say 400 million, aren't you losing money?" Well, no, that's not the thing. It's comparing the present values of the options. You have to have an energy system. And so if you pick one that's going to cost you 1.2 billion instead of 1.6 billion, you're saving $400 million in present day cost over sticking with what you have.

Joseph Stagner:            The fact that part of that 1.2 billion or part of that 1.6 billion might be a capital investment of 500 million through the system goes into the present value of cost analysis, and you'd have spent it either way. So it is a true savings. Well, then people say, "So, what's the payback as it were?" Because instead of investing capital, we could have continued to use a third party and just paid as we go the bill and have them put their capital to work. And so is it smart to spend our capital to do this? Well, the payback of spending that capital was initially thought to be 17 years out of the 35 year life.

Joseph Stagner:            But after we started building the project and then got the right to procure on electricity under what's called direct access in California, we were able to get our electricity 20% cheaper than we thought. And that was assumed in the proforma, so 8 cents a kilowatt hours to have 10 cents, and that increased payback to about... from 400 million to 500 million savings and reduced the simple payback from 17 years to 11 years. So that's how the options and mathematics work.

Jason Jacobs:                So was it a contentious decision?

Joseph Stagner:            No, our board voted unanimously to do this. And again, that's because it seemed like such a simple decision. Anything was better than sticking with this old car, as it were. Everything was going to be more efficient and everything would save money, even with capital investment. The technology was not scary, we weren't proposing rocket technology that depends on a new technology that's never been tried. We were just assembling a kit of parts that's already known to exist, tanks of water to store hot and cold water, chillers, big chillers they call heat pumps.

Joseph Stagner:            So, we weren't depending on some new machine, we weren't depending on cold fusion to work. It was a known kit of parts just assembled in a new way. And so there was great confidence. It was simple enough technology to build and deploy, and confidence that the numbers were good or as good as anything else and the numbers even turned out to be a little better. So that's how it unfolded.

Jason Jacobs:                Well, when I hear you talk about this, it seems so logical and makes so much sense. I guess my question is, what percentage of universities have gone down this path, and why isn't everyone doing it?

Joseph Stagner:            Well, I think number one, we were just at a fortunate time to start looking at what our next energy system might be in 2007 and eight in advance of a lot of major universities, both because other universities, Arizonas, that started that climate commitment and the UCS and others... There are some universities that started earlier in the country than some others that believed in the climate change science and threat more. While certainly most universities would accept it, their academics, many of their utilities and operational folks don't believe it.

Joseph Stagner:            And so there is a fight going on there. But Stanford's folks all understood and believed in the science, and we started earlier than a lot and we were fortunate enough to have an energy system that was going to be expiring in five or seven years. And so it was really kind of perfect timing for us to find a solution and create it. It might've been UC Berkeley or MIT or Emory or the University of Oklahoma or someone else that found the solution if they had started at the same time we did in our context.

Joseph Stagner:            So part of it, I think, is just contextual. Are others doing it? They are starting to. First, the system was met with huge skepticism. We had the White House president's council of advisors and science technology tour of the plant as part of their report they're doing for Obama on the future of smart cities and what smart energy systems might look like. And so I was an advisory support staff for that, talking about this system as there were many others.

Joseph Stagner:            And when we were formulating this final report, I remember we were on the phone talking to their support staff and somebody from New York said, "That's a left coast Palo Alto thing. It'll never work in New York." And we still see that kind of attitude, where people, they're super skeptical and things like that. So we spend a lot of time trying to invite them to the plant, educate them. And when we get them, they go away changed. They see it's real and it's possible. And from 2012 to '15, we were doing a lot of this outreach.

Joseph Stagner:            Before the system is actually built and running, the skepticism was higher. But we've been running four years and the proof is there. We've been serving this major university, this city impeccably and exceeding our expectations in the system for four years, and now people are starting to believe it. When you see somebody else drive that Tesla for a while or that Chevy bolt, you're like, "Hey, my neighbor's been driving one a while. I don't see them getting towed home, I don't see them getting stranded, I don't see their car blowing up." And they say these great things about it, pretty soon word of mouth spread and people start saying, "Maybe that is good."

Joseph Stagner:            And so we are seeing that. Some of the first universities that have been here to learn about this and are now using it as a longterm method to fulfill their greenhouse gas reduction commitments and other things. Good example is Princeton, very innovative utilities and energy staff there. Tom Mike West and his group, they were here a few days, and they're just really a great people to work. I'm so happy to see how innovative they've already been and how open minded they are too.

