Life after the Academy of Achievement Summit has been an incredible journey, and I want to express my sincere gratitude to Wayne and Catherine Reynolds for making this possible.
At the International Achievement Summit in October 2012, I noticed Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa across the room at the State Department, and I beelined over to have lunch with him. Since 2005, the Mayor has tirelessly crusaded against climate change and expanded renewable energy in L.A. Since my Ph.D. research at Oxford is on the physics of solar panels, I was deeply inspired by the Mayor’s efforts.
Miraculously, after that conversation, the Mayor offered me a position on his senior staff to advise him on energy and water policy and to oversee the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the largest municipal utility in the nation. I immediately took a leave of absence from Oxford and served in his Administration until he stepped down in July 2013.
Executing the Mayor’s vision, I strove to secure three aspects of his environmental legacy. First, L.A. signed contracts committing it to end consumption of coal power by 2025, the first large city to do so; second, LA inaugurated a Feed-in Tariff incentive program for solar power, which at 150 MegaWatts is the largest urban program in the nation; and third, L.A. settled a century-long dispute over the Owens Valley, which supplies water to Los Angeles.
Day-to-day, I staffed the Mayor at an exciting variety of events and organized his appearance with former Vice President Al Gore, who declared that L.A. had taken its place among “the five greatest cities in the world where combating climate change is concerned.” I researched policy alternatives, led negotiations, investigated organizational inefficiencies, and secured $40 million of funding for a Cleantech Incubator.
Today, I can confidently say that my future lies at the nexus of policy and technology. I believe our energy future requires decision makers with an intimate understanding of the technical challenges posed by replacing century-old power infrastructure. I’m thankful to the Mayor for trusting me with so much responsibility, and I’m indebted to the Academy of Achievement for enabling me to find my passion.