Teryn and I met in the summer of 2008 when we were both students canvassing to pass California Assembly Bill 32, which would limit greenhouse gas emissions throughout the state. We were those annoying people with binders stopping you on the street and asking for money. It was apparent, even then, that Teryn had a bright future, and he has not disappointed. Since 2008 Teryn founded his own energy policy organization, served as a Special Advisor in the Department of Energy, been a Harry S. Truman Scholar, been named to Forbes 30 under 30, and published numerous pieces in leading publications. My favorite, however, is his recent thought provoking Foreign Affairs piece which was described by Bill Gates, yes, that Bill Gates, as “One of the best arguments I’ve read for why the U.S. should invest in an energy revolution.” Way to go Teryn! So whether you find Teryn’s many accomplishments inspiring or intimidating, I am sure you will find much to learn from his experience. Enjoy!
Name, Title and Organization
Teryn Norris, Director, PIRA Energy Group
Educational Background (e.g., college, major, any graduate school or additional certifications)
Stanford University, BA
How would you describe what you do in your current role?
I advise companies and investors on clean energy market and technology trends to inform their investments and strategic planning decisions.
Why did you first want to work in cleantech?
I was a physics geek in high school, and energy was always a fascinating topic to me. Once I learned about climate change, I came to see energy as a nexus between so many important issues – the environment, the economy, technological change, national security, poverty alleviation, and more. I couldn’t resist working on the grand challenge of transforming a multi-trillion dollar global industry, and ultimately, the underlying technologies that power our civilization. That was it in a nutshell.
What are your two favorite aspects of your job?
First, I get to track a rapidly changing industry that carries major implications for the global economy and the environment, and it’s always full of interesting surprises. Second, I get to actively advise industry players in a way that impacts their investment strategies and business decisions.
If you were interviewing someone to replace you in your role, what should they focus on demonstrating in the interview to give themselves an advantage?
First, sharp analytical skills and the ability to interpret fast-changing technology and policy trends, and second, strong teamwork and the ability to communicate effectively with colleagues and clients.
To perform your job well, what is the most necessary skill or personality characteristic, and why?
What is the one bit of advice you would offer a young person hoping to break into cleantech?
There are so many ways to get involved and contribute to cleantech, but if I were to offer one general piece of advice to help differentiate yourself, it would be to gain a solid grasp of energy industry fundamentals, including the scale and capital intensity of the sector. Many people who attempted to enter the sector during the cleantech venture capital boom of 2005-2012 failed to understand these fundamentals and unfortunately got fleeced.
What is something you have learned in your job that surprised you?
The energy sector is usually very slow-moving, but once in a while, there are developments that send shockwaves through the industry, frightening incumbents and serving as a wake-up call that disruptive change is practically inevitable and new business practices will be necessary to survive. I’ve been surprised to see how much this is occurring in the energy sector as we speak.
Other than the focus of your work, which realm (technology, geography, or other) of cleantech is particularly interesting to you right now and why?
I’m interested in how developments in deep machine learning could help solve some of the complex system integration challenges we face for a wide range of advanced energy technologies, including distributed renewables, electric vehicles, grid-scale storage, demand response, and more.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than a paycheck, what would it be?
The knowledge that my work is having a positive impact.