Joseph Stagner:            And I think a little while ago Tom Mike West sent me a note saying, "Princeton has decided we're going to do this too. It may take us a couple of decades to phase it in as again, their infrastructure wears out and they replaced it, but they're moving ahead with it." Duke university was going to put in a gas cogent plant and some of their staff and faculty and community said, "Duke energy, we don't want another fossil plant here. We got to do something." Because they promised to cut their greenhouse gas.

Joseph Stagner:            And so now, they've said, "Well, why don't we move off steam and go to hot water and start using sustainable bio gas from local hog farms and perhaps some heat recovery?" Even Harvard's New Austin campus across the river from the main campus employs thermal storage and heat pumps and some heat recovery. So, we're starting to see it more, and that's really great. It's like the electric car thing, once enough people do it, people see it and that it works, I think it'll spread faster.

Jason Jacobs:                And other than getting more people to come and see the facility with their own eyes, what else do you think we can do both to get more universities to act in this area, but also, honestly, just to get more people in whatever their industry is to be inspired and mobilized to help go down this path in whatever their respective field and industry is?

Joseph Stagner:            Over the last five years, we keep track of when we go and speak about this and how many people we're speaking to and how many people come and tour the plant. We keep a log of that because we're curious. And I think over the last five, six years, we've exposed over 12,000 people directly, personally to this. Just yesterday, we had E.ON, one of Europe's largest investor in utilities here. We've had Electricity de France, Shanghai [inaudible 00:33:34] Energy. So, many people have been exposed. And so you ask the question, what does it take to move to action?

Joseph Stagner:            And some of those questions pertain to, well, this works for district energy. Should we install new district energy's systems to support cities? People don't know it, but a lot of cities already have at least a district heating system. If you think of all the steam manholes in New York city, that's Con Edison steam distribution system to provide heating for buildings with hot water. They may not have a system for cooling that spans the whole island, but if they put one in and convert it from steam to hot water, there could be billions to trillions of dollars of value and savings just in Manhattan alone or downtown San Francisco or Shanghai.

Joseph Stagner:            And so people are starting to look at it from a district energy perspective. But then we started asking, what about people's houses? What about an apartment complex? EPRI, the Electric Power Research Institute held its first of what I hope will be many coming clean electrification conference in Long Beach last year. And I was there and there was thousands of people there because the industry wants to know how to move to clean electrification. Because I think many people realize you can't keep burning fossil fuel and get anywhere. And hydrogen, that's similar to carbon capture storage, it's a long, expensive haul, and it may never prove even competitive with clean electrification.

Joseph Stagner:            So I was on a panel with a fellow from Eureka who designs and helps people design very sustainable apartment complexes, and also at Southern Cal Edison. And they were pointing out, you can go to clean electrification by having an electric air conditioner and an electric heat pump for heating. And then I said, "Well, yeah, but you can also... Couldn't you do heat recovery?" And the analogy of the person who had a house in Phoenix that is air conditioning and making hot water, why can't we do this at house scale? Can we do it?

Joseph Stagner:            And so we've had many such questions and others have too. Is this scalable? We know it's transferable in forms of district energy over the world, but is it scalable to standalone buildings, strip malls, the individual house? Well, I'm designing a house to build in Florida, and I'll call my retirement a couple of years and I want to embody these concepts there. So the first thing I asked was, can I get any information about, could this work in a house? So people make the machines that we need to do this at small scale?

Joseph Stagner:            Well, I quickly found they don't make the machines to do this yet. But I asked Johnson [inaudible 00:35:52] who owns York and is on this, "Why can't you guys take one of your home air conditioners and just wrap that little tube of hot fluid through the hot water tank? And why can't we do some heat recovery at home?" And so I got them thinking about it. We've tried these organic efforts, but then actually, just a few weeks ago, it occurred to me when we got a flood of these kind of questions from people from the outside and things...

Joseph Stagner:            I actually went to some of our senior energy faculty and they said, "Look, there is a list of questions that we need to answer." And that is, is this feasible to do at the house, the apartment, the smaller scale? Are the machines there or can they be created to do it? Once society does clean electrification, what will be the impact on the grid? A lot of people think if we electrify everything, we're going to overwhelm the electrical grid. And so we've tried to show that, well, you need about 20% to 30% more kilowatt hours produced, but you may not need to change the transmission lines because we actually draw less peak demand off the grid now than when we had our cogen plant.

Joseph Stagner:            Even though we went all electric and we use 20% more kilowatt hours, our peak demand on the grid went from 46 megawatts to 38. And so how do we estimate these electrical loads and patterns if we electrify society and then go and inform the state and the country, "Here's what the impact might be. It's not as bad as you think." How do we do all this strategic planning and analysis, not only to enable individuals to find out they do this for their home, but to inform policy makers about a path forward.

Joseph Stagner:            And since we can't really find a lot of that information... I've scoured the internet to see if I could do this for our house, for instance. I recommend to our faculty, why don't we create the Stanford Clean Electrification Laboratory where we answer these questions, we bring in our partners, or petrol's companies, the energy companies and say, "Hey, help us fund and do this research and find out what it takes and how to build the machines we need to, so we can inform the world and get them started and inform policy makers"

Joseph Stagner:            And so we're just beginning those discussions. It's my earnest hope that we sit here in Palo Alto area where we have an electric power research institute, we have one of the world's leaders in electric transportation, Tesla, we have a world leading building clean electrification system here in [CESI 00:38:06], and over at UC Davis, they have the California Lighting Technology Center, which is a leader in efficient lighting for buildings.

Joseph Stagner:            I said, "If Stanford becomes the building clean electrification center, we can leverage on our heating and cooling electrification expertise and answer these questions, bring in the university of California's lighting expertise, that's also at large [inaudible 00:38:26] alb too." And right here in Northern California, hopefully amongst other centers in the world, we can show, demonstrate and answer these questions from macro to the individual home level and finish developing and finding the solutions and sharing it.

Joseph Stagner:            So that's what we're doing, and so far it's had a good feedback from the fact. And we're meeting in a couple of weeks, I hope we can start then and bring in industry and government partners and really focused on developing these answers and helping [inaudible 00:38:52] world as likely many other universities and others that are around the world. I'm sure we're not the only one doing this. But if you search the internet to try and understand this and see if you can do it at a house or apartment complex, good luck.

Jason Jacobs:                Well, Joe, it's really inspiring for me to hear this. I think not only because of what you're doing and the results that you're posting, but I think just as importantly, or maybe even more importantly, just the mindset. And I think inspiring that mindset and more people is exactly what we need to help them move them down the chain to actually doing stuff and posting results like you. So this is a real pocket of optimism. I guess my final question for you is, if you take a step back, and not just in your world with facilities and infrastructure at universities and so on, but big picture, if you look at our climate change problem and our carbon problem, are you an optimist? Do you think we're going to figure this out?

Joseph Stagner:            Yes, I know we will, but how fast we do and implement it versus the consequences that we suffer is the question. But the optimist is a good point. I've been asked many times, "What do you think drives innovation and all these things?" And my answer is, first, you have to be an optimist. You have to believe there is a better way, you have to believe you can find a solution. Last person I interviewed with Stanford for this job was president John Hennessy. And as I'm sitting there next to his desk in his guest chair and he looks at me and says, "Joe, do we have to freeze in the dark with sweaters on to be sustainable?" And I said, "No, John. I think between business and economics and engineering, there slightly got to be solutions where we can continue to enjoy our lifestyle. If you want to drive a humongous SUV, great, but it's electric and clean, right?"

Joseph Stagner:            I think there are engineering and economics solutions out of this. So that's the optimism, I think. Stanford, I think, embodies that kind of optimism, Silicon Valley, of people wanting to find ways to do things. And that's what we've got to infect others with. And there's many in the world like this, don't get me wrong, but I think you hit a key on the head. You have to be an optimist and feel there are solutions that get you what you need without hurting you. We don't have to put half the country out of the work and bankrupt for them to do this.

Joseph Stagner:            Yes, people in the coal and oil industries and the companies and the shareholders will have to translate their efforts and work and business acumen into different technologies, just like the people who used to run delivery stables and make saddles did when cars came along. So, embrace it, prepare for the journey and the move in a positive way and move with us. Don't fight and stay behind because you will get left behind and you will wither and die.

Jason Jacobs:                Well, I think that is a terrific place to wrap. But I can't thank you enough. I think you've got a really exciting story. And as I said, there's a lot of people that care about climate and want to help, but you are actually in the muck doing the work and posting the results with an optimistic spirit. So, I think you're very representative of the kind of guests I'd like to have on the podcast, but also just the kind of person that I want to surround myself with, because I think it's people like you that are going to enable us to put our best foot forward to getting out of this pickle. So thank you for coming on, but also thank you for all of your great work.

Joseph Stagner:            And it's my pleasure. And again, thank you. I do believe in all this, and I'm lucky enough to be paid to do it. You're not being paid to do it, you're volunteering. So hats off to you, and let's all continue the good work.

Jason Jacobs:                Awesome. Thanks so much, Joe, and keep it up. Hey everyone, Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on My Climate Journey. If you'd like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at myclimatejourney.co. Note, that is .co, not .com. Someday, we'll get the .com, but right now, .co. You can also find me on Twitter at @jjacobs22 where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. And, before I let you go, if you enjoyed the show, please share an episode with a friend or consider leaving a review on iTunes. The lawyers made me say that. Thank you